I am not sure how this became my beat, but it seems I am constantly reporting news about rapid changes to the current San Francisco cultural scene. I suppose it’s one of those “right (or wrong) place, right time” scenarios…
In any case, Pinterest has signed on to locate its headquarters in a 4-story building in SF’s Showplace Square Design District. The 311,000 square foot structure is currently full of — shockingly — designers and their ilk, who will face eviction if the deal goes through, according to a report on SFGate. There was one hitch though. The building was zoned as PDR or “production, distribution and repair” in order to protect blue collar jobs in the area, which is undergoing change as rapidly as everywhere else in the city. However, there was a loophole. If the 99-year-old building could be designated a historic landmark, it could legally convert from PDR to office space. The application, filed in 2013, was unanimously approved by the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission, and then submitted to the Board of Supervisors when Supervisor Malia Cohen stepped in. Cohen is now working to identify other possible locations for Pinterest. Learn more about this story on SFGate and Curbed SF.
Meanwhile, a couple of very different musicians have put out music that grapples with the city’s changing cultural environment. Given the rapid conversion of former warehouses into condominiums, the music scene is particularly vulnerable to change. Both the closing of Potrero Hill’s Arch art supply store and a proposal to convert the Corovan Building into luxury condos bode ill for Bottom of the Hill, the venerable music club that has been bringing some of the best music to San Francisco for decades.
Once tucked away in a quiet industrial part of SF, the club may soon be surrounded by housing, should current proposals bear fruit. This situation is not unique. Additionally, many practice and rehearsal spaces have disappeared, leaving bands with fewer venues to play and nowhere to practice. These changes do not even take into account the struggle to earn enough money to afford an apartment in the city.
Many musicians have fled, while others choose to stay and fight. Tomorrow night (Wednesday, June 25, 2014), local cabaret, pop, jazz and etc. singer Candace Roberts is having a party at the Gold Dust Lounge to celebrate the release of a new music video for her song “Not My City Anymore.” The performer has always included a little social commentary in her act and tomorrow night’s event not only celebrates the music and the gorgeously rendered video (see below), but also offers folks the chance to get involved and do something to reclaim the city they love.
Ironically, Roberts raised $5,000 on Kickstarter to fund the production of the video, which is available on YouTube, and is promoting the event via Facebook — as do many musicians. The personal and professional networks built and utilized for promotion via these outlets, not to mention the self-publishing capabilities are invaluable to modern artists. So why is there such an apparent culture clash? Does this have something to do with different worldviews? I can’t help but think that there is a tension between those who thrive on real-world interaction and those who are constructing a virtual skin in order to move beyond the physical. (Perhaps food for deeper thought.)
Roberts says that the inspiration for the song came from an annual autumnal depression. But in 2013, her usual doldrums seemed more pronounced, and then she looked up and found herself surrounded by new high-rise condos, which she understood she could never afford to live in. Coupled with the increasing frequency of the question “Did you hear about so and so getting evicted?” among her peers, Roberts says she began to think: “‘There isn’t a place for me here anymore’ and then out of nowhere I started humming the chorus, ‘No, she’s not my city anymore.’”
Roberts says that she has “always felt proud to live in San Francisco. From such a young age I was keenly aware of how truly special it was … a place of radicalism, inclusion and acceptance where anyone could show up and just be their self… As this cultural and economic cleanse sweeps San Francisco, it echoes the rise of income inequality all across the globe and the corporate take over of every aspect of our lives. Somehow I thought San Francisco was different and that we wouldn’t let this happen because of who we are and what we’ve always stood for. ” (Nevermind whether or not that supposition about the real nature of the city is actually true. I recently explored what I called the “myth of San Francisco” in another piece a couple months back.)
Roberts began playing the song about town and the rest, as they say, is history.
Another musician, Hannah Lew, formerly of Grass Widow, decided to release a compilation album, San Francisco Is Doomed on her new Crime on the Moon label, that consists of tracks from local bands and groups that have moved on. The effort is definitely more hard-edged than Roberts’ cabaret and, with contributions by Silver Shadows, Mansion, Thee Oh Sees, Erase Errata, Mikal Cronin and Cold Circuits has a lot more fun with its nihilism. True to its punk/slightly-goth leanings, there is an exuberance found in the darkness of even the most dire situation.
Lew told Sfist that the division of wealth in the city, especially the “clean up Market Street” campaign made her uneasy. In her opinion, many of these moves are “straight up class war… There’s almost a fascist atheistic to it all. I think it’s really dangerous when there’s a lot of things made for certain people, a certain class. But I mean, all this being said, I can’t live my life on the day-to-day depressed and angry. A big impetus for putting the comp together was to say, yeah, we know it sucks, but let’s just keep doing what we’re doing and making music and put out something positive.”
She also noted that the San Francisco music scene had gotten a lot tougher, with less bands playing shows and less people going out for them. We have noticed this at KQED within the last few weeks, with Bay Area tour dates missing from recently announced tours by some pretty big bands, and wondered if something was afoot. (Perhaps more on that later.)