Culture

New Music: Isaac Aesili’s ‘Hidden Truths’ brings elegant electronic grooves

Isaac Aesili

Released just a couple of weeks after the spring equinox, Issac Aesiliʻs sophomore release unfurls before a turbulent planet with the elegant poise of jejune lilies budding for the first time.

Hidden Truths (Bastard Jazz) was recorded with New Zealand’s top-tier groove masters, including in-demand feature vocalists Ladi6 and Rachel Fraser. Aesili, Lord Echo bandmember and world-renowned musician on both trumpet and percussion, takes us through a good-good-feeling digital soul journey, that squiggles its way through jazz, funk, R&B, and house music with self-assured aplomb.

Donʻt count on me to tell you his production aesthetic fuses Afro and Latin styles with hip-hop and electronic music. Let your ears do the heaving lifting. “Realms”—a killer dance floor lil-bit-o-everything slab five songs in, is the first real sign that weʻve got a stand-out project on our hands. As with the work of New Zealand contemporary Julien Dyne (Teal from 2018 still bumps), we get 808 programming and live drumming fused into one cohesive entity. A champion sound with the majestic swing. Itʻs lined up with keen execution merging techno, house, and low slung bass tones, converting this five-minute number into a must repeat choon fer days. And that breakdown in the middle? Filthy.

Over the course of the past three years Aesili, Māori producer and creative force behind acts Funkommunity, Sorceress, and Karlmarx, designed a record that fits squarely between the commute to the club and the fine in-home listening we’ll all be doing for a while. Backyard-ready for the social distancing dance party (everybody hold tight to your own red cup, please) this album never gives a sense of overreaching while traversing through various feels. From the wintry J Dilla swing on the instrumental opener “Mirror,” things go click and bump over tinny loops setting the terrain for antiquated trumpet calls, smoothing things out.

“Steps,” a 7-minute workout, the climax of the record, is yet another blueprint displaying the shrewdness Aesilli has in designing grand dance tunes that never feel “too extra.” It starts out economical with voice, hand-drumming, and Rhodes organ colors and by the end we are rolling, awash in plush synths, expanded bass-lines and soaring vocal enhancements. There is a sensation of a simplified Fred P-type of arrangement at work here, that allows so many varying access points for the uninitiated. Hidden Truths further indicates New Zealand remains a fertile region making electronic compositions that hit fresh and emote clearly.

Puff: Crazy times deserve good weed, and good care

Fuzzies!

Like many of you, I’m stuck at home watching Netflix and still putting off household chores as the coronavirus makes its way across the country. The one thing I can certainly say already is if it wasn’t for cannabis, I would be batshit crazy by now.

I lucked out and purchased two nice bags just before we were all self-isolated in our homes. Once it started setting in that I was going to be here for a while I decided I needed variety and stronger stuff. My first thought was concentrates! I don’t have a dab rig, but I do enjoy sprinkling a little something on top of the bowl though. Don’t we all when stuck inside for days on end!?

Then I got news that all the dispensaries in San Francisco were closing for the time being in three hours. I made a cartoon Road Runner cloud and shot out of my apartment in a flash and ended up at Grassroots, my nearest dispensary, in mere minutes! I picked up some lovely Strawberry Banana Live Resin Sugar from Flavor at $45 for a gram. Not only does it smell fantastic, it contains 94.19% cannabinoids including CBD and comes nice and granulated so it is easy to sprinkle on my bowl.

Luckily, all the dispensaries reopened in a day or so—our legacy of classifying cannabis as medicine helped deem them essential—with new procedures in place. Vapor Room, Grassroots, Mission Cannabis Club, Barbary Coast, The Green Door and probably all the other dispensaries in the area are mostly dealing in pre-ordered pick-ups. Go to their websites and order off the menu. You don’t necessarily need to pay for it online, but I know when I was at Grassroots, they would not let anyone in who couldn’t show them their online order text. 

Most dispensaries are open shorter hours, so make sure and check online first about that, too. I have found lots of stuff in stock, good deals, and usually FREE delivery options. Let’s hope it stays that way.

After almost two weeks of captivity, I decided I needed a change of pace which lead to another excursion out to Grassroots. Of course Fuzzies saved the day! I have smoked many infused prerolls in my day, and nothing beats a Fuzzie. They are infused with extract and rolled in kief. It was three shorty joints for $30. I bought the Indica ones, and they knocked me the fuck out. Yay! Mission accomplished. 

I also bought a two pack of Creme Brulee joints from Best Bargain Joints for $8 as well. For that prize they were fantastic. 

I didn’t really get into buying edibles because, for me, they tend to make me paranoid, something I really do not want to feel in this particular time. I’m scared enough as it is. On that note, try to buy all your cannabis products with at least a little CBD in them. CBD should help keep you from feeling anxiety from cannabis. If you are going for more of a pain killing cannabis vibe, get as much CBD as you can find.

Also, do not forget the many delivery services available including a couple of my favorites, Sava, the only LGBTQ owned and operated service, and Eaze. 

Now some basic home preparedness tips for the Stoner. 

Clean out your bong! I usually buy Formula 420 from my local head shop, but these being trying times, I can make do with warm water, coarse salt and isopropyl alcohol. Put salt and alcohol in the bong, clog holes with fingers and palm (you can wear gloves) and shake vigorously. Slush and shake all over. Pour and rinse with warm water. Smaller bong pieces or pipes can be soaked with the alcohol and salt in a resealable sandwich bag. Sometimes they need a good soak to loosen everything.

On a weekly basis you should wipe down your pipes and bongs with alcohol. For extra security you can pour and shake some alcohol inside your pieces to make sure some germs and viruses are not hanging on. Clean more often if you want. I know I have the time.

If there is more than one person using the pipes and bongs in your home, buy some alcohol wipes. Be polite and wipe after yourself every time!

Don’t keep delivery containers and paper bags after delivery or getting home with your new weed. Open your bag. Quickly wash your hands in warm water and soap for 20 seconds. Take out your new weed and knock your bag into the recycling with your elbow. It’s a move we have all mastered in one way or another by now.

Now it is time to light up one of those Fuzzies!

Keep safe and stay stoned.

Silenced in place? SF’s resilient music scene faces its latest obstacle

Seablite just released a new EP, 'High-Rise Mannequins'

As Broken Horse, an enduring San Francisco band that calls its oeuvre Western Doom Noir, erupted into tuning instruments at its Rite Spot comeback show on Saturday, March 7th, a congregation of greying hipsters assembled.

This was the day after Mayor London Breed and the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s had announced that larger venues, such as the War Memorial Opera House and Davies Symphony Hall, would be closed for all public events, but that smaller spots could stay open. Listen, right when those guitar-tech exercises got “string noisey” irksome, a throng of younger-looking attendees spilled out, popping fingers from their ears as they hit the street.

As for those old heads? The ones who probably lived in the rough-and-nasty SOMA district of the late ’80s and the tense Mission district of the early ’90s? They moved in closer, identifying that brashness—a welcoming drone—that comes along with living in a city, as their long-lost sonic hearth, enjoying the communal warmth of having their old Mission dive bar back. (The Rite Spot had just reopened after a run-in with the Entertainment Commission.)

Broken Horse perform at the Rite Spot. Photo by Raoul Ollman

“So I guess I tuned up,” joked Alex Oropeza, who founded the band in Tuscon, Arizona circa 1986. “Hopefully, this will sound OK.”

Oropeza steered the four-piece outfit through a collection of retooled southwestward-type blues, with Bill Cuevas on bass, Joe Goldring on lead guitar, and Warren Huegel on drums. For an hour and change they marshalled along twangy Dick Dale-tinged, gothlike country-surf-jazz numbers, a sort of David Lynchian concept album. For the 30 or so patrons in attendance, including revered San Francisco songwriter and musician Paula Frazier, it was an eerie soundtrack to a world teetering slightly, but not yet fully, into panic. Oropezaʻs fetching arrangements, executed with veteran self-assuredness from the band, rendered an ominous tone that patrons applauded, but nobody really wanted to discuss.

Alex Oropeza of Broken Horse. Photo by Raoul Ollman

At 12:01 am Tuesday, March 17, 10 days later, that dread became fact. San Francisco, along with five other counties began “shelter in place” orders, weeks ahead of the rest of the continental United States, directing everyone to stay inside their homes and away from others as much as possible. A desperate, yet necessary move to curb the rapid spread of COVID across the Bay Area. The arts community braced itself for a devastating hook.

“My guitarist’s European tour got canceled, a big bummer for them, as they work all year for a few months of fun in the spotlight,” Oropeza told me about the current crisis. “So instead, we thought we’d take the opportunity and go into the studio to finish our record, then all non-essential businesses got shut down. So recording was a bust too”.

With at least 3.3 million US workers losing their jobs within a week due to the COVID shutdown, this global pandemic has invaded every bit of society thought possible. San Francisco has always had the type of arts community that could insulate societal blows, but the past four weeks have taken a ruinous toll on the people who give temporary but well-needed distractions in times of crisis. Those important converters of energy, life-force providers, are just as much at risk as anyone else. Possibly more. Constant construction of high-rise condos that nobody can afford does not boost tourism nor the creative potential for new residents. Culture does.

“Music venues had really taken a hard hit in SF for the last 10 years, with no second-tier places to play” Oropeza said. “Finally over the last year, it started picking up again with live music gaining momentum. Now they’re all closed and reaching out with GoFundMes to support their staff.”

Bay Area shoegaze and dream-pop four-piece Seablite was finishing the video for “High-Rise Mannequins,” the title track of its recent EP released by Emotional Response and Spanish label Meritorio Records, when the current shelter-in-place order was issued. Suddenly the video’s theme became all too real. Intercut with scenes of the bands’ live performances at UC Theatre and Rickshaw Stop, were shots of a headphone-wearing mannequin, schlep-rocking through an abandoned cityscape.

“It feels weird to watch this now that the entire world is on pandemic lockdown and we’re not sure we can really even go to our practice space in the near future,” read a statement from the band. “But we hope it brings a smile to your face and a reminder that good times are still out there, somewhere in the future.”

Scheduled to play the Valley Fever Festival and go out on a DIY tour with The Umbrellas, Seablite are now are quarantined like most bands. Individually, they are working on demos and graphic design projects, doodling new song ideas, re-creating family recipes to think on easier times, searching for jobs at cemeteries or funeral homes, and working on jangle-pop solo records.

Oakland’s’ own Once & Future Band, a pop group whose range of influences includes ’60s and ’70s arrangements, ’80s R&B, ’90s hip hop, jazz fusion, experimental electronic music, and a ton of other sounds, released a video for the song “Freaks” a couple of weeks back from their upcoming LP Deleted Scenes, out on Castle Face Records April 10th. Facing the hard reality of dropping an album, without any type of shows to support it, led the prog-rock outfit to think about recording new material.

“We were hoping to have this time as a band to work on new music and record more since we won’t be on the road, but from now on, we don’t have access to our studio and I don’t have access to my drums for the foreseeable future” stated band drummer Raj Ojha. “However, I know everyone’s working on music on their own, that’s just what we do, and I’m grateful that I was able to take some equipment home before the shelter in place order, so I can work on some mixing jobs and work on other music that doesn’t require my drums.”

Kristyn Potter of Brooklyn’s Left Bank Magazine

So how are indie musicians surviving? Brooklyn-based magazine Left Bank hosted a virtual music festival via YouTube, that ran 12 hours a day, March 17-22. Called Left Bank Live, it featured artists from around the world broadcasting from their bedrooms. Rather than charging fans for digital entry, the magazine encouraged listeners to tip the musicians they enjoy using Venmo. Left Bank Media founder Kristyn Potter told the Guardian that given the international spread of bands and fans, this was the simplest way to get artists paid without “potentially breaking any international money laws.”

As for the inspiration for the event: “To be honest, I was working with an artist friend on a way to Livestream a set of his from New Jersey and I was like ‘wait a minute what if we just did this for a bunch of artists.’ It was Thursday night and I texted a few of my music friends, made a story on Instagram to gauge whether there was an interest or if artists would even sign up, and by Friday we had like 50 artists confirmed and a potential sponsor interested. It happened VERY fast” Potter explained via email to 48hills.

These innovations come when the need is well beyond healthy, and according to Potter, itʻs gonna continue.

“I think that people are just trying to be creative and engage with their audiences through this time. I also think that if you aren’t live streaming or doing virtual concerts, someone else will and it’s still important for artists to keep up as much face time with their fans as possible,” Potter said. “That coupled with the fact that everyone is at home.”

Screen Grabs: Buckle up for more cinematic adventure

Douglas Fairbanks in 'The Thief of Baghdad' (1924)

Part Two of our armchair audiovisual world tour offers more scenic and adventuresome distraction from “shelter-at-home” stasis. (Part One is here.) While we’re not heavily wading into the “new release” category here, at least not yet, it’s worth noting that foreign and arthouse features do continue to be released, some of them going directly to streaming formats in lieu of now-canceled or postponed theatrical runs.

Among such newcomers this week are two of particular interest. Veteran Portuguese director Pedro Costa’s latest Vitalina Varela (available from www.grasshopperfilm.com ) is a minimalist narrative in which a Cape Verdean woman journeys to Lisbon’s impoverished Fontainhas shantytown for a funeral—of the husband who abandoned her 40 years before. Offering one dark, chiaroscuro-lit, suitable-for-framing composition after another, this is sombre objet d’art cinema in the realm of Bela Tarr and Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia), demanding equal patience.

Considerably more entertaining is Kleber Mendonca Filho and Juliano Dornelles’ Cannes jury prize winner Bacurau, which is also set in motion by a woman’s arrival for a funeral—in this case her grandmother’s. But there’s otherwise nothing very mournful about this cheeky mix of neuvo Western and a Most Dangerous Gamespin not unlike The Hunt. The deceptively deadpan movie takes its time revealing the precise nature of what’s menacing a tiny northeastern Brazilian rural village already isolated by geography and local political corruption.

Handsome, humorous and eventually quite violent, it’s an enjoyably outlandish tale that gradually turns into a black joke at the expense of some very Ugly Americans. Warning: This movie is not for US viewers to whom it will be a terrible shock that some “foreigners” think the absolute worst of us. Five-day streaming rentals of Bacurau will partially benefit our own Roxie Theater (more info here).

But, continuing with our cinematic globetrot against the menace of pandemic claustrophobia (you can find these online with a little Google sleuthing):

Jeremiah Johnson (1972)
One movie that managed to open just before the shutdown, but not early enough for most audiences to get to it, was Kelly Reichardt’s lovely First Cow. It put me in mind of other movies that are about the 19th-century American West without being primarily centered on violence and/or vengeance—of which there are, frankly, damn few. One much-liked exception to the Western genre rule of ridin’, shootin’ and hangin’ melodrama is this Robert Redford vehicle shot in his beloved Utah.

He plays a more-or-less fact-based mountain man who left military service after the Mexican War (1846-48) to become a lone trapper in the Rockies. But whether Jeremiah’s interactions are with tribal populations, settlers or US Army personnel, the human race—and its sorrows—can never fully be left behind. This gorgeous, meditative, attractively scored wilderness tale was only a modest success at the time, but quickly grew enough of a reputation to command multiple re-releases. Redford and director Sydney Pollack reunited the next year for the much more popular (but editorially compromised) romance The Way We Were. A comparably lyrical if darker recent movie was Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s fine 2015 The Revenant.

Letter Never Sent (1960)
Speaking of The Revenant, an even more harshly beautiful story of wilderness survival (or at least its attempt) is this B&W 1960 feature by Mikhail Kalatozov, the most kinetically exciting stylist in Soviet cinema after the silent era. He had a great hit with 1957’s The Cranes are Flying, and a huge flop with 1964’s I Am Cuba, a co-production virtually unknown in “the West” until a Martin Scorcese-sponsored restoration three decades later.

But arguably his greatest achievement was this extraordinary physical adventure, a visually dazzling tragedy in which the elements and human nature conspire against a small group of government geologists exploring remotest Siberia for mineral deposits. When cruel fate bars their timely return to civilization at summer’s end, survival becomes increasingly difficult. A psychodrama set amidst Mother Nature at her most tempestuous, Letter has passages of truly harrowing beauty—a forest fire sequence seems to place the actors in such acute real danger, you can’t imagine how they filmed it.

The Thief of Bagdad x 2
For much lighter escapism in much warmer climes, you can’t beat the two most beloved adaptations of the most famous story from One Thousand and One Nights. Well, OK, there’s Disney’s Aladdin in its several incarnations to date. But for people of all ages, these are probably the two best flying-carpet movies of all time.

Having already transitioned from the all-American hero of his early films to the costumed adventures of ZorroThree Musketeers, and Robin Hood, Douglas Fairbanks pulled out all of the stops for his 1924 Thief, which was directed by Raoul Walsh (who’d later direct many vehicles for Cagney, Bogart and Errol Flynn). It’s still an absolute delight, with lavish sets, elaborate special effects, color tinting, and a breakout performance by pioneering Asian-American star Anna May Wong. As ever, though, the biggest attraction here is an already past-40 Fairbanks, whose athletic brio and irrepressible personality have never been surpassed amongst screen swashbucklers.

Sixteen years later the British film industry sought to out-do even that spectacular flight of fancy with a Technicolor epic that did much to cheer troubled audiences amidst the early days of WW2. (Though that conflict actually forced production to be relocated whole from London to Hollywood, mid-shoot.) The 1940 Thief is an eye-popping marvel whose more purely fantastical spirit is arguably closer to the prior year’s MGM Wizard of Oz than to the Fairbanks film. It was also an early international triumph for co-director Michael Powell, who with Emeric Pressburger would later expand the medium’s vocabulary with such sumptuous, daring classics as The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus.

For a highly enjoyable later contribution to the cinema of Arabian Nights-type fancy, check out The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, an incongruously old-fashioned release in 1974—that peak “New Hollywood” year of ChinatownThe Godfather Part II, etc.—which made glorious full use of stop-motion “Dynarama” effects by animator Ray Harryhausen.

Encounters at the End of the World (2007)
Werner Herzog has always been drawn by the remotest landscapes, and their impact on human behavior—including the foolish filmmaker who would think to make a movie there. (Let alone in the company of mad late actor Klaus Kinski, which long, tortured collaboration the director examined in My Best Fiend.) Alternating narrative features with documentaries since his earliest work, the German director has gravitated more toward nonfiction in recent decades, and dug out a surprisingly popular niche for himself in that category.

His eccentrically droll, very personal approach to the genre has never been more pleasingly displayed than in this look at Antarctica. Rather than focus on that icy continent’s natural wonders, however—though we do get some spectacular underwater photography of ice tunnels shot by Oakland-born musician Henry Kaiser—Herzog trains his camera primarily on the scientific researchers and others dedicated/crazy enough to work here. They are, needless to say, an idiosyncratic lot whose peculiarities have flourished in this extreme environ. It’s a funny, surprising and educational doc.

For old-school Herzog at his most characteristic (and for a sweatbath after those subzero temperatures), there’s nothing better than 1972’s Amazonian adventure Aguirre, the Wrath of God, with Kinski at his most rivetingly intense as a 16th-century Spanish conquistador losing mental grip in the Peruvian rainforest.

Life Feels Good (2013)
Not all travel is outwardly-bound, and this ingratiating Polish film from director Maciej Piprzyca does a remarkable job conveying the imaginative ingenuity exerted to keep daily life interesting by a protagonist dismissed by most as a virtual vegetable. Afflicted with cerebral palsy, Mateusz (David Ogrodnik) benefits from the encouragement of loving parents, but is eventually removed from their care to an institution where no one notices or cares about his hidden potential.

Like a funnier, more joyful version of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, this fact-inspired tale charts the journey of a man to make himself truly understood despite severe difficulties of movement and communication. Avoiding all the usual “inspirational” and tear-jerking formulas of disability cinema (while earning some of those emotions), Life is a small marvel—a movie about a character with extreme physical limitations, whose oft-cosmic perspective nonetheless makes the world seem a bigger place.

Examined Life: Replace existing normal

So, here we are.

I finally did my laundry. It had piled up from a week of vacation, followed by a week of social distancing, followed by two weeks of shelter-in-place. It felt normal, doing my laundry. The detergent and quarters, the wash and spin, folding my dry towels and sheets. It felt normal, that is, until the bathing suits that I hung up to dry. I’d worn them in Hawaii. But now … now, I’ll have no use for these bathing suits, for so many things, for quite some time.

There is a prompt I used to often see on an old PC when something went haywire with Microsoft Word. It would pop up in the center of the page and say, “Replace existing normal?” Lacking the tech savvy needed to understand the true meaning of the prompt, I’d often laugh to myself and exclaim aloud, “Yes, please!” Who doesn’t want to replace their existing normal at one point or another? And then, of course, I’d click “No,” terrified of losing the contents of my hard drive. Now, in this current moment, it’s the same concept, really—but it’s no longer a question. The existing normal has been replaced. And there’s nothing we can do about it.

In the new normal, there are the bigger things that some of us have lost: Work. Income. Physical connection with loved ones, in-person connection with communities. In some cases, our health. In some cases, the lives of friends or family members. There are the smaller things that some of us have lost: The freedom to gather. Visits to our favorite restaurant or wine bar. Toilet paper stocked in the toilet paper aisle. Food shopping without fear. And though most of us who are housed feel gratitude for simply having a place in which to take shelter, there’s no denying that, as a city, as a society, no matter how much baking we do or dog-walking or Zoom-calling, things are, in a most surreal way, undefinably different. 

The first week of the new normal, the primary feeling I experienced was a tight clenching in my chest, like a hand reaching through my body, trying to pull the recent past back through myself, so I could step backwards into it. No matter the apparent practical reality that appeared in front of me—employers shutting down, loved ones forgoing pre-planned visits to California, doors shuttering down the whole Divisadero corridor where I live, and Depression Era-reminiscent queues a block-length or more in which folks were waiting for bread and rice—there was a part of me that didn’t agree with this new world. It wasn’t an ethical disagreement; my reasoning mind knew, of course, we needed to shut the city down in the face of the pandemic. It was, instead, a disagreement of the will, of expectation and routine. A disagreement of the now, of the future, of the heart.

I grieved a lot those first days, in between hours spent transferring as much of my business as I could to an online platform. I wept between pleasant (socially-distanced) strolls with a friend, and howled while fumbling through new technological tools I never wanted to learn but now feel grateful to comprehend. I sat happily with my meditation teacher in a virtual gathering, and then despaired at the thought of being sequestered 3000 miles away from my 95-year-old grandmother. I felt the deep familiarity of community seeing my students in my online offerings and my colleagues in my (now virtual) weekly writers group. And then I shuddered to hear that my hometown of New York City is being completely hijacked by this plague.

For two weeks now, I’ve been floating between the old normal and the new normal, between comfort and fear, and familiarity and grief, holding tight and letting go. At the time of our city’s shutdown, I was about to launch a new website. Many folks I know were about to open a play or a restaurant, were hoping to conceive or preparing for a medical procedure, were about to get married or divorced. If this situation brings about any realization inherent in our lives, we can notice that we are all, always, on the verge of something. And now, overnight, we’re all on the verge of something else.

Humans are engineered, potent viruses aside, to experience emotional flux. In Buddhist philosophy, there are “three marks of existence.” They state that human beings (our personalities, ages, opinions) are constantly changing; external conditions (weather, safety, environment) are impermanent; and suffering  results when we deny the truth of the first two. And so all of us, even in the best of times, alternate—sometimes swaying like ocean flora, and other times rebounding like ping pong balls—between the two extremes of understanding and misunderstanding, of holding tightly to our lives as they are and accepting the change that inevitably comes.

All of us, even those with strong mindfulness practices, are being pulled hither and thither, from resistance to acceptance and then back again. The question isn’t about how we can practice some kind of unrealistic non-attachment in a world that’s on fire. The question is, more simply: How can we ride the waves?

The waves between the old normal and the new normal are large and jostling. They take us in a matter of seconds from the empty shelves in the grocery store to a gratitude for trees, from the overfilled ICUs in the hospital to a heartfelt connection with a friend that once again makes us feel whole.

There is a part of us that is confused by the waves, and wants us to feel just one thing. But that’s not what the ocean wants. Rather, we’re going to grieve and accept and delight in a rotating fashion. We’re going to try to reach back into the past, and then land in the present, and then despair or fantasize about the future, and do it all over again. We’re going to be there, and then here, until here becomes there. And the point is that this is okay—and that knowing this is okay is actually the practice.

So, here we are. 

‘Rogue’ party uproar shows tech, journalism’s COVID-19 limits

An alcove inside 251 Cocktail Club

As unpleasant as it is to find out that swans are not in fact mating-for-life in Venetian canals next to frolicking dolphins, it’s doubly frustrating to hear that people are blowing off government-imposed social isolation to have fun without you.

Earlier this week, you may have read that a party promoter had chosen to throw an “underground” party at newish venue 251 Cocktail Club at 251 Rhode Island Street. on Friday night. News of the party, presented by well-established techno promotion crew SET and featuring Venetian DJ Lehar, generated a huge uproar online—especially through a viral article by CBS Local, which characterized the affair as a “rogue party” and invoked some of the outdated, mainstream anti-rave hysteria that accompanied news of the Ghost Ship fire.

Social media was flooded with understandable vitriol against these dangerous scofflaws of social distancing and nightclub shutdown regulations. Virtual torches were lit, pitchforks were verbally polished, the sequestered villagers were assembled for an online march on the castle. The City Attorney’s office even got word of it and put the promoters and venue on blast with a strongly worded letter to the landlord.

Except the whole incident appears to be an overblown error, revealing not only technology’s (and journalism’s) failure to catch up with the coronavirus shutdown, but the extend of the disease’s effects in the Bay Area as well.

The whole imbroglio was a combination of overzealousness, technical snafus, and COVID-19. Both the venue and the promoter had actually canceled the Lehar show on March 14, just after the state announced that all nightclubs were to be shut down indefinitely. However, due to the way that events are announced and tickets sold online—mostly via Facebook and Eventbrite—the word was slow to get out, and the party appeared to still be happening.

On top of all this, the kerfuffle took on a tragic edge, as it was revealed that SET’s founder, Christian Pineiro, has actually been seriously ill with coronavirus (as he revealed in a Facebook post) and was therefore unable to respond to the growing discontent. 251 Cocktail Club owner Spensur Husen quickly followed up Pineiro’s post with confirmation of the situation.

Dear Friends, I am with Corona Virus, I contracted the virus on Sunday, March 15th and been fighting it on self…

Posted by Christian Set on Wednesday, March 25, 2020

It was Comment Section Heaven for a hot second, though, wasn’t it? Imagine: 200 sweaty revelers, some of them probably wearing Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin costumes, pulsating to the beat, while outside a plague raged and the rest of us stewed six feet apart from one another. You think people are boiling alive just peering through their blinds to judge the parents of small children who are playing in the park? This was like the Fyre Festival raised to the power of The Masque of the Red Death.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office thought so, claiming that tickets were being sold through Eventbrite and through Pineiro’s personal site until Wednesday, March 25. However, Pineiro says that a technological foul-up was to blame. He created a Facebook event through Eventbrite, but once the owner of 251 Cocktail Club deleted the initial Eventbrite posting, there was effectively no way for Pineiro to delete the now-orphaned Facebook post.

There are currently several events on Eventbrite promoting parties this week that have yet to indicate clearly that they are cancelled or postponed. Advertisements for cancelled arts and music events and parties are still confusingly appearing in many peoples’ Facebook feeds, perhaps a result of Facebook sending thousands of content moderators home.

“Four days ago, I reached out to Eventbrite and said, ‘I’m sick, please refund all tickets.’ But there’s only so much they can do without me doing the rest, and because of that particular glitch, I couldn’t even look at it.”

Christian Pineiro of SET, center, with DJs John Digweed and Khen

Pineiro showed 48 Hills a series of text messages that confirm a Facebook post canceling the event on Saturday, March 14—almost two weeks ago. He also claims that he’s been ill with COVID-19 for more than a week, since returning from a festival in St. Martin.

“I had a really high fever, and got back and tested positive and quarantined myself with no human contact for the last 10 days,” Pineiro said by phone. “I’ve been sleeping 16 hours a day. It’s been rough. Imagine the worst cold you ever had, and multiply by 100.”

Pineiro expressed surprise at the vehemence of the city’s claims, stating that the City Attorney’s office never contacted him and never looked at his social media accounts, which he updates frequently. (There is a 10-day posting gap on his Facebook page during the time frame in questions, which may have contributed to the confusion.)

“They’re accusing me of something that was never going to happen,” he said. “Why would I try to sell tickets to an event that I am not promoting?”

Indeed, the entire argument that someone would throw a giant party weeks into a nationwide emergency only stands up to scrutiny if one believes that party-goers are uniformly self-absorbed, irresponsible hedonists who don’t care about each other’s wellbeing, and that absolutely none of them would be upset by this. A casual glance at venues around the city show that not only is San Francisco’s entire nightlife community abiding by the restrictions, but that people are valiantly rallying to look after one another, physically and economically.

Moreover, Pineiro has a good reputation in SF’s nightlife community.

“He’s a super-solid promoter, up front with everything,” says Jeff Whitmore, owner of Public Works and The Midway. “I’ve been talking to him for the last week or so when he’s been sick in bed. We had several events planned with him that we’re going to reschedule for the fall.”

The City Attorney’s office stood by its decision, however.

“We’re pleased this event is now cancelled and tickets are no longer being marketed or sold,” said spokesperson John Cote. “We will continue to monitor the property to confirm that the event will not take place. We are in the midst of a pandemic, and everyone needs to follow the directives of public health officials.”

Lehar, the headliner for the long-canceled party at 251 Cocktail Club, probably knows this well. As Pineiro points out, he’s from Italy and wouldn’t have been able to fly to the US to perform, anyway.

Party Radar: Fault Radio helps DJs stream through quarantine

If, like me, you’re “into” nightlife and music, your social media feed has flipped almost instantaneously into a multi-roomed nightclub, with DJs and musicians streaming live sets, friends recommending playlists, and drag queens lip-syncing for their lives (and hopefully tips).

This outpouring/overload of entertainment has affirmed dance music’s joy, connection, and necessity—not to mention the Internet’s—in this time of uncertainty and isolation. There’s far too many DJ sets to choose from right now, it seems, which leads to a giddy delight while you’re bopping on your sofa. Of course, there’s an element of concern involved as well, as most DJs have suddenly had their livelihoods eviscerated and are trying to find new income, er, streams.

But you can’t stop the dance. Everyone from hometown heroes like Jenö, celebrating founding SF rave collective Wicked’s 29th birthday, to international techno epicenter Resident Advisor’s Club Quarantäne, a marathon of underground talent, and the Sunday Quaran-Tea dances, bringing together a gaggle of queer DJs to benefit the Queer Nightlife Fund, are up in your socials.

This sudden concentration on the Internet may seem novel, but the folks at local streaming DJ site Fault Radio were way ahead of the coronavirus curve when it came to visual club-hopping. Launched in 2018 by two nightlife savvy emigrés from Tel Aviv, Dor Wand and Dundee Maghen, Fault Radio surfaces some of the best DJ talent in beautifully produced live videos, recorded at various locations around the Bay. Fault Radio’s archives are a treasure trove of sounds both familiar and new, lovingly archived and presented by two people who care deeply for our delicate yet thriving scene.

When I interviewed Dor and Dundee a few weeks ago, before the full force of COVID-19 hit, we excitedly talked about how Fault Radio was helping to increase the Bay Area’s international profile—while documenting the diversity that still exists in dance music scene holding on in a very expensive and rapidly homogenizing environment.

They were looking forward to their huge Shifting Plates Record Fair, this year in partnership with popular crowdsourced record database Discogs, which was to draw dozens of vendors and hundreds of participants to Classic Cars West in April. They were also recording sets at Vinyl Dreams record store in the Haight, which is owned by one of the godfathers of the local dance scene, Mike B (no relation).

We had absolutely no idea that soon the outbreak would shut down all the clubs, bars, concert venues, record stores, and gathering places in the Bay Area—pretty much leaving Fault Radio the only operating established  “nightclub.” (The Shifting Plates Record Fair has been postponed until June 7.)

“We’ve been very wavy emotionally, like everyone else,” Dundee told me in a follow-up call after the lockdown. “We had a few hard days, but we’ve shifted to working on initiatives to support the community, which is helping to keep us focused.”

“There was an advantage to being from somewhere else, we saw what was happening there before it came here,” Dor added. “So we had a little cushion of knowing what to expect. We had a few days lead time to think about how we could support and elevate the scene here before the impact.”

Those initiatives are pretty exciting. First, the pair have opened up broadcasting on the Fault Radio site to anyone with their broadcast from home “Relief Sessions.” You fill out a quick survey to apply, and they teach you the fundamentals of streaming remotely—perfect for DJs who are new at it.

“This outbreak is causing so much isolation, that we want to make it as easy as possible to connect with other people online, in the best way,” said Dundee. “Streaming is now a commodity, a way to earn a living, and we want to offer our experience in this way to help.”

“When everyone started streaming on Facebook and other sites, we knew that there would be huge differences in quality, in terms of the sound, the lighting, and other things you only know from doing it a hundred times,” said Dor. “Many people are dealing with this technology for the first time, so we want to help bring everyone up to a similar level.”

To this end, Fault is also offering “Stream-Kits” to be delivered to DJs’ homes, with everything they need to set up and stream. (Fault Radio archives and promotes the stream on their site, as well as their Soundcloud and Youtube.) “The box has various equipment inside to upgrade your streaming—maybe even something alcoholic,” Dor laughs. “When you receive it, we can hop on a video call with you and help you through the process. We just announced this, and already we’ve had interest from people in London, Budapest, Istanbul…”

But their heart remains with the locals. “Even with every one on lockdown, there’s still things happening.  There’s still a scene,” Dundee said. “Now the biggest challenges that we’re dealing with is, you’re feeling very isolated from your community. Even if you are documenting yourself, it feels isolated. This is our way to make the music scene still feel alive.”

Find out more about Fault Radio’s relief session and watch DJ sets here.

Leading drag and performance venue closes indefinitely

Sexitude live streams at Oasis

Since its opening in 2015, the cabaret/theater/nightclub Oasis, on 11thSt. in Soma, has been a “lighthouse” for queer creative culture, in the words of Michael Phillis, a drag performer and drag show producer there.

It opened as many other venues featuring drag shows were closing, and it has been a place where both veteran drag performers and debuting queens perform on stage with professional grade lighting and effects, something that is rare for such venues, according to D’Arcy Drollinger, who co-owns Oasis, where he also performs in and produces drag shows.

Sexitude live streams at Oasis

As of March 17, Oasis is closed indefinitely.

Its shuttering comes days after San Francisco banned “non-essential” gatherings of more than 100 people to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The announcement that Oasis was closing was made on its Facebook page the same day that it closed.

“When they brought it down to 100 people, we couldn’t do it financially, to pay the performers, DJs, artists,” said Drollinger.

The closure is just one of many stories of important community spaces that may not be able to survive the pandemic.

Drollinger explained that Oasis was special in that it provided an authentic space for queer people to meet and perform, while giving “tourists” a glimpse into San Francisco’s queer, creative culture.

“What I love about Oasis is that it’s a way for the tourists to see a drag show, but it’s not like Beach Blanket Babylon with a bunch of tourists, it’s a much more eclectic scene, you’re sitting with San Francisco,” said Drollinger.

Drollinger described Oasis’ drag shows as “punk rock” and added that club’s closure was especially damaging to performers because of its ability to provide higher production quality to live shows than many other venues.

“A lot people doing drag on a pool table, and that’s great, but what we can offer is a really amazing tech package for performers. I’m really proud of that aspect,” said Drollinger.

Phillis was especially heartbroken because Oasis’ closure forced him to cancel the debut of “Baloney,” a male burlesque drag show which he produces and directs. Performing “Baloney” is impossible without a live audience, according to Phillis.

“This show is about that intimacy, the sexual act, the human touch,” said Phillis. “Because of the closeness to this closure [of Oasis], we aren’t able to adapt this show to now quickly enough.”

The Oasis staff originally wanted to perform drag shows online, but there are many hurdles that make it difficult to adapt them for the screen.

One aspect that makes streaming drag shows difficult is the CDC’s recommendation to limit gatherings of more than ten people, which Oasis’ staff is choosing to comply with, making it impossible for performers to gather at Oasis to perform, according to Drollinger.

D’Arcy Drollinger, center, with Michael Johnstone and Miss Vera

Other snafus of going digital, according to the production manager at Oasis, Sophia Craven, include creating pleasing lighting and ensuring clear audio playback on any kind of speaker. In addition, live shows normally depend on audience participation, and ensuring that performers can see, read, and follow along with an updating live chat in time to react to the audience can also be quite challenging.

Nonetheless, Oasis has been able to produce streaming content other than drag shows. The club staff streamed their first piece of content over Zoom and Twitch on Sunday, a “body, age, and sex-positive” dance class called “Sextitude,” with Drollinger as the instructor. Some 50 people attended over Zoom and 20 watched it on Twitch. For now, “Sextitude” will be the only streamed content by Oasis until gatherings of more than ten are allowed, permitting them to stream drag shows, according to Craven.

Drollinger said he wants Oasis’ streams to be entertaining, but their prime objective is to financially support performers as they weather their loss of employment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I want to keep people joyously entertained and it’s great to have the streams, but we need to remember the purpose behind this. I know so many people who are hurting financially, we have to help,” said Drollinger.

Indeed, Carissa Hatchel, who performs in drag and works as Drollinger’s personal assistant, told me how Oasis’ closure has brought about financial hardship for her and the other staff.

“Me and the other bartenders, none of us have work right now. People can apply for unemployment, but to lose work all of a sudden, none of us really have savings,” said Hatchel.

On top of the financial stress incurred as Oasis’ staff finds themselves out of work, the shelter-in-place order has engendered feelings of isolation.

“I miss my sweet little drag community and watching my friends as performers,” said Craven.

Phillis, in addition to feeling isolated, said she is afraid that Oasis’ closure is an existential threat to underground, queer, creative culture in San Francisco.

“I’m worried that after it’s gotten so hard to exist, this will be the nail in the coffin of the creative queer culture in San Francisco. There’s nowhere else I can go for a venue with this kind of show,” said Phillis.

If you want to support Oasis as it weathers its closure, you can contribute to their Indiegogo campaign, where you can purchase tickets for future events such as two tickets to a cabaret show, a dinner as with D’Arcy dressed in character as “Champagne,” or a VIP party in a private room. As of Monday, they have raised over $31,000.

“You’re not just giving us money, you’re getting tickets for when we get back up and running,” explained Drollinger.

If you’d prefer to simply donate, you can do so through Venmo. Oasis’ handle is @OasisSF.

You can find Oasis’ streamed content on Oasis’ Facebook page, and on Oasis’ Instagram. Most streams can be viewed on Oasis’ Twitch channel.

And Oasis has set up Oasis TV on YouTube with plans for shows to be posted this week:

  • THURSDAY: Three’s Company Live!
  • FRIDAY: Sex and the City Live!
  • SATURDAY: The Golden Girls Live!
  • SUNDAY: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Live!

Liking and sharing content on social media also helps drive traffic for performers, Phillis explained to me. You can find his content on Baloney’s Instagram page and on their website.

Arts Forecast: Apocalypse… but make it fashion!

Saul Sugarman sews fashionable cloth masks for charity

The name of this column, “Arts Forecast,” has suddenly taken on an ominous tone in this moment of cancellations and uncertainty. While we are waiting to see what help is on the way to allow the arts community here to survive, the Bay Area is of course coming together in its wonderfully scruffy way to try to make things brighter.

There’s a lot of bad news, but also a lot of good things being done, on a grand scale—like pushing for relief for arts workers in the community fundraising and political arena—to smaller things, like a neat project by fashion designer and nightlife promoter Saul Sugarman, sewing colorful masks to raise money for people in need. He’s donating proceeds (more than $400 already!) to the SF Queer Nightlife Fund and masks to Let’s Kick ASS, a group empowering long-term survivors of HIV and AIDS, and hosting a “Stitch and Bitch with Saul: Making a Face Mask” online tutorial event Thu/26, 5pm-8pm, free.

Sugarman’s cloth masks won’t protect you from COVID-19—social distancing should still be the priority—but if you are feeling ill, they can help filter the air, and help keep you from spreading the flu or a cold to someone else. (Remember to wash and disinfect often!) Yet his lovely masks are tapping into both a post-apocalyptic aesthetic that tempers cynicism with skill and humor, plus a DIY revival born of endless time cooped at home. (Designer Christian Siriano has also taken a turn toward mask-making.)

A bouquet for breathing. Mask by Saul Sugarman

Pokemon, Harry Potter, sequins and more are all on Sugarman’s mask menu. When I asked him about how he started, he not only cited Lady Gaga and JoAnn Fabrics (not a drag queen) as inspirations, but told me, “I’m embarrassed to admit it began as Instagram narcissism. In early February, before coronavirus spread in the US, I was reading about the issue and thought of these floral overalls I’d recently made. They were a gorgeous print, actually, that I initially bought for an apparel customer who went on the January Atlantis cruise. He wanted an upper body harness for their ‘Mother Earth’ party. Everyone loved it, so I had a couple yards laying around.

“In the fabric scraps I had left, I figured I would make a mask and then post: ‘But make it gay.’ A lot of my business is just that: posting fun things I wear that reach sufficient thresholds of amazing that people message me to purchase them. But I sat on running the post at all because I thought it was insensitive. Then COVID-19 affected all of us, and it felt like every day someone was thinking to themselves, ‘Who do I know who sews masks? Oh, Saul.’ And I’d get messages. I could have just sewn them for fun and to simply donate the masks, but I wanted to find a way to help a community that’s close to my heart.”

Thats’ the gayest story ever, and also quite sweet. You can check out more of Saul’s masks here.

——-MORE ARTS——

There are no upcoming arts events really except streaming ones, and renegade moments like impromptu  bagpipe concerts from decks and rooftops. The SF International Arts Festival just announced it’s cancelling its fortnight-long May event, caring the loss of $200,000 to its artists and organization. They are offering full refunds on tickets, but if you’d like to donate the refund (or contribute) to its various artists, you can do so at the SFIAFF website here. The 149-year-old San Francisco Arts Institute has announced that huge changes are afoot after a deal to save it collapsed, sounding like it is going to close very soon, or undergo some kind of anime transformation where it “assumes a new form.” In any case, workers are being laid off and the future is up in the air.

Live music institution Slim’s has also announced it has closed: Things have been shaky there since both it and Great American Music Hall started outsourcing booking duties to concert behemoth Golden Voice in 2018, but now things have been exacerbated by COVID-19 fallout. Will there be any small venues left when we come out of this? You can help determine this: Here’s a list of local venue, restaurant, and bar fundraisers—please contribute if you can!

Now some good stuff! Here is a Facebook group you can join called Art and Culture You Can Stream Online for Free that has already introduced me to endless delights, including a reading of all of Shakespeare’s plays from the beginning by actors from all around the world (called, of course, the Show Must Go Online), Living Room Concerts from top Broadway stars, a virtual tour of the Palace of Versailles,    plus streaming local theater, music, drag shows, and more. The group was started by local author and bookstore owner Ken White.

Along with ACT and Berkeley Rep, queer Theatre Rhinoceros has announced an online streaming program for two of its plays, Radical and Scotus, and Marin Theater Company is selling tickets to its streaming production of Love. Speaking of radical, if you are in the mood for some inciting reading, Haymarket Books is offering a solid selection of free e-books from the likes of Angela Davis and Naomi Klein, and Verso Books is offering 40%-80% discounts on its equally radical e-titles. Want some jazz accompaniment? SFJAZZ is streaming Friday evening concerts.

On the visual art side of things, the great Creativity Explored is launching its first all video and digital exhibition on Thu/26, curated by Dena Beard, executive director of The Lab. And bright sketch comedy troupe SF Neo-Futurists are broadcasting their “World Wide Wrench” show every Friday.

Eventbrite is keeping a list of online classes and general events here, which contains some gems (bachata lessons, anyone?). Manny’s in the Mission has gone totally online, and you can catch titllating political conversations plus big guests like food writer Michael Pollan from the couch. If you’re looking for some queer local entertainment and company, the Facebook group Queer Quarantine Hangouts and Performances offers a dazzling array of fabulous moments.

Don’t forget our continuing suggestions at 48 Hills! Film critic Dennis Harvey gives a great run-down of streaming options here and some movie recommendations here. Food writer Tamara Palmer tells you where to order some yummy and affordable dinners while helping the local food scene. And music critic John-Paul Shiver is full of good new (and classic) music recommendations. Plus, why not some great local podcasts about your neighbors?

Stay tuned and don a cute mask, more is on the way! Hang in there.

50 years of Jimi Hendrix’s radical, redefining ‘Band of Gypsys’

By the time Jimi Hendrix and his Band of Gypsys—released on Capitol Records March 25, 1970—came together for their two-night performance at the Fillmore East on New Years 1970, with Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums, the Seattle-born polymath had dropped the gunslinger antics. Along with The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Playing guitar behind his back, between his legs, making it look as if he were playing it with his teeth… These performance hacks were learned out on the R&B chitlin’ circuit, backing up Little Richard and the Isley Brothers, in Hendrix’s lean-eating, primary fame stage of the early 1960s. That trick bag landed him opening slots for The Monkees when he started his rock ascension.

But in 1969, things turned volatile, different. There was an extra heaviness in the cultural zeitgeist. Vietnam. The Black Panthers. Protest. Civil Rights. Old society collapsing like Voltron into the music, driving the aesthetic. That shuffling for dinner shit became immediately played. Moldy in fact… Anything resembling some ʻUncle Tomʻ coonery got cancelled.

Hendrix was sweating. Under pressure from his manager and record company to record a follow-up to the 1968 crossover psychedelic-rock epic Electric Ladyland, he was also required to produce an album’s worth of new material for Capitol Records to satisfy a contract dispute with a former manager. His pop veneer didnʻt serve the evolving “jamming experiments” he had cooking on the horizon. Cox and Miles galvanized Jimi’s embrace of the R&B tradition. Merging it all with a blues root, it produced unparalleled rhythmic stability. One that was lacking before.

On the quintessential funk-rock model “Who Knows,” Hendrix guitar solo-boogies vertically, not horizontally, between Coxʻs low-end corkscrew patterns on bass and Miles’ snare-blasting, foot-innit, timekeeping. Who knew generations later that thickness, this type of bump, would be chopped and sampled for a new music form called hip-hop. Credit Digital Underground (probably Shock G to be specific) for being stealthy in choosing that sample for the groove on 1990ʻs “The Way We Swing.”

But praise the originators, the ancestors, for making folks in the 70s unconsciously snap their damn necks in unison to the big brother beat this trio carved out. Sure, the wild-style solo features on “Power To Love” is Jimi deep in his bag, but it’s all complementary to the in-the-pocket, nimble and quick, bass lines Cox just continually lays down. Itʻs the rock, and an electrified version of jazz legend Ron Carter that just canʻt do any wrong.

“Machine Gun” a career exclamation point, where Hendrix dedicates the song “to all the soldiers that are fighting in Chicago and Milwaukee and New York, oh yes, and all the soldiers fighting in Vietnam”, is an ode to the unrest happening overseas, in the “official” war, and as much about the late 1960s race riots, giving way to blood running down the streets in this country.

The performance gives vivid transparency of war and its foul stench, employing percussive uses of the guitar never heard before. Mirroring the John Coltrane “sheets of sound” approach on Miles Davis’ “Kind Of Blue,” it followed up the political statement of Hendrixʻs “chopped and screwed” version of the national anthem” at Woodstock.

These evolving musical directions, with no specific landing points or limits, were far from pop moves. But producer Chas Chandler was gone. Hendrix was free to delve into his R&B and funk influences. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was dead. A new rhythm section, where the bass and drum were sympatico and hitting, complementing the psychedelic stuff so much that Davis commented, “it freed Jimi from the constraints of the Experience.”

Hendrix rebuilt himself. Stretching his repertoire into a type of swing. Executing it on stage, standing still. And then moving on from us.