Workers and emergency responders look at a warehouse in which a fire claimed the lives of at least thirty-six people on Dec. 5, 2016 in Oakland, California.

Workers and emergency responders look at a warehouse in which a fire claimed the lives of at least thirty-six people on Dec. 5, 2016 in Oakland, California. (Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

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The new documentary Underground Under Review is a “film about D.I.Y. spaces with a D.I.Y. approach.”

“Most of it was just me and a camera,” says Zack Bateman, an East Bay musician who is also the film’s director.

Bateman says that he felt compelled to the make the documentary in the wake of the December 2016 Ghost Ship fire, which claimed the lives of 36 partygoers at an underground concert in Oakland. Though Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf issued an executive order for city officials to work cooperatively with landlords to bring other artist live-work spaces up to code, many landlords moved to evict the tenants of similar makeshift warehouses, leaving artists to scramble for affordable housing in a costly market.

As I reported in my East Bay Express cover story, the Bay Area housing crisis was already squeezing out underground venues and live-work spaces prior to Ghost Ship. And in the aftermath of the tragedy, the D.I.Y. scenes these spaces fostered are being pushed further underground in fear of persecution.

In Underground Under Review, which screens on Oct. 13 at the Uptown Night Club in Oakland, Bateman speaks to a variety of countercultural artists and musicians, emerging with a portrait of an artistic community recovering from tragedy. Among those interviewed are veteran punk Jello Biafra; Sarah Sexton of the record label Oakland Indie Mayhem; Mykee Ramen, the owner of the now-shuttered Richmond D.I.Y. hub Burnt Ramen; and Jamie DeWolf, founder of the popular variety show Tourettes Without Regrets.

Many of the people in the film were already struggling to stay afloat as low-income artists when they lost friends in the Ghost Ship fire. According to Bateman, Underground Under Review “shows people coming together to speak their voice and essentially speak for Oakland or the Bay Area scene in general. It [shows] that there’s people out there that give a shit and wanna help. Most of the interviews this film is compiled of, a lot of people say the same thing, which is, ‘Get involved the community, get involved in your scene and with whatever politics are going on in your area.'”

Bateman says he hopes the documentary can shed some light on the importance of preserving Oakland’s — and the greater Bay Area’s — vibrant artistic culture through arts advocacy and affordable housing. The reason why artists live in unsafe warehouses like Ghost Ship, he says, is because they often don’t have other options, but D.I.Y. spaces are also drivers of creativity that thrives outside of mainstream clubs and arts institutions.

“The reputation the Bay Area has of being this crazy, weird, artistic, creative place — in my opinion, that’s because of places like this,” Bateman says. “You can go down an alleyway and open the door and you’re in this crazy, cool place you never thought existed in the warehouse district. Not only is it a thing that’s cool to have, I think it’s also important because these places help artists hone their craft and be able to afford living.”

‘Underground Under Review’ screens at Uptown Night Club in Oakland on Friday, Oct. 13 at 8pm. For more information click here.

New Film Examines the Struggling, Post-Ghost Ship Underground Scene 12 October,2017Nastia Voynovskaya


Nastia Voynovskaya

Nastia Voynovskaya is a Russian-born, California-raised journalist and the music editor at KQED Arts. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, VICE, Paste Magazine, and SF MoMA Open Space. Previously, she served as music editor at East Bay Express and online editor at Hi-Fructose Magazine.