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Monday, October 25, 2021

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Letter to the Editor: ‘I have so many questions’ about nightlife after COVID

SF culture took a massive hit pre-pandemic, a reader writes. Can we let history guide us to better times?

RE: How To Reopen Nightlife: Keeping it cute and safe for all on the dance floor

Dear 48hills,

I have so many questions here.

1) What on earth will the music sound like? My musical tastes for the entire former guy’s reign was for hard, aggressive techno, which was shared by many. How will this change now that we’re in a different time? I mean, there’s no template for the soundtrack of pandemic re-openings, right?

2) Stressing social issues within the scene: Look, I’m a dyed in the wool lefty. Liberal with a big L. I go to protests as often as I absolutely can. But San Francisco has acquired a reputation for being too damn preachy. How can we balance between promoting social goals, and letting it rage? The great thing is that San Francisco built a great nightlife scene because it promoted social issues as a foundation for itself. It developed a strong community based out of real depth because it asked for something from the dancers themselves, besides just dancing. I cannot wait to party with a purpose again. But… at a time when it seems like people of all stripes are so quick to point fingers and lecture others, I just don’t know.

3) A prime reason why Ghost Ship happened was because of shitty city regulatory practices. Why bother getting a permit when SF and Oakland will do whatever they can to prevent you from getting one, whether it’s explicitly or not? Have there been discussions on addressing this?

4) Much has been made over the fact that office workers are not going to be filling buildings downtown, which the media loves to portray as some sort of reflection on the quality of our city. As if San Francisco’s worth is predicated on how many white collar workers are spending their 9-5s there. But this does open up a wider, deeper question; what is our worth predicated on in the first place? What’s the point of this place?

Many things. obviously. But it’s particularly a culture center. And culture took a massive, disgusting, revolting hit in the years before, let alone during the pandemic. We now have an opportunity to move art, nightlife, music, and culture back into its rightful place. We can’t understate the importance and opportunity presented by this right now. San Francisco has always shined its very brightest when the pendulum swung towards our artistic side. So let’s use history as a guide. Our most magical is when we’re allowing culture to flourish inside warehouses and parks and city streets- not at parties with “millionaires and billionaires”.

5) Mental health was a big issue in our community prior to the pandemic, and this only intensified over the past year. We lost some very dear people to our community; my social group within the scene lost two wonderful people within about 8 weeks last summer, and if we had fully practiced the sense of community that we always profess to promote, could we have prevented this from happening? I’m not a shrink- I don’t know. But maybe. It would just be absolutely amazing if we could rebuild a scene where these things can be prevented. 

6) Again, let history and context guide us. Dealing with intense adversity has been a hallmark of our community for nearly a half century. Let’s be clear—I’m not downplaying the pandemic one iota. But it’s not remotely, even in the same dimension, as devastating to our community as AIDS was. Despite its hallowed reputation, the mid-’90s rave scene had a very real problem with gangs, very bad drugs, and stabbings (yes, stabbings- of teenagers). Police repression, sometimes quite intense and corrupt, has been a presence for decades. And billions of dollars in VC money raining on our city was downright awful for us. 

But knowing this history of how strong we are when we come back from adversity has nourished me for this past year. The certainty that we will one day be staring at such a tremendous opportunity as we are right now…made it that much easier to deal with the fucked up deck of cards that was 2020. We are nearly there.

—Adam Wright, San Francisco

Marke B. responds:

Adam raises some terrific questions that I’ll be exploring in further installments of this series in weeks to come. But I’ll address two of his queries, which I realize are more rhetorical for the community overall to think about, but they’ve got me ruminating since the original piece was published.

The music: I am curious what the music will be like too! My first instinct—and this was confirmed by discussions with several DJs—is to have a couple parties with almost no beats whatsoever. Let people acclimate to a social space first with some groovy background music before dropping some hard and fast ones. Or perhaps some family-friendly disco classics to ease us all in. More broadly, I think many DJs have taken the break to explore more experimental musical directions—once everyone was leveled out on the Twitch plane, people had to stand out and keep peoples’ attention without relying on (wonderfully) relentless beats and lights in an amplified setting. I’m wondering how much of that will carry through IRL. As long as we don’t fully return to ’00s ultra-loungecore, I’m fine with it.

The hallowed yet sometimes harrowing rave scene of the mid-’90s: The over-commercialization, cheesy exploitation, and sad drug trade of Peak Rave are the last thing I want to return to, despite many brilliant younger people still being able to carve out their PLUR identities during such a period. These factors—and a sensationalist media environment that clung to cliches about nightlife for dear life—are what caused the ABC to crack down so heavily on parties in the late ’90s-early ’00s. That in turn led to the creation of the fabulous SF Late Night Coalition and, when the battle evolved into more of a fight about freeing real estate up for luxury condos and appeasing suburbanite tech newcomers, the War on the War on Fun. (Adam I know you’re familiar with these battles, but recapping here.)

We “won” both those fights—and while the resulting policy victories like the San Francisco Entertainment Commission and sound-level allowances may sometimes seem like mixed blessings at times, I think it shows rave resilience when we get our sh*t together. Also, there sure are a lot of empty condos sitting around right now …. just saying!

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