This piece is a response to both Andrew Chaming’s article for The Bold Italic entitled “Is San Francisco’s Music Scene Dead?” and the wildly intense reaction it provoked from so many musicians, writers, promoters and fans actively involved in the scene. I was a bit disappointed that most critiques of the article fell somewhere between knee-jerk vulgarity and obnoxious sarcasm and wanted to explore why, exactly, it elicited such fury when everyone aware of the scene knows just how beautiful, diverse and alive it really is.
Hot Flash Heat Wave at Rickshaw Stop, January 31, 2016
The Bold Italic won.
Despite all your derisive denouncements and snarky responses towards writer Andrew Chamings, who is no doubt a low-paid blogger finding it just as hard to make a living off his craft as you Bay Area musicians, you all clicked the click bait, increasing the revenue stream of another shallow blog that thrives on crass pieces of easily digestible pseudo-journalism. It’s the destitute versus the destitute in a high school caliber war of words. Yes, you may disagree with the piece’s assertion that the San Francisco music scene is dead, but Chamings achieved a soaring, Icarus-approaching-the-sun height for fifteen minutes of fame in the process.
Why such an intense reaction? Everyone involved in the San Francisco music scene knows it’s not dead. The city I live in – Vacaville, California – is one with absolutely no legitimate music scene. There was a community center that used to throw all-ages shows during my teenage years which shut down after the venue couldn’t stop kids from sneaking in booze or starting fights (ah, the suburbs). Then, just a year ago, a real music club opened downtown and then, one year later, closed thanks to poor management, shoddy promotion and bills frequently consisting of classic rock tribute bands (Petty Theft, Steelin’ Dan, etc…only the best for Vacaville). This is what a town without a music scene looks like.
And this is also what drives artists to leave the suburbs and move to condensed city centers in the first place. That’s why you moved there, right? Because you probably weren’t born and raised in San Francisco either. Yes, you, the defensive and seemingly insecure musician, who takes astronomical offense at the smallest sleight against your city.
The reaction to this article displays just how high tensions are in the city, an outpouring of all the accumulated stress that results from the non-stop work necessary to afford those absurd rents. Though Chamings’s article was, overall, weakly reasoned, some of his points, while clichés nowadays, stand ugly and true, and many of John Dwyer’s dated quotes still ring hilariously relevant. Gentrification hasn’t ceased, numerous venues are still feeling pressure from real estate developers, and many bands are still moving out to more affordable areas.
But, again, the music scene is OBVIOUSLY NOT DEAD. It’s impossible that a city as big as San Francisco would utterly lack one.
What Chamings is basically saying at the core of his article rests on a flawed assumption about the nature of the music industry today. His reference to the lo-fi garage rock explosion of a few years ago spearheaded by Ty Segall was perhaps the last easily recognizable, homogeneous wave of a particular genre to hit the city in years. But, just as the psychedelic movement never completely obscured the diverse strands of musical output in the late ‘60s (dig the hard rock, proto-metal of Blue Cheer, the soul/funk/R&B renegades in Sly & the Family Stone, the Latin-inflected grooves of Santana, etc.), Segall or Thee Oh Sees certainly didn’t speak to or for everyone in the new millennium.
Perceiving a music scene as one giant monolithic entity is superficial at best and a cheap marketing tactic at worst. “Grunge,” after all, was a term record labels slapped on the Seattle boom of the early ‘90s in order to market a brand of rock to kids that was neither too extreme to be considered punk or metal nor bland enough to fit into the narrow boundaries defining corporate mainstream radio. There is never any one strand or style of music that defines a big city scene, and that fact is becoming vividly clear in the Digital Age where the very idea of musical taste limited by geography is becoming a thing of the forgotten past. With enough digging, you can access death-metal from Nigeria, synth-pop from France, and old-school ska from Mexico in a matter of minutes without ever leaving the comfort of your own room. As an artist, you no longer have to move to a city like Los Angeles or New York in order to get noticed, but you may have to move to a city that obtains venues that play live music or musicians you can network with.
San Francisco has that. Obviously. Pretty much every major city does, and maybe even most of the smaller ones as well.
But you already knew that, didn’t you? I did, and I don’t even live in your stupidly expensive and irresistibly beautiful city.
This post originally appeared on Nick’s personal blog, Louder Than A Doubt.