What would possess one of the designers of the iPhone, a celebrated tech pioneer, to launch an art gallery in Lower Haight, focused on mostly local funk, hip-hop, and R&B musicians ?
“I wanted to find a way to sustain the culture of my neighborhood that was being lost somehow due to the tech industry—that I was once a part of.” Freddy Anzures, owner of Family Affair Gallery on Haight Street, said in a recent interview. “It was a way of using what I had learned from my career in tech to give back to a scene I’ve loved and been a part of for so long.”
Anzures’ gallery—a small, cleanly-designed, vibe-y space—opened with a bang in June with a show of early Prince photos by Robert Whitman, taken when the Purple One was recording his debut album at Sausalito’s Record Plant Studios. (The opening party was a banger that filled the street with fans.) That set the tone for following shows—paintings of Michael Jackson and striking photos of Eric B. and Rakim by Drew Carolan—that have celebrated the visual culture of black music, often with a local angle.
The current Family Affair show is titled “Freaks of the Industry: Bay Area Hip-Hop Shot by B+” (through November 17) and is my favorite yet. Leveraging his history with Wax Poetics, Anzures secured some ’90s-era photos of Bay Area hip-hop legends shot by photographer B+, who apparently got everyone in his sights. Panoramas of poses by The Coup, Latyrx, E-40, DJ Shadow, Invisbl Skratch Piklz, Dan the Automator, Digital Underground’s Shock G, Kool Keith, Souls of Mischief, the Hieroglyphics crew, Too $hort, Del Tha Funky Homosapien, and more line the walls. At the back is a huge, tiled-canvas version of the indelible cover of Shadow’s “Endtroducing…” For anyone who’s followed the scene, it’s both a celebration of history, and a reminder of one of the Bay Area’s recent musical golden ages, which now seems out of reach.
Anzures grew up in Maryland outside of DC and moved to the Bay Area in 1999. “It was the height of the first dot com rush,” he said. “I worked for Frogdesign, the firm that Steve Jobs hired to design the look and feel of Apple computers in the ‘80s. I was there for five years, and throughout the time that I was there, there was always this desire to be part of something outside of work. It wasn’t so much that I was feeling unfulfilled at work, I just didn’t want to be doing only one thing. While I was moving on in my tech career to eventually be on the team that designed the iPhone, I was going to a lot of shows and seeing this whole other exciting part of the Bay Area, and I wanted to be part of that somehow.”
His curiosity led him to Haight Street record store Groove Merchant, a 21-year-old staple for jazz, hip-hop, rare groove, and global soul music fans, but also accessible for newcomers to the scene. “[Groove Merchant owner] Chris Veltri makes it easy for people to discover the vinyl culture out here, and I could tell right away, too, that we had a similar kind of visual sense, with vintage art and design magazines and how he curates the look of the shop.” The two bonded over a stack of Straight No Chaser underground music magazines from the UK, and Anzures started designing flyers for various parties around town, often working out of the back of Groove Merchant. And then—in a pretty meteoric rise—ended up becoming the creative director for the bible of deeply-researched features about black music history and culture, Wax Poetics Magazine.
All while he was still working full-time as a tech product designer in Cupertino, of course, because hey why not? “I was basically working a double life for 14 years, getting up at 4am to work on Wax Poetics, and then going down to Cupertino for my other job,” Anzures said. He left Apple in February—which caused a bit of a stir in the design world—because he felt the culture had changed after Jobs’ death, and he was ready to move on.
“I had absolutely no intention of opening a gallery or anything of that sort,” he said. But when the storefront next to Groove Merchant which formerly housed the plant store Cove opened up, he decided to take a chance.
“I had always thought about doing something to continue to help support the record store and continue the culture of the neighborhood, and I was fortunate enough to have worked in the tech world to invest some funds. For me it was almost course correcting. Things kind of clicked in this new direction. I mean, I’ve never done this sort of thing before. I’m not hip to art galleries. But I am very sensitive to how tech has changed the city. And a lot of people naturally tend to be upset about that, but aren’t in a position to do anything about it. It becomes really frustrating.
“As a Filipino-American, I’m also really aware of the amount of people who look like me who have been forced to leave the city based on the tech stuff. Groove Merchant and Wax Poetics both feature music mostly by people of color. And the exodus has really just affected the fabric of the city in a way that what was once so common here, especially in the Lower Haight and the Fillmore, in terms of culture and music and just the way things look—it’s just really different. I want to do what I can to celebrate what was here and keep that spirit and community around this culture alive as much as I can.” (Family Affair has been distributing ‘Lower Hate’ window signs to local businesses and residents, as a counter to some of the country’s recent discriminatory policies.)
Opening and operating a gallery that doesn’t represent high-end artists is a risk, but Anzures says he’s enjoying learning about the business and starting something unique. He also told me about some incredible upcoming shows planned at Family Affair, although I’ve been sworn to secrecy. Let’s just say that he’s finding a way to meld old-school celebration with the contemporary indie scene, and keeping things colorful.
“Family Affair’s name came from the classic Sly and the Family Stone song,” Anzures said. “And music and art in the Bay Area is such a family business really, it takes everybody coming together and supporting each other to create so many legends and great music. I’m hoping we’re continuing that in this environment.”
FREAKS OF THE INDUSTRY: BAY AREA HIP-HOP SHOT BY B+
Through November 17
Family Affair, SF.
More info here.