Scene in South Bend: LangLab
Erin McAuliffe | Thursday, October 13, 2016
“You’re now here or you’re nowhere” is LangLab’s motto.
A warehouse. A coffee shop. A chocolate factory. A music venue. A library bar. A gallery. An environmental strategy space. A studio for screen printing, photography, pottery, papermaking and public-access television.
At LangLab, a mutli-use co-workspace across from the Pepsi Co. facility on the south side of town, all of these businesses are located under one roof.
Stephanie Rizk, Rami Sadeck and Kahlil Smylie are LangLab’s co-founders or, as Rizk put it, “co-conspirators.” We chatted in the Bowman Creek Education Ecosystem’s office in the 33,000 square-foot building Oct. 5.
“When Kahlil and I lived together we had a sign we would stick on the door that read Language Laboratory,” Sadeck said. “We’d get all our friends to come play music and hangout at basement shows circa 2002. There’s always been this underground thing in South Bend. I don’t think we presume to have started anything, but we certainly are on the same kind of current.”
The three friends continued to host basement shows and festivals, but felt their creative initiative needed a physical space as a driving force. They bought LangLab’s current building, originally a hardwood floor factory built in the 1890s, in July 2009. They dealt with the stark white walls and 280 boarded-up windows, hosting their first event in May 2010.
“Once we got this particular space that was so large with the potential to do so many different things, the idea very quickly became to open up that space to other people so they could do what they wanted to do,” Risk said.
That’s where the aforementioned coffee shop (Zen Cafe), chocolate factory (Violet Sky) and other artistic endeavors have found their home. LangLab is a big proponent of “adaptive reuse” of their space. Previously, they hosted the Purple Porch Co-Op, which now has an owned spacesin South Bend — fulfilling LangLab’s main purpose as a business incubator.
“Technically we’ve always been at capacity. We keep clearing out and creating new spaces, but since day one someone has wanted to use whatever usable space is there,” Rizk said.
The space functions as a sort of pop-up shop, consistently updated to fulfill community needs. The space hosts Latin dance nights (every Wednesday), opera, plays, spoken word, film screenings, art exhibitions, book signings, community gatherings and all-ages concerts. All-ages shows have become a contentious topic nationally, and in response, spaces like Junior High in L.A. and LangLab have committed to creating a safe show experience for everyone. The crew delights in the diversity of their audiences: last week they had both an 80-year-old and an 8-week-old at a show.
Another eclectic aspect of the space is the decor. The building was previously owned by Environmental Technologies Inc., and the electronics they left have been incorporated throughout — stacks of computers next to the venue’s stage, amps piled up amongst turntables in the basement workspace.
Symlie inherited decorations from his previous South Bend workplace, Lula’s Cafe, when it closed. South Bend residents have even contributed their own trinkets to the “curious hodgepodge” at LangLab; it isn’t uncommon to have instruments like a banjo or an organ turn up in their parking lot. One local woman drops off “like 1,000 books” every couple of weeks, and the resulting collection spills from the shelves to the floor.
The donations are representative of the community’s enthusiasm for the space and the eccentric feel. Rizk compared LangLab’s effects to the portal in “Ghostbusters.”
“We’re a portal into the South Bend creative underground,” she said.
You can enter the portal this Friday at 8 p.m. Folk acts Darlingside and Frances Luke Accord will play at LangLab, located at 1302 High St. Both bands played in South Bend at The Pool in 2014, their first meeting. Since then, they have both released new albums (Darlingisde’s “Bird Say” and Frances Luke Accord’s “Fluke”) and joined forces on a national tour. The collaboration between the FLA duo and the five members of Darlingside is harmonious with LangLab’s call for creative collaboration. Facebook posts by both bands have even teased collaboration across groups.
“We’re happy to host anybody that comes our way,” Smyli said. “Come out, commune, be a community member.”
Tickets for the show are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. Doors open at 7 p.m. and music begins at 8 p.m. The show is all ages.