When Pork Belly Replaces the Punk Club: Fears About the Future of Music in Affluent S.F.

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Two news stories yesterday seemed to point to a blander, more expensive music scene in San Francisco's future, as the full-time freaks and out-of-the-way spaces that host them disappear amid the city's next wave of affluence.

The first was a New York Times piece about the onset of San Francisco's latest tech bubble (symbolized by the relocation of Twitter to that massive art-deco building in mid-Market), and the attendant fears of gentrification, price inflation, and the general driving-out-of-San-Francisco of anyone who isn't young, single, and/or getting paid a tech-company salary. An old story, but still a painful one for anyone who pays rent here. One accompanying photo showed a group of young people -- two startup workers and a college student -- eyeing $3,900-a-month apartment in the Mission District. Puke.

The other story, and this will strike closer to home, was the announcement of Noise Pop's latest event, which the company had teased for quite a while on Twitter. After all the buildup, what did we get? A new medium festival of sorts? Something to fill the time gap between the original Noise Pop in February and its big cousin Treasure Island in October?


Not really: Noise Pop announced a one-day afternoon party at the Speakeasy brewery where, for the not-inconsequential sum of $50, $60, or $85, one could watch mild S.F. indie-pop band the Dodos and some other local* groups, all while munching on small portions of food from eight chefs at some of the city's trendiest restaurants -- places like Flour + Water, Commonwealth, Beast and the Hare, and Bar Crudo. Oh, and you'll still have to pay for your own beer.

The notion of pairing food and music is interesting, and several people, most notably those over at Turntable Kitchen, have honed it to a fine art. Noise Pop's recent festivals have also included dinners on the side, where, for a sum, attendees can eat a meal specially prepared to go with the chosen record of the evening. Outside Lands has made a point of bringing in the city's best restaurants, which only makes sense, because everyone will need to eat at a 12-hour festival, and they might as well eat good food.

But while there's nothing wrong with good food and music pairings on their own, it's hard not to see these new music events as mirrors of the broader social and economic trends of San Francisco. And those trends seem far more likely to dry out out the city's musical culture than enrich it.

Here's how it goes: Creative people -- not web designers or software developers, but artists, musicians, activists, writers, and other colorful types -- tend not to make much money. As this city becomes less and less affordable, those people leave. And when those people leave, whom will the city's entertainment events target? The people who can afford to stay: Young, well-off tech workers or high-income young couples, whose tastes and lifestyles are cushier, more conservative, less driven by purely creative aims, and, often -- if only in comparison with the people they've replaced -- dull.

These bougies-in-training will want events to practice their conspicuous consumption, whether on food, booze, music, or all at the same time. And they'll get it at events like Noisette. This kind of high-minded consumerism -- fun as it is -- will become the norm, even more than it already has. So while it was once a respite for low-income creatives and real deviants, who would pay $5 or $10 to go a show or a party (at the Eagle Tavern, or Annie's Social Club, or Kimo's, remember those?), swill cheap whiskey, and watch something freaky and loud until early in the morning, San Francisco will slowly become one big pork-belly party, an amusement park for well-off residents to discover some new consumer good to become picky over, or for bridge-and-tunnel types to visit on the weekend, go to an overpriced club, and meet a hookup. Big concerts will draw kids from the 'burbs paying $50 or more a head. They'll never believe they could be rich enough to actually live here.

The freaks and creatives won't go too far -- they'll go to Oakland, where there's much more space, at much lower cost. The kinds of reckless energy that powered San Francisco music from the '60s through the '90s will trickle away, as much of it has already. And the city will be worse for it.

The Noisette event in August will probably be a success, and the people who go will probably enjoy it. The larger changes that make such an event possible aren't Noise Pop's fault, and as the company ages, it makes sense that its events will increasingly target older, higher-income, audiences.

Still, it's difficult not to see Noisette as a harmless-in-itself symptom of the larger problem with San Francisco: That the people in power don't care as much as they should about preserving the kind of cultural vibrancy that only comes when people with less-than-huge incomes can stay here. Music events that are raw, radically new, unpredictable, or even a little scary will find fewer venues and smaller audiences in San Francisco as the cost of living goes up. Expensive pairings, exorbitant concerts, and elite nightclubs will replace them. And for a city with such a rich history, that's a sad future to imagine.

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*Correction: While the Dodos and Dan the Automator are based in the Bay Area, the other performers at Noisette aren't.

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Follow us on Twitter @SFAllShookDown, follow Ian S. Port @iPORT, and like us at Facebook.com/SFAllShookDown.

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18 comments
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bswartho
bswartho

Where was this article 10 years ago....

Wakeup
Wakeup

It is pathetic to think that you can buy an interesting life or simply be creative or of value because you make money. It is a simple mind that makes such deulsional statements as you ignore all in human experience that is meaningful that has nothing to do with your "cool" overpriced condo, trophy mate and self aggrandizing bank statement. You impress yourself and your sychophants, I'm sure, but the overwrought, phoney sighs, the whole less than sincere protestations based on your vanity instead of quality of thought are a bit much don't you think?  Of course you don't.

What
What

It's not "cool" to be a starving artist, it's just a reality in a lot of cases. San francisco used to be a place where one moved to do creative things and live cheap and trhat all enede in the late 90s.  It was a great city that was inexpensive, and had a lot of interesting venues, good food and it was all cheap and chill. Now it's a yuppie, foodie, overly vain annoying "dining expertience" kinda place and young tech gnome mecca. People didn't move here to have a career, but to live a different life than the status quo, :good college", "my carreer" crowd.They have come in waves until they hook up and pop out a kid or two and head bacjk to the burbs..the serious gentrufucation has been co ming in waves since 1998 and now it is worse that ever.. The techies want to "buy" an interesting life and more opwer to them, but it's only more of the same and SF is a less interesting of a place to be because of it. 

suzyloves
suzyloves

ny *has* experienced a tremendous loss of its creative class in the last decade. just google to see what has happened to williamsburg and other former artsy neighborhoods. artists are pushed out to jersey city and ny suburbs and beyond, and it has changed the entire feeling of the city. manhattan is now a shopping mall. 

PK
PK

I guess I'm old, but I thought we had this discussion once before, back in the late 90s. That's when most the people I knew in SF got the hell out of dodge and came to live in Oakland. We have backyards and way better warehouse shows. Always have. 

Two Slices
Two Slices

This seems like a gross generalization. The idea that simply because some people make more money that they are inherently less creative, or that they wouldn't seek out the things that are simple is a bit ridiculous. I can't argue with the obvious point that the city is definitely changing and that a lot of small venues and cheap events are falling out of favor, but it can't simply be placed squarely on the shoulders of those who happen to be making more money than their "more artistic" counterparts are. Isn't this the problem that every city faces at some point. There are a few years of a massive influx of the "young" and over time they get a little older and the environment that their suden influx created simply changes with their tastes.  There are a lot of people still trying to make smaller events more accessible and more frequent, but I think it's up to larger event organizers like NoisePop to take notice and lend a helping hand, in order to keep the town we all know and love alive and awesome.

Earinsound
Earinsound

This is the second "free weekly" article of the last 3 months saying SF is too expensive for real creative types and that Oakland welcomes them with open arms. PLEASE do not move to Oakland. My rent has already gone up. Landlords are already salivating over hordes of out-priced SF'ers moving over here. They don't care whether you make $20,000/year or $200,000/year. Landlords don't differentiate, they just charge "market prices," which for the Bay Area are astronomical and if the demand is high, so will be the rents, even in the ghetto. I was priced out of SF in 1998 (I paid $250/month for a room in Hayes Valley until a dirtbag bought the bldg). People move to SF because they are willing to pay the price for coolness. This includes arty types who have day jobs (most artists do) that can pay the rent, pork belly, and noise pop.

Jay
Jay

Have you stopped to consider that the one-dimensional nature of what gets published in local music publications (including this one) contributes to this dynamic pretty heavily? Sure, the influx of money from the nerd-farms is a huge factor, but I'd also argue the fact that a lack of coverage keeps 'underground' music in this city from being remotely visible to anybody who's not already 'plugged in'. The blogs and weeklies which are charged with covering 'local music' seem to focus more and more on national artists who are in town for a show, or local artists who've already 'broken' and have been receiving mainstream attention for years.I say this not as a value judgement, but I think this sort of attitude is somewhat prevalent lately amongst music writers and I think there's a complete lack of introspection when it comes to what their role in this might be.All Shook Down is billed as a LOCAL MUSIC PUBLICATION and the sheer dearth of actual local music coverage inside says a lot about the mentality of most San Franciscans when it comes to engaging with their local art scene.

Micaiah Von Walter
Micaiah Von Walter

The great taxation of America isn't on your W2. It's artificial real estate values and the monopoly of private health care. It just so happens that in the Bay Area you have this bizarre Darwinian enclave of other people who make money out of absolutely nothing too. (Facebook is worth billions? Really?) But they aren't the real problem.  I grew up in Seattle during the 90s. I'm not going to lie. It was inspiring. You could haphazardly fall into a club, pay $5 bucks, and witness a community coming together to improve the quality of life. Weather it was art, design, or just social exchange, there were venues where people were valued and you were admitted without prejudice. Local radio stations (even corporate ones), civic leaders and land owners pitched in on some level. It wasn't with out it's capitalistic character, most people were in it for some level of profit. But it was worth it. In 2005 I moved to SF. It was immediately frustrating. You paid just to breath. I adapted. And then even my adaptations started charging me what the market would bare. And that sums up the ethic of the city. "What the market would bare" in SF roughly translates into "get mine and get out". Which is not surprising in the city that brought you the lowest ratio of children to adults in America (i.e. the ones under 18 that is) and professional slackers like Tim Ferriss.   Anyone that says they care about community in San Francisco is referring to THEIR community. Their exclusive niche of income, skill, race and sexual preference; all factors which will decide who they will refuse to admit in their social (and financial) circles. Every few blocks in the city reflects its values of esoteric exclusiveness into a strange pods of willing societal seclusion; The Marina, The Mission, SOMA, The Outer Sunset. Areas so thorough in their own cultural homogenization that people looked like lost house pets when they cross over to the opposite neighborhood.  I left SF last year for Oakland. It's woefully imperfect, not exactly cheap, has its stratosphere of super wealthy and trust fund children, and is barely less intrinsically self absorbed as the folks across the Bay. But it all smears together in brilliant confusion and accidental interactions like a city ought to. That part is a critical ingredient is what ferments creativity and great art (that and plenty of basements, garages and converted warehouses). Community. 

Camilito
Camilito

Yep, I'm in oakland already

Bob
Bob

More housing for the middle class... people who make 50-100k/yr.  Below market rate housing is a joke when you look at the salary restrictions.  How the hell can someone making 50k/yr afford a 400k condo and still afford to eat?

"Arf!" Lemming
"Arf!" Lemming

So it would appear to some folks , except that this crop of , basically , neo-yuppies see a world in which it's  either 'us or them'. They are in a 'take no prisoners' mode , where it comes to coexisting in San Francisco and near environs..Junior Patrick Batemans ( see B.E. Ellis' American Psycho.) as it were...

"Arf!" Lemming
"Arf!" Lemming

 You talk like a 'camp follower'.. A 'retail who*e' by any other name..

"Arf!" Lemming
"Arf!" Lemming

Do more 'prison realignment' and expand the borders of the T/L , to make it a bit less attractive to state college drop outs from Carbondale , Il. , etc..That would be , typically , one approach if people like our city's own government types , prevailed..

JacquelineH
JacquelineH

"Artists have to learn to make money" and "learn to sell art".  Let me know if telling yourself that you are one of the "freaky creatives" of San Francisco is still working for you.

MR
MR

*Who is also playing Noisette.

MR
MR

*Correction. Craft Spells' Justin Vallesteros lives in SF now... and can commiserate with us all about this.

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