What is “California Wave”? According to the Bells Rang, a local electronic rock group whose self-titled EP drops Fri/14, it’s a sound that’s perfect for blasting poolside in your survival bunker. Odd grouping seems to be the thing. With four songs clocking in at just under 30 minutes, the EP smacks of David Lynchian dramatics, quirky vocoder charm, and shadowy, crisp meter. This release ties together their taste for motoring rhythms and knobby synth work inspired by bands like NEU! and Suicide with the spectral mood of Dario Argento flick.
Band members Christopher Drellow, Andrew Livingston and Damon Magana spent months in cabins and rehearsal studios, using that isolation, honing their dark sparkle before tracking the result. “We would use every tool at our disposal: drum machines, synthesizers, guitars, consumables and exhaustion,” quipped Drellow. “We tried to stick to this idea of California Wave. If a song didn’t feel like whatever that means, we’d drop it.” While analog synth gets the preference, the EP shifts between West Coast psyche and goth groove, with simmering fervor lurking just beneath the surface.
There is no doubt Bells Rang would have enjoyed a fair shot at success in their own city, 30 years ago. Don’t get it twisted, their mope-core dream pop with post-punk accents deserves to be processed in the loneliest corner of Amado’s on February 15, at the release party. (The band also plays March 19 at DNA Lounge.) They’ve definitely got the music, the buzz, and the hazy new genre thing going for them.
But can SF bands rise up and conquer the world like they used to, with support systems eroding on every front? Lacking the proper number of spaces to rehearse, record, and play, many 2020 bands can barely scrape together a tour of SF neighborhood dives to perform in. The City’s tech-obsessed, ‘disruptor culture’ has gutted the public arts, opting to cash billion-dollar real-estate deals instead. This is stale news, but we’re still just feeling the effects. Legendary groups like The Tubes and The Units, who started their keyboard-driven success in SF warehouse spaces and went on to international fame, would not stand a chance today.
With the announcement last week that John Vanderslice’s analog recording studio Tiny Telephone was closing its San Francisco location due to “the rising cost of running a small business in a city knocked out of economic whack,” according to The San Francisco Chronicle, the city loses a crucial resource. Located at 1458 A San Bruno Ave, Tiny Telephone began in a quiet corner of San Francisco’s Mission District in 1997, providing a homey, affordable space for local musicians and visiting ones to make records. (Bells Rang was recorded in Drellow’s home studio, increasingly the only pricey option for SF bands.)
Adding to this downer news cycle, the long-running Mission District club Amnesia announced earlier this year it also would-be closing, ceasing operations indefinitely on Feb. 29. The snug live music venue has been a neighborhood bar-gathering space for over 100 years. Before 853 Valencia was Amnesia it was the Chameleon, a dive punk-rock bar that booked local and international talent, simultaneously.
According to KQED, Amnesia’s closure follows the recent shut down of SoMa dance club Mezzanine, which held its last show on New Year’s Eve after 17 years in business. The owners of Mezzanine’s Jessie Street building plan to convert it into office spaces and increase the rent by 600 percent—in 2018, one of the building’s owners told KQED, by way of explanation, “It’s just economics.” Also in 2018, underground rock club the Hemlock Tavern shut its doors to make room for new development.
While it’s promising that venues like Amado’s (formerly Viracocha) and DNA Lounge are hanging on, we’re losing live venues and resources faster than new ones are coming along. Go support your local talent, before “economics” kill the show.
Tickets and more info here.