An Ode to a Dying Bay Area Music Scene Following a Tragedy

A fire at Oakland Ghost Ship last Friday (12/2/16) during an electronic music performance has left 36 people dead so far and many injured and missing.

“According to the Oakland Fire Department, this fire has taken more lives than any in the city’s history. And yet for many of us, these spaces are what have kept us alive. In a world that demands its inhabitants to be a certain way, think a certain way, or live a certain way, we gravitate to the spaces that say: Welcome. Be yourself. For the tormented queer, the bullied punk, the beaten trans, the spat-upon white trash, the disenfranchised immigrants and young people of color, these spaces are a haven of understanding in a world that doesn’t understand — or can’t, or doesn’t seem to want to try.”

I am so heartbroken. It’s been so confusing and hard to comprehend the news these past few days, especially living across the country. San Francisco Bay Area spaces like these got me through high school, and they’re so important. I truly never feel safer than I do at little diy bay area music spaces, and so this just feels like a slap in the face. I know that those who lost their lives or were injured in the fire likely felt the same way. I know they attended shows feeling safe within an inclusive and loving community of artists not scared of not up to code spaces. Media coverage that describes reckless children and seems baffled as to why anyone would attend a show in a “dangerous” warehouse is so fucking clueless.

For one there is almost NOWHERE LEFT. Where can small bands play in San Francisco? Where can we go to enjoy music for free or less than $8? For art to flourish there must be these little spaces, and they’re constantly being threatened. SUB/mission was forced to close, Honey Hive is constantly dealing with threat of closure, Bottom of the Hill has to fight developers and tech leeches who want to buy up all of San Francisco and don’t seem to realize they’re sucking all the life out of a beautiful thing.

But still art and music won’t cease to exist with nowhere to go. Beautiful things will be kept alive by passionate, beautiful people who are fighters and who care deeply. They move into the spaces that they can. Oakland Ghost Ship was a testament to the passion of wonderful individuals who realize that art is necessary for life and that inclusion is nessecary for art.

So please please don’t criticize or question the judgement of those who spend time at tiny house shows or in unfinished warehouses. Celebrate us and protect the few spaces we have left to enjoy music and feel safe and included. And PLEASE always always make and love art.

In honor of the dead and injured I will be writing a few follow up articles about my own memories of SF/Bay Area diy spaces and why they’re so damn important.

Outside Lands: Unpacked & Unloaded

I attended Outside Lands Music Festival in Golden Gate park this last weekend. Below are some thoughts!

Going into the weekend I was focused almost exclusively on LCD Soundsystem and Radiohead, two of my favorite bands. I was also excited to see Chance the Rapper (this may surprise readers because Chance is admittedly outside the genres I generally listen to, but it’s the trumpet and timbre of Chance’s voice that gets me).

At festivals a considerable amount of people go to just bop around, drink and see whatever music they end up seeing. All good, but I personally go less for the relaxed “music in the park” vibe and more for the “I’m going to see the stuff I really love and go really hard” vibe. And being in the front matters to me. The large majority of the bands I listen to and see live are pretty small. When I see a band like Modern Baseball at Slims I can be rest assured that I’ll be able to see the stage and be in the action. You can’t say the same for OSL. Given that, my general approach is to see the two-three bands playing before whoever it is I’m there to see.

First night I was there to see LCD Soundsystem, and I wanted to be up close and personal with James Murphy when he’d take his drumming breaks. So I saw Miike Snow with some friends (was good fun), and then everyone left to see J. Cole for which I had less than zero desire to see. I saw Duran Duran play before LCD, and it was so great. I felt completely transported back to the 80s. The white leather, the visuals, everything. Rio and Notorious were highlights. Who knew I like disco!

IMG_8097

Duran Duran doing their 80s thing (my photo!)

Then LCD came on. I honestly could not have asked for more. Their songs sounded even better live (I’d never seen them in concert before). This amazes me given how complex some of their music is! And LCD isn’t that lame Zedd “on my MacBookPro” shit. Nancy is actually doing everything live on real boards and pedals etc. James Murphy became my fascination after I watched Shut Up and Play the Hitsand his performance Friday was superb. He was energetic, funny, and his vocals were PERFECT. Interesting enough to feel unique and different from the recordings, but absolutely perfect. It was wonderful.

IMG_8125

James Murphy singing the shit out of New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down. (also my photo)

They played essentially every song I really wanted them to play (except maybe North American Scum and All I Want).

Highlights: I Can Change was insanely beautiful. Someone Great. Losing My Edge was SO COOL. New York I Love You brought me to tears. Dance Yrself Clean really truly made me dance myself clean. All My Friends sounded beautiful although it did make me wonder where all my friends were (they were at J. Cole). Honestly I didn’t miss them for a second. LCD wrapped me in a big hug of musical love, and those two hours were some of my favorite yet.

Day 2: I was totally focused on Radiohead. I saw nothing particularly great while waiting for Thom except Air. Air was cool. They didn’t have a guitar just really really dope bass. The drummer was also sick. The music was truly interesting and complex, and I found myself in a musical trance. The vocals, however, were a problem. For whatever reason Air puts the vocals through the weirdest effects. They come out literally robotic. It made me understand part of why I love LCD so much: the interesting electronic and super clean music is perfectly complimented by James’s punk rock, raw, un-altered vocals. That’s the way to go. I can’t stand when the vocals are just drowning in their own reverb or cleaned up digitally till they sound cold and fake.

Radiohead was wonderful. Highlights: noticing the unique instruments they use live (including but not limited to: a coat hanger with bells hanging off it and an old transistor radio) and watching Thom Yorke’s groovy as hell dancing. Set highlights: 2 + 2 = 5, Weird Fishes/Arpeggi, Everything in It’s Right Place, Bodysnatchers, Idioteque (so. much. fun.), and Karma Police.

IMG_8177

Radiohead. (still my photos)

Day 3 there was no one I cared deeply about. I wanted to see The Oh Hellos and Chance. The Oh Hellos played a wonderful set early in the day at one of the smaller stages. They were endearing and sounded insanely good. It must have been a 12 piece band, and they were all in perfect synch and very into the music. It was fun and lighthearted, and we danced a lot. Then we went into a very aggressive and unkind crowd to wait for Chance. Fortunately we got to see the Muppets (!! so much fun !!) and Third Eye Blind (middle school emo kid jams!) while waiting. The Muppets played a short set of popular, classic covers (including: Home by Edward Sharpe and With a Little Help From my Friends).Third Eye Blind was pretty funny and bad. However, I went very hard to and deeply enjoyed Jumper.

Chance the Rapper was great when he was performing. However, he played the shortest set in the history of music, and considering we’d been waiting in a very aggressive crowd of white frat boys it kinda sucked. I’m not a die hard Chance fan so it was okay, but I felt badly for my friends. He did have great energy and sounded awesome though.

Day 3 headliners weren’t particularly enticing. We saw a bit of Lana Del Rey’s set. I quickly became depressed and bored and unhappy. So I begged my friends, and we hightailed it to catch the last 30 minutes of Lionel Richie. It was SO FUN. My friends kept saying how happy they were I convinced them to leave Lana. We danced ourselves SO CLEAN to Brick House and All Night Long, and we sang our hearts out to We Are the World.

It was a wonderful weekend of friends, food, fun and music. Overall, LCD Soundsystem stands out from the rest. It was a truly wonderful performance.

Until next time Ranger Dave.

The Art of the Album

gallery-221013-mini.jpg

As promised to my nonexistent readers here is the article I wrote for my school’s newspaper (The Devils Advocate) about concentrated music listening time and albums:

Recently I was listening through Radiohead’s album In Rainbows when I realized that lying on the floor listening to a record would perhaps be perceived as strange by other people my age. I wondered if I was perhaps an anomaly in a world of “shuffle” and “playlist” lovers. And it’s not the vinyl thing. I know most people don’t listen to vinyl anymore, but the question stands as to whether we have stopped listening to albums entirely.

The album is such a simple concept: 12ish songs that relate thematically or aesthetically.  Digital music and streaming services add to the ease with which listeners can access a huge variety of artists, which contributes to a mainstream culture that doesn’t listen to full albums. iPods/iPhones, digital playlists, the shuffle option, and a focus on hit singles are all sending the album into extinction. In bygone times, vinyl forced listeners to buy the full album and listen to every track. There was no iTunes-style buying just the hit single. Yes, you could buy tapes and 7” singles, but still it was far less prominent and with a tape you still had to fast forward or rewind to get to the song you wanted.

What else is to blame? Our attention span and patience are decreasing. YouTube allows us to find any song in seconds, and the death of physical music allows us to carry thousands of songs in our back pockets. “I rarely sit and listen to a full album, mainly because I do get bored and antsy after more than like four songs,” remarked Karson Daecher ‘16. In many ways, this new way of buying and listening to music hugely empowers the listener. We can pick the songs we like, put them in playlists, change the order and listen to them whenever we want. Artists need to work harder to capture our attention and make us listen through their whole album because we don’t have to.

Yet as Uncle Ben reminded Peter Parker, “with great power comes great responsibility.” The ability to listen as we please leads many to treat music as something that accompanies other things, not as something that deserves time and attention. When asked to comment on how often she spends time listening, Karson Daecher said, “I rarely listen to music while not doing other things—probably the time when I most ‘just listen’ is when I’m driving, so I’m still not focusing 100% of my attention on music. When I take the time to listen to music while not doing other things, it’s usually because I want to listen to a specific song or a few songs, and so I won’t take a long time to do it.” Daecher is not alone. Many of the students I interviewed agreed that they rarely spend time just listening to and appreciating music.

Young people, more and more, are listening to playlists that include many songs from different artists. “I almost solely listen to individual songs in a playlist. I like the variety that a playlist gives you, as well as the fact that you can shuffle playlists to listen to them in a different order each time you listen, to keep things different,” said Daecher. “I probably listen to playlists that I make more often than full albums, because I like to compile all my favorite songs. I listen to full albums when I want to really fully appreciate the art of the collective pieces,” said Mia Simon ‘16.

It does, however, seem like this might be changing. “Listeners today want musicality in their music and the best medium to display that is in an album,” commented musician Spencer Barnett ‘19. He continued, “I think that dissecting the album and all of its attributes is the only way nowadays to really get to know an artist’s skill as a songwriter. If they can put their songs in an order that makes sense, then they know what they are doing.” Nick Michael ‘18 echoed this sentiment: “Listening to individual songs from the album takes away from the story that lies within the lyrics, and is more for personal pleasure. I think for this reason, I like to pay ‘respect’ to the artist by listening to the album in whole at first and then making playlists to curate songs to my own liking.”

Some artists still strive to make cohesive albums of songs meant to be listened to one after another, with actual transitions between songs and motifs carried throughout the album. Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West have gained notoriety for releasing more conceptual albums. Albums like To Pimp a Butterfly and Yeezus have been lauded as truly standalone pieces. As Barnett mused, perhaps this trend towards more conceptual albums in the mainstream shows a shift back to the style of vinyl and masterful albums like Bob Dylan’s Blood On the Tracks. 

The playlist empowers the listener, but it also takes away from the album as an art form and in some ways disregards the work the artist may have put into creating a cohesive album. Artists today have to work a whole lot harder to make albums that are good enough to capture our ever-narrowing attention span and to make us want to listen all the way through.