Music and nightlife

Finding out why ‘All Your Favorite Music is (Probably) Black’

Mark Montgomery French

ALL EARS This is the first time I’ll be making this presentation, but I’ve been preparing for it all through my career,” composer and musician Mark Montgomery French told me over the phone. He’s giving an immersive, multimedia talk at the Museum of the African Diaspora Wed/20 called “All Your Favorite Music is (Probably) Black” which investigates how and why so many Black music pioneers have been erased from the standard American music narrative.

“I’ve led two parallel lives. I’m a musician who’s played in bands and composes film scores, which I’m currently doing with my partner under the name Spiky Blimp. I’ve also been a creative director in the Bay Area site the late 1990s, back when the Internet was called the Information Super Highway, so I’ve made presentations for clients around the world. This combines both of my loves into one thing.”

Beyond his bona fides, however, Montgomery French is telling a vital story: Even today, people are amazed that black people invented rock and roll, let alone techno. I had a lively conversation with him that touched on topics like music stereotyping, the Grammys, and Spotify’s almighty (and biased) algorithm.

48 HILLS Can you give us a little taste of what to expect from “All Your Favorite Music is (Probably) Black”? 

MARK MONTGOMERY FRENCH There’ll be lots of music, and moving graphics. It’s sort of like a minor Ted Talk in terms of style, but I find that talking about music is rather dull unless you’re actually playing some. [Laughs.] In terms of content, I start with rock, but then rock subdivides. In 10 years, you get into other subcultures. I also get into country too, which is pre-rock in a sense.

This is what I want to audience to think about: Imagine you’re in school and you see two different groups of people who aren’t talking to each other. There might be the stoners on one side of the cafeteria listening to metal, and the art school kids on the other side listening to Kate Bush. And they don’t like each other, so they ignore each others’ music. At least not until later, when they all get Spotify. [Laughs.]

But there’s a whole image that goes with the music that defines these groups, from the way they dress to the way they act. And much of the time, that image has been packaged for you by someone at a record label, and their rationale is to maximize profit as much as possible. The way for them to do that is to basically take everything out of it that could be “questionable.” And that’s how you get something like Pat Boone singing rock on TV in the ’50s, because he’s much more “presentable,” relatable with a certain audience that’s permitted to buy his records and image. This principle extends to race, and to all genres. The music gets sanitized by the marketing. And if you control this narrative, you control the history.

48H Previously you did an online series called “28 black music documentaries in 28 days” … 

MMF Yes, and it was one of those things where you had to ask, “Why has no one done this? I guess it’ll be me.” It was such a great excuse to watch a great number of music documentaries. An you also realize how many there aren’t. You would think, after 68 years in the game, there would be a comprehensive Isley Brothers documentary. There is none, I’ve looked!

48H What germinated the idea behind “All Your Favorite Music Is (Probably) Black”?

MMF Part of it goes back to being in a band in the ’90s. I would walk in with an acoustic guitar and the booker at the club would go, “Oh, blues!” and we’d say, “Uh, no.” And then my drummer would walk in with dreads and they’d say, “Oh reggae!” And we’d say, “No…” And this would happen every club, every booker. The band’s name was Endangered Species and we played what was called progressive funk, but it was definitely rock and roll. That was never the assumption, however.

Everyone knows Jimi Hendrix, but Hendrix was an anomaly. And there have been others, like Living Color, Lenny Kravitz, who were big. But for the most part, if you’re a Black guy with a guitar, you’re anything but rock. You’re probably a ska guy—well, maybe! And I knew enough about history to think, “Well there were Black people doing these things. In my parents’ lifetime! The first 10 acts who got into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Every Brothers, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley. That’s 60 percent Black people. This year? There’s one: Janet Jackson. That’s not because Black people stopped making music. There’s an erasure.

Even from behind the scenes, it’s the same thing. Tom Wilson was a producer: He produced the first Frank Zappa record, he produced the first Simon & Garfunkel record, He took “The Sounds of Silence” and expanded it from being just voice and guitar to the song that we know. He produced “Like a Rolling Stone” for Bob Dylan. His career is completely erased, almost no one know who he was, one of the major Black guys working in rock and roll at that time. And then there’s the offshoots. On of the biggest names in rock is Led Zeppelin, and Zeppelin basically started by raiding Chess Records. It’s things like this that inspired me to put this together.

It seems like step by step the deck chairs are moving to the right, and suddenly there’s no Black people in country, there’s none in pop… there’s none in techno, started by three Black dudes in Detroit, and now the face of techno is a European white guy with a giant mouse head mask.

48H Right now I’m watching people on my Twitter feed discover that Ariana Grande is a white girl. And then we just had the Grammys … 

MMF I wish that the Grammys had as much gravitas as the Oscars. One can look at an Oscar awarenesses, especially in the technical categories, and for the most part say, “That person rocked. That really was the best of the year.” I’ve always found the the Grammys, because they don’t go out of their way to get more of the unpolished but brilliant musicians into the voting categories, you’re going to get a more super-shiny group of nominees, much less winners. So if you do get someone who wins who deserves it, it’s a miracle. Stevie wonder won Best Album three times in the ’70s, and everybody agreed, “Yep!” Those were the best albums.

Was Cardi B’s the best rap album of the year? Not for me, but I wouldn’t take it away from her, especially since she’s the first woman to win it since Lauryn Hill won 20 years ago! Was “This is America” the best song of the year? I don’t know, but I’m impressed that something that uncompromising managed to get the voters to agree. It’s very hard to write a song that’s actually of the moment and good. Usually you have to pick one or the other.

48H You mentioned Spotify earlier. How do you feel about the new environment of streaming music, where almost everything is available, and does it help or hinder the rediscovery of the Black roots of a lot of music?

I’m of two mind. If I could only tell my impoverished high school self, “One day, for $10 a month, you can listen to just about anything until you pass out…” That to me is fantastic. One summer recently, I committed to listen to every Miles Davis album in order—because I could! There’s no way I ever could have afforded that. After a while I sort of bailed, I mean he did like 50 albums. [Laughs.]

But there is still an inherent bias in the algorithms that present things to you. For example, Prince is a rock star. We all know this. It’s in the way he dresses, and he plays crazy shredding guitar. But if you go onto his Spotify and you hit “Fans Also Like,” everybody in that category is an R&B person. It’s Rick James, it’s Gap Band… Who I love, but if you like Prince, it is possible you like Carlos Santana. It is possible you like Stevie Ray Vaughn. It is possible you like Eric Clapton. But none of those people show up. Prince himself loved Joni Mitchell, you can definitely hear the influence in him. But good luck seeing her name pop up. So you can see that even the most faceless technology is biased when it comes to music and who makes it.

“ALL YOUR FAVORITE MUSIC IS (PROBABLY) BLACK”
Wed/20, 6:30pm, $10. 
MOAD, SF.
More info here

Slain SF club kid Bubbles’ legacy lives on in ‘Bohemian Berlin Disco’

“Defender of androgyny and living life at the top of your lungs!” 

Anyone who came into the chaotic, inspiring, often obnoxious but ultimately priceless orbit of perennial club kid Bubbles will recognize this as a perfect encapsulation of their mission here on Earth. It’s been over a year since Bubbles was gunned down near their Tenderloin home—despite the police issuing a warrant for a suspect, no justice has been served and a lot of questions remain unanswered.

Nevertheless, the puckish spirit of Bubbles lives on—now in new track “Bohemian Berlin Disco,” which they conceived before their death with SF dance music duo Thrillhammer, freshly released on legendary label Hardkiss Music, with some nifty remixes to boot. Other signature lyrics include “I got cum in my hair” and “Don’t leave San Francisco for some Bohemian Berlin Disco.” (At the time of their death, Bubbles had been looking for funds to return to Berlin, where they had spent a recent, tumultuous summer). The track will officially be released this Friday, Feb. 8, but you can have a listen below.  

“I heard a demo of Bohemian Berlin Disco from [Thrillhammer member] Duserock and thought that it had an energy and bravado that reflected Bubbles’ aesthetic,” Hardkiss label head Gavin Hardkiss told me. “Plus the lyrics spoke to the current state of San Francisco—”DON’T LEAVE SAN FRANCISCO.” I started working on a remix and then thought that the single should be released on Hardkiss Music. Why not keep it in the family?

“Bubbles was a fanboy to all of us DJs,” Hardkiss said. “He’d show up to every gig and kick the dance floor into gear. As as artist, he used Facebook like Andy Warhol would have, trailing us all along on his messy adventures and absurd debacles. I see Facebook as a broadcast channel that few people took advantage of (other than the Russians). He seized the opportunity to broadcast his life in all its gory detail and twisted reality.  

“Now we have this song, which will be played in bars in the Castro, Tenderloin, and Marina long after we all leave San Francisco.”

I talked to Thrillhammer members Coltorious and Duserock about how the track evolved from a late-night Whip-Its-fueled jam session into an endearing tribute. (I also got a sneak peak of the forthcoming supercuts video, when Thrillhammer filmed last Thursday at the Stud—stay tuned to my Party Radar column for its release.) 

Filming the “Bohemian Berlin Disco’ video at the Stud. Photo by Gavin Hardkiss

48 HILL I’m listening to “Bohemian Berlin Disco” and thinking, This is so quintessentially Bubbles. How did the track come together, and how did you know Bubbles? 

COLTORIOUS  I heard Bubbles coming before I saw them. Seven years ago, I was the night manager of a little hotel on the Tender-Nob border. My days were free so, I was wandering down Geary Street when I began to hear Nancy Sinatra echoing off the buildings. Then, I saw them; hot pink high heels with matching sunglasses and classic cat eye sunglasses, matching mani-pedi, Daisy Dukes, a sleeveless Rolling Stones half-shirt, and a blonde beehive wig to top off the ensemble.

I stopped them and said, “Wow, you are amazing! Who are you?!

“Hi, I’m Bubbles, cutie!”

“Of course you are, wow, we are going to be friends. This will not be the last time we see each other!” Three months later I was at Public Works running the photo booth at 3am. Guess, who walks in? Uh huh, Bubs! We were friends from that moment on. When a guitar my mother had given me was stolen, Bubbles gave me their electric guitar. It’s guitar I used to record the track and is my regular love show guitar.

Once Bubbles announced they were leaving for Berlin, I had been attempting to write the “swan song of Bubbles” for a year or so. I wanted something that captured their ultra unique attitude and style, but couldn’t settle on a topic or story line.

One night in August after a raucous session of karaoke in Japantown with Bubbles and company—side note, Bubbles brought their own PA system to the karaoke bar!—we ended up at my place doing Whip-Its and sometime around 4am I showed them where I was at with the song. We scrapped everything I had except for “smacked with a rubber d-cup,” because I love that imagery!

The goodbye San Francisco, hello Berlin theme was settled on pretty quickly, “I don’t care, I don’t care, I got cum in my hair” was an immediate keeper, and the rest flowed from there. The lyrics and basic arrangement are completed that night.

Two weeks later, they were gone… Not much had happened with the song since that karaoke, Whip-Its, songwriting night but, when I heard the news I knew the song must be completed.

This is where Ryan enters the story. A mutual friend of ours reintroduced us, because even though we had met each other, we were the kind of friends you make at an afterparty at 3am. It takes a few times and possibly even meeting sober during the day to really be friends who remember each other’s names.

We got together and I showed what I had worked out. Some guitars riffs, a vocal melody, and what Bubs and I had done to the English language. The puzzlemaster Ryan started piecing it all together and before you were know it, we had a song.

Thrillhammer filming the video for ‘Bohemian Berlin Disco’ at the Stud

DUSEROCK As Coltorious mentioned, we had met several times over at the Red Vic on Haight. I was heavily involved with another project which was becoming problematic. As that situation was on its last legs, the woman I was working with brought Colton over and he pitched the Bubbles track idea to me. I immediately liked it and wanted to work on it with him.

I had known Bubbles for eight-nine years already and thought it would be great to shine a light on gun violence, Bubbles, the LGBTQ community and San Francisco. Colton laid down the lyrics and guitar riff and I started formulating the direction of the song. It came together pretty quickly, we enjoyed working together and a solid friendship began to form.

Shortly after we started working on more songs and decided to make a whole project out of it, spawning ThrillHammer. So, not only did Bubbles co write “Bohemian Berlin Disco”, technically he is responsible for spawning the group. I then spoke to Jenn Stokes, who manages the SF Pride main stage, and she thought it’d be great to have us perform live and do a tribute to Bubbles. We teamed up with Conn Cianci-McGraw and Trent Berry from Dreamrack studios as well as Andy “Ammo” Schneider to fully flush out the songs and live performance, as well as create the visuals for the backdrop. You can view the performance here: 

48H The track really captures Bubbles’ glam-rave-apocalypse-Beat-poetry aesthetic. Did you feel Bubbles’ spirit hovering over you as you put the track together? 

COLTORIOUS Definitely yes, Bubble’s is and has always been my goddess of debauchery, androgyny, and rock n’ roll. 

DUSEROCK The spirit of Bubbles was definitely important to the creation of the song. Bubbles wasn’t just one thing. There was so much going on with them, that we felt the track needed to be a bit of a melting pot. Disco, punk and rock and roll with a hint of house. Once we had the initial demo done, I shared my enthusiasm for the track and the track itself with Gavin. He liked the concept, agreed to do a remix and than we enlisted other close friends/SF luminaries to round out the project with more remixes, thus becoming a family affair. We are very proud of what’s been created and hope to spread the legend of Bubbles and overall message far and wide. Having the release on Hardkiss Music 100% tightens the whole family vibe.

48H  It’s been more than a year since Bubbles’ horrible murder and there’s still been no justice. How do you hope the track helps keep Bubbles’ singular legacy alive?

COLTORIOUS Anyone who needs to know that it’s OK to be a “Bubble’s”, or whatever form your mind, body, and soul conspire to create. The message is, Don’t be afraid to explore your depths because it’s not as dark down there as some may believe. It is a tunnel to a brighter part of yourself and only those who are brave enough to tread the path will discover the light on the other side. And if you get lost along the journey, this song is your beacon in the darkness to show the way. There is a Bubble’s waiting to be discovered by anyone willing to explore the depths of themselves.

DUSEROCK Again, our goal is to shine a light on San Francisco, Bubbles, the LGBTQ community, the current state of gun violence, and the injustice of hate crimes and murder. Where Bubbles was certainly notorious and a polarizing figure, there is absolutely no reason for murder. If we can get our message out to a larger platform, ideally we can open up the conversation more and lessen this type of situation. People absolutely have the right to become who they are and express themselves accordingly, providing it’s not directly harmful to another. If we can achieve this, possible we make some good out of this tragedy.

An alternate ‘Best Songs of 2018’ list

Music critic Daniel Bromfield lists some of his favorite songs of the year—which you may or may not find on Pitchfork or Rolling Stone

 The Internet, “Come Over”/”It Gets Better (With Time)”/”Hold On” 
The Internet’s 20-year-old boy genius Steve Lacy was the talk of the town this year, but the funk crew’s most stunning talent remains founder Syd, who dares to be Aaliyah and Timbaland at once. This year’s Hive Mind album contains three of the most gorgeous funk ballads ever written, all built around the union of Lacy’s scratchy, precise chords and Syd’s impossibly tender voice (notice how the low note acts as the emotional crux of “It Gets Better”). 

Prince, “International Lover”
By subtracting lyrics rather than adding, the Purple One reimagines 1999’s airplane-sex ballad as an affirmation of desire that echoes to the heavens. Rather than a playboy flashing diamonds and pearls, he’s an awkward kid asking his crush to prom. There’s not even a plane in this version. 

1010 Benja SL, “Tragic X” 
A young American takes the Drake-Weekend aesthetic of feeling alone in an endless city to the extreme, wailing like a claustrophobic madman as a hallucination of a radio announcer declares him “the avatar.” This is R&B in hell.

Lonnie Holley, “I Snuck Off The Slave Ship”
One of the most visceral depictions of human suffering ever committed to record, a trail of bodies leading us from the Middle Passage to the far future.

Tierra Whack, “Pet Cemetery” 
It seems like a goof until you realize she’s not singing about a dog.

DJ Koze, “Moving In A Liquid” 
No one can make a vocal sample cry like DJ Koze. Here, he introduces a snatch of looped chipmunk, then lets it fade away—then, as Eddie Fummler’s vocals come back, the loop bounds back into the frame with enthusiasm, like a dog greeting its master. It’s heartwarming.

Teyana Taylor, “A Rose In Harlem”
The Grace Jones-channeling singer gives us year’s best pop song as affirmation of self, with a surreal and hilarious line: “So many fake smiles/These chicks musta just came from the dentist.”

The Carters, “Summer” 
No album this year boasts such a royal opener. “Summer” is all red carpets and royal fanfares, inviting you cordially to the Carters’ endless penthouse champagne party.

Ariana Grande, “thank u, next”/Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” 
With Sakamoto’s sappy piano under her voice instead of the spry snap of the original, the titular chorus of Grande’s tabloid-pop blockbuster sounds less like a subtle flex (i.e. “I never have to worry about a man”) and more of a bemused observation on the transience of life. 

Ashley Monroe, “Paying Attention”
Here just for the lyric “I remember your birthday/now that you’re gone.” Ouch.

Review: Gas looms through the trees at Recombinant Festival

Wolfgang Voigt’s music as Gas is inexorably tied to the forest. The project was inspired by Voigt’s youthful acid trips in Germany’s Königsforst, and appropriately the sleeves for the project’s six albums (with the exception of its apocryphal self-titled debut) are adorned with psychedelically blurred trees and shrubs, all bathed in unnatural colors coordinated to the mood of the music and stamped with the name Gas in a formidable serif font. How this specifically sylvan music would translate to the spartan constraints of the live electronic show intrigued me. It seemed inappropriate to have a Gas show anywhere but the most remote and tangled stretches of the Black Forest, maybe with a trail of breadcrumbs leading to the stage.

Gas’s first-ever San Francisco show was part of the first night of the Recombinant Festival, an ongoing multimedia and experimental music event at Mission Street’s Gray Area. While most of the artists aren’t well-known outside deep avant-music nerd-dom, Gas was undoubtedly the popular headliner. His music enjoys the same critical acclaim and rare crossover appeal outside ambient music as Brian Eno or Tim Hecker, and 2016’s sumptuous Box set of his 90s albums was enough to bring him out of a decade-and-a-half hiatus to drop 2017’s Narkopop and this year’s Rausch. By popular demand he’d added a second early show after I’d bought my tickets for the late show at 9 pm. 

Posted by Recombinant Media Labs on Friday, November 9, 2018

Opener Marcus Schmickler, was not an artist I was previously familiar with—and not one I’ll easily forget. His performance was defined by bone-rattling bass, emanating up from the floor through our bodies, numbing us for minutes at a time at prodigious volume. Every now and again he’d let up for a couple minutes, his tones would settle somewhere in an eerie treble range, and our bodies had a moment to breathe. Then the waves would come crashing down again. Some of the noises he made resembled sirens or alarms, and I initially thought he might be trying to evoke some sort of dystopian prison, but it soon became clear that what the sound was “of” was moot. What mattered was the pure fact of the sound, and the generosity with which it was delivered. 

Even the mighty Gas seemed a bit dainty coming after Schmickler. Voigt started in orthodox Rausch mode, and the visuals emerged from a sort of Matrix murk, not dissimilar to what you’d see projected at a run-of-the-mill noise show. But then dendrites began to form, and soon we were seeing abstracted sapling-fairies dancing in a weird, circular sort of pagan motion, bathed in the gold of his Königsforst sleeve. Instead of taking us deeper on a linear route, he’d show us bits of forest, then let the trees disappear into clumps of data, which sometimes resembled gnarled witch-faces—or maybe my imagination was just inflamed by grotesque Germanic thoughts of Hansel and Gretel and erlkings and babes lost in the woods. At one point he circled in monochrome around what appeared to be a dead tree, like the one in Lord of the Rings. Later he’d give us clear footage of a forest, then blur it until we were looking at endless dark passages between snaking gray pillars that could have as easily been stone. It was a snapshot of what makes the Gas project so good: the experience of being lost from the comfort of our chairs. 

The music itself was a thick soup from various records that progressed the way his records do: placid plains of beatless drift, divided by long stretches of linear material defined by the thrum of a four-on-the-floor kick that sometimes sounds like a will-o-wisp bouncing just ahead and sometimes sounds like a malevolent emanation from the earth itself. For a while towards the end some letters appeared in the fractal fudge behind him, and he seemed to be teasing the end, when of course the name Gas would come onscreen. But then he meandered back down the scenic route for a few minutes, with more kick drum and an intriguing lavender color palette onscreen that might grace the cover of a future album. At the end the man stepped down from the podium and bowed, looking as hermetic as you’d hope: white hair, white beard, black clothes.

Gray Area, a nonprofit which occupies an old movie palace, was founded 10 years ago to promote the connections between art and technology, and it’s an ideal place for this kind of audiovisual experience. Speakers are positioned all over the room, and sounds travel swiftly from one to the other. The performances I’ve seen there have all been dominated by a towering screen, often filled with fractals and other psychedelic accoutrements. The space can host an 800-capacity dancefloor, but tonight 500 seats had been laid out for us, allowing us to focus on the music far more easily than were we standing—and to better feel its impact on a physical level. For Gas’s music to work well live, the audience has to forget they’re in a room with other people. And, yes, there were times when the walls of the pitch-black venue started to shrink away, as if the forests of Voigt’s imagination had left the screen and started to take root right there in the building.

The Recombinant Festival continues through Sun/2. More info here

Live Shots: The Black Madonna + Honey Dijon at August Hall

The Black Madonna at August Hall last Friday, surrounded by fans.

Hundreds packed into relatively new and quite lovely venue August Hall (formerly Ruby Skye) on Friday, October 19 for DJs Black Madonna, Honey Dijon, and David Harness. The Black Madonna, a Chicago party stalwart who plays classic house and disco grooves as if they were deep techno (pyrotechnic on the fader, all about the driving beat) sparked the place rave-y after hometown opener David Harness fired up some soul. She’s also a tireless advocate for inclusion as the prime principle of dance music ethics, bless her flying Twitter fingers, so the atmosphere was more than vibing. 

Closing it all out was the awesome Honey Dijon, one of the few huge touring DJs with actual roots in the frenetic ’90s big room house she pumps into crazed dancers’ veins. She was a regular at the End Up with David Harness back in the Fag Fridays days, and it’s been so lovely to see her get the recognition she deserves while staying outspoken about black, trans, and womens’ rights. Oh yeah, and the crowd that night was cute, too. Photographer David Schnur caught the excitement. — Marke B.

The Black Madonna at August Hall. Photo by David Schnur
The Black Madonna at August Hall. Photo by David Schnur
The Black Madonna at August Hall. Photo by David Schnur
The crowd goes wild for The Black Madonna at August Hall. Photo by David Schnur
The Black Madonna at August Hall
Looks turned at The Black Madonna at August Hall. Photo by David Schnur
Honey Dijon at August Hall. Photo by David Schnur
Honey Dijon at August Hall. Photo by David Schnur

Join us Thursday, October 18, for live music and pre-election cheer

The Deadliners

We’re throwing a pre-election party and 48 Hills fundraiser at the Bindery—the events space for Booksmith on Haight Street—this Thursday, October 18, 7pm-10pm. Join us! 

The Deadliners

The night features live music from the Deadliners, a band of local writers you just may recognize:

Jonathan Alford, keyboards
Zoe Carter, rhythm guitar and lead vocal
Mark Hertsgaard, rhythm guitar and another lead vocal
Gary Kamiya, lead guitar
Dan Keller, bass
Greg McRae, drums
Mark Schapiro, harmonica

The Bay Guardian and others local organizations will also be on hand to distribute voters’ guides, and there will be lots of rallying energy to face the midterms! Oh, and a full bar! 

Come out and support local media, so we can keep getting the word out about what matters. 

THE DEADLINERS: A ROCKIN’ BENEFIT FOR 48 HILLS
Thu/18, 7pm-10pm, $10 (but we’ll take more!)
The Bindery in the Haight, SF. 
More info here!

Hold, please, for Text Me Records

At a recent Text Me Records writing camp. Photo by Amy Lombard

ALL EARS The first thing you hear when you call Patrick Brown is “please enjoy this ringback tone,” followed by Louisiana rapper Kevin Gates belting the hook to his hit “2 Phones.” 

Brown probably won’t answer. He doesn’t pick up phone calls; he’s usually in the studio anyway. The name of his record label is Text Me, one of the most productive outfits in San Francisco: Brown wanted to name it after something he always says.

Brown, 40, came of age in New York during the hip-hop boom of the ‘90s, and his musical education had as much room for Prince Paul as Paul Simon. This eclecticism is reflected not only in the roster of Text Me’s dozens of artists, but also on his approach to breaking down genre walls and production barriers—all in service of putting records out from a broad spectrum of local artists (and getting those artists paid). He moved to San Francisco in 1998 to study graphic design at Academy of Art. Then he studied film. Then he ran an art gallery.

Finally, he settled on the one constant in his life: music. After an early attempt at starting a label, he enrolled in a two-year program at music production school Ex’pression in 2002 before getting an internship at venerable Mission studio Different Fur, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary. He now lives and works above the studio, in a space that seems to consist mostly of keyboards. 

Before releasing music, Text Me functioned as a song-publishing company while also putting on shows—notably booking cult-favorite Chicago rapper CupcakKe at Eli’s Mile High Club for one of her earliest Bay Area shows. 

The label now boasts a post-genre roster with everyone from punk band Coke and oddball pop group Dot Vom to Christian rapper Van Gammon. Many of the label’s artists also serve as in-house writers and producers, a rarity for a small label in an indie scene that often prides itself on DIY authenticity. 

Brown’s stylistically itinerant vision is reflected as much in the music he puts out as the shows he puts on—including tapping Text Me punk band Coke to open for infamous Atlanta rapper Soulja Boy at the Mezzanine on Friday, October 5.

“A lot of people are like ‘oh shit, that’s a punk band opening for Soulja Boy!’,” says Brown. “But it’s the same kind of energy. That’s the kinda show I wanna go see.” We spoke with him about

48 HILLS How does a record on Text Me typically come together?

PATRICK BROWN Our writers can book a six-hour block and come in, but there are also collaborations happening. Someone will make something and one of the singers will be there and it kinda happens organically. You might come out of a session with an instrumental and a hook and then step back, rework it.

Normally someone comes in and says “I have five songs I wanna finish,” or “I have five songs and I wanna make it ten songs,” and we’ll block an amount of time, they can get as much done as they want. If they want my opinion they get my opinion; we get it mastered; we’re done. We have access to the studio, so that removes a lot of steps.

Patrick Brown. Photo by Kristina Bakrevski

48H It’s unusual for a small indie label to have an in-house roster of writers and producers.

PB That’s a classic model. It’s what Motown was, it’s what those old studios all did. Even with EMI and the Beatles, George Martin was a house producer for classical music.

My thing has always been how to set artists up to make money. I think it’s great when someone wants to be purely an artist, but unless you blow up it’s a hard road to take. Songwriting is like being a painter and taking commissions on the side.

My whole thing is trying to set it up so people have income. Musicians are obsessed with getting on a label and having it release a record. Half the time they don’t even know whether or not their shit’s published. They don’t know there are performance royalties they should sign up for and collect. They’re not huge amounts of money, but it’s at least a check. 

Photo by Amy Lombard

48H With the do-it-yourself focus on writing your own songs and playing your own instruments in indie music, some people might call this model inauthentic.

PB Why, because there’s a mixing of styles, because more than two people wrote the song? How is that inauthentic? We did a writing camp recently, we released a mixtape Group Chat: A Back To School Mixtape, we had 40 people rotating between three rooms. And that was fun! No one’s like “whose song is this?” 

Kanye is always a loaded example, but when he made My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy he rented a studio in Hawaii, he put a producer in each room, he flew everyone out to work nonstop. If he wants to bring out the top rappers in the industry and the top producers, he’s still leading it. If anything, people say he’s overly involved. Even if you have DJ Premier in the room he’s still telling DJ Premier what to do. 

48H What are the biggest misconceptions artists have about the music industry?

PB I don’t think people should be overly obsessed with the business end of things, but I think it’s a mistake to not learn about it at all. If you get to a certain point in your career you need a manager, a label, a booking agent. But starting out you don’t need all those things. Sometimes they’re prohibitive. You could get a manager because you think you need a manager and your manager could be blowing opportunities for you because they don’t actually know what they’re doing. 

People should be really cautious of documents, especially if you don’t understand them. Every musician should find a lawyer that should review contracts for them for a couple hundred bucks. One of my goals is making sure people educated in this field.

Photo by Amy Lombard

48H What was the impetus for the show with Soulja Boy?

PB I started talking about dreaming bigger with shows. What would I wanna see? We were looking into the idea of Soulja Boy for the Dipset reunion, but that was recently booked, so we said “let’s get the fucking Soulja Boy show!”

For a lot of people we work with he’s a legend. He helped create the Internet music sound and style and direction that everyone goes in now, whether they want to admit it or not. One of things he credits with blowing him up was he’d go on these peer-to-peer file-sharing sites and name his songs after the top search. So people would download a song they thought was some other song and they’d be like, “What the fuck is this?” Then they’d be like, “This is tight!” 

He’s not hurting anyone, no one’s paying for it. I love shit like that. He’s super influential in that way. And it’s a good show for us to establish where our brains are at with things.

TEXT ME RECORDS PRESENTS SOULJA BOY
Fri/5, 9pm,  $25-$30
Mezzanine, SF. 
More info here

RIP Tamale Lady, savior of a tipsy generation

I remember her most on the Eagle patio, where she singlehandedly rescued a generation (or two) of leatherfolk from succumbing to the afternoon-long beer busts in full sun.

First the word would go out: “The Tamale Lady’s here!” Then in she would trundle, pulling her red wheeled-cooler behind her, undaunted by the fanny-flashing chaps and extended makeout sessions roiling all around her. We’d flock to her, downing the pollo, verduras, or whatever she had on offer, waving our little forks excitedly  and wiping the sauce off our fingers, smiling back at her as she fished for change. “Honey, you look like you need another one,” she’d say, poking me in the ribs while I giggled like a Pillsbury doughboy who hadn’t really eaten in three days.

One specific memory, probably my favorite of all San Francisco memories. After she’d fed us, she would hang out, cajoling, smiling, resting: Once under an early full moon, the cigar-smoked air turning lavender, a strapping leatherman swept her up in his arms and they danced a slow tango to Grace Jones’ ‘La Vie en Rose.’ Probably no more perfectly sweet moment to be had in this city’s resilient subbaculture.   

Virginia Ramos, aka the Tamale Lady, has passed away at the age of 65, and memories like the above have been pouring out online in honor of the San Francisco icon. Before gourmet food trucks, before even bacon hot dog carts, treading through SoMa, Mission, and Market bars like Lucky 13, El Rio, Virgil’s, and Zeitgeist, Ramos dished out sustenance and zingers, plus a whole lot of hugs to thousands of nightlife denizens. 

Recently the city had rallied to her side after she was banned from selling her home-cooked goods on the street, raising money to secure a brick and mortar spot she could officially be licensed. it seemed she was on the brink of finally opening it, after red-tape delays—when she passed. (And this week, Jerry Brown signed a bill that would make it easier for home kitchens to be licensed.

The Tamale Lady was a true friend indeed, a symbol of the crazy-good diversity of the San Francisco nightlife scene, a uniter of so many different, yet hungry, scenes, many of which have vanished as well. We’ll miss her dearly. Thoughts go out to her family. Viva la Tamale Lady.

Don’t stand back, it’s time for ‘Night of 1,001 Stevies’

MUSIC A night of Stevie Nicks’ music, performed by awesome live bands, benefitting Access: Women’s Health Justice? Stop dragging’ your feet around and hit up the second annual “Night of 1,001 Stevies,” Fri/25 at Bottom of the Hill, for plenty of scarves draped over microphones, tons of bewitching feminine energy, and a magickal lineup—including Everyone Is Dirty, Lapel, Katie Day, Jeremi Rebecca Hush, Josiah Johnson, and Marston, plus Tarot card readings by LouReads and artwork by Sister Stranger.

The brainchild of Tracey Holland of the evening’s fantastic headlining act Vandella (whose rock sound is inspired by Fleetwood Mac among others), “Night of 1,001 Stevies” pairs her love of live performance in a tight-knit community with her passion for women’s access to health care and abortion. We spoke over email about the genesis of the idea, the resonance of Stevie’s music, and how it all comes together for one night. (Check out the “Night of 1,001 Stevies” Instagram for more.)  

Tracey Holland of Vandella

48 HILLS How did you come up with this great (and hilarious) idea? 

TRACEY HOLLAND Several pieces sort of dovetailed all around the same time for me to bring the whole concept into what it’s grown into. First, I’d gotten wind of the NY event called “Night of 1,000 Stevies,” which has been going on for several years now. It’s apparently a big dance party they throw every year on Stevie’s birthday, May 26th, and has a big drag focus. As a huge Stevie and Fleetwood Mac fan, I was instantly in love with this whole idea, and knew that the West Coast absolutely needed our own version of this. Of course, as a musician, I wanted to make it more of a live show and use it as an opportunity to bring together a bunch of incredible musicians I know all in one place, as a means of also celebrating our music community which, particularly in SF in recent years, has taken something of a hit, as I know everyone is well aware.

The 2016 election really shook me, and was the catalyst for myself and so many other people trying to get more involved in politics in their communities and on a larger scale—so I then got really excited about turning the whole thing into a benefit for women’s-centric causes, and a celebration of women, and intersectional feminism, and music, and community. Basically it felt like a way to make some small difference, and take a stand, and highlight all these things that I’m really passionate about.

Access: Women’s Health Justice does amazing work that is targeted towards focusing on underprivileged communities and women who have limited resources and access to getting abortion and reproductive needs met. I wanted to make sure we were benefiting an organization that took into account women for whom Planned Parenthood (while wonderful, and whom I fully stand behind) is still a barrier to care. Access coordinates financial pieces, as well as even coordinating transportation and lodging for women who may need to travel, or may have a more sensitive situation. And to me, that is such an important, direct, hands-on piece of really caring for women having to do this. I really respect and admire their work and am really so passionate about abortion access for ALL women, and am really excited to be able to partner with Access for this particular reason. 

And it’s also just an awesome, epic party with Stevie as the catalyst. So. What’s not to love?!

48H I love that the Night of 1,001 Stevies aims to actively-embrace and harness the powers of music, feminine energy, and activism—can you tell me more about how you’ve experienced this connection to Stevie’s music, and has this resonated with the other musicians involved? 

TH I’ve always been really drawn to darker complexities and emotions, the mystical, and exploring the messiness of humans and how we live and relate, and I think this is a piece of Stevie’s music that clearly a lot of people are drawn to, and really appreciate, first off. As a woman in the music business, it took me years (until recently, really) to understand that a lot of my experience was based in misogyny, being written off or undervalued or dismissed simply because I’m a woman. I’m fortunate to have an amazing band of brothers whom are all progressive; but there’s still a wide swath of my musical and business experience that has this underlying current always running through it.

Stevie, to me, is this amazing embodiment of feminine energy that is purely her energy—I think there is sometimes this rhetoric surrounding feminism that sort of misses the point, and forces women and girls to be pigeon-holed into a way that feminism is supposed to look, act, and “be.” So, as a woman, it ends up feeling like no matter where you turn, you’re supposed to fit into some sort of box or else you’re not a part of the “club” (whatever that club may be). Stevie’s music explores this darkness, and complex emotions, and is sort of unapologetic in that way, and that’s something that personally has always resonated with me—the permission to not feel or be “nice” or “easy”—to be allowed to be difficult, and to have dark emotions, to be drawn to that—the permission to not have to always “make sense” because other people demand it of you.

I think part of what captivates people about Stevie and her music is that she is this strong figure, but she’s strong in a very unapologetically feminine sense. “Strength” is so commonly associated with being more “masculine” and I’ve always rejected that and hated that notion. You can be soft, and you can be sexy, and you can be all these traditionally “feminine” things—and still be a badass. You don’t have to do feminism any one way, and that’s something I’ve always felt very strongly about. I think in our current climate, as we’re talking more about gender roles and identities, trans rights and issues, LGBTQ issues, and feminism that does need to be inclusive of ALL the forms of feminism, that this mindset is starting to shift, and I’m so glad our larger discussions are starting to include some more of that nuance. 

The other musicians who are onboard for these shows are all such embodiments of this larger vision. The lineup is heavily female, though I always made clear from the start that my feminism is not at all about not including and loving men—there will be a lot of males onstage as well, and this is a mindful choice on my part. I feel very strongly that I want men who to be a part of the discussion, and the solutions, around feminist and women’s issues. I believe the patriarchy, as it were, does a disservice to both men and women. So for me, including men who are positive supporters of women, including myself and others, was a conscious choice meant to keep the discussion open.  

Every one of the featured artists hopped onboard immediately and have been so excited and gracious. Every one has been touched by Stevie’s music in a similar fashion to what I’ve described above, and I think it’s just such a beautiful and special thing to recognize and get to revel in together. 

48H How was the first time you did this? Can you describe the scene and what you hope to replicate with the second installment? 

TH This is a very indie, DIY-benefit in the early stages of its infancy, so it’s really been a labor of love and has that really exciting, buzzy camaraderie that comes with things like this, that are borne out of a passion for something and a hairbrained idea, and it gets all pulled together somehow. Last year was a small show in SF, but to a PACKED crowd. We had some amazing musicians play, and everyone was just so supportive, and again, just kind of buzzing. It felt like a really special night and it felt like the energy in the room around that was palpable.

We had Tarot readings going on, lots of scarves we’d hung from mic stands, impromptu face and glitter-painting going on in the crowd: It was pretty magical. We have some incredible volunteers this year (shoutouts to Kevin White, Allie Hunt, and Emily Zitin!) who are helping us with overall planning, promotion, and vibe – we’re going to have a lot more surprises in store at the two shows that I think will really make it more of an experience.

We’re also hoping to just spread the word of Night of 1,001 Stevies—not just for the fact that it’s benefitting an incredible organization, Access: Women’s Health Justice, but to spread the message, too, because honestly even when I just am telling people about it on the street, it really gets people excited. I think just the fact that you can have a hairbrained scheme (my bread and butter, if we’re being honest) and then execute on it in your own small way to make a small impact. I think that gets people excited, and hopefully gets them to thinking of what they love and what pieces of their world they can pull together and get creative with to do some small bit of good, too?

My larger dream is to take this event annually to different cities along the West Coast and/or make it a small one-day festival where we get to celebrate all these things and continue to highlight, benefit, and talk about the issues we face in our current political and social climate. We’re on Instagram at @1001stevies, which has been an awesome way to highlight all the artists and have a little more of a homebase to build on the community as it takes shape. 

48H How do you decide which songs each act plays? or are there multiple Landslides?

TH Ha, there will not be multiple Landslides—everyone will be playing a short set of songs of their choosing. The opening sets will be short sets of either Stevie/FM songs and a couple originals, followed by Vandella playing a headlining set deep with Stevie/FM jams, as well as some originals in the FM vein. The song choices are honestly pretty heavily Stevie-centric. Her solo catalogue has some amazing hits, and deep cuts, that are going to be featured throughout the night. it’s a really eclectic span of her career, quite honestly. Everyone has impeccable taste in their song choices! There will of course be a lot of the hits because, come on. But it’ll really showcase a lot of the different Stevie eras.  

48H What’s your own favorite Stevie song? 

TH Oh wow. Ever? Of all time? Just ONE? Rhiannon is so beautiful and is representative to me of the kind of woman I want to be, if that makes sense. But I suppose if I’m picking the one that means the most to me personally, on a really deep and vulnerable level, I’d have to say “Storms.” The lyric “Never have I been a blue calm sea / I have always been a storm” just slays me because it feels like it was written for me. That’s the power of our girl Stevie. I’m sure a lot of people feel one of her lyrics so deep to their core like that; and that’s part of what makes music so damn special, isn’t it? OK, that was two. Sorry.

NIGHT OF 1,001 STEVIES
Fri/25, 8pm, $12/$15
Bottom of the Hill, SF.
More info here.

RIP DJ Cameron Paul: a toast to the Mixx-It master

If you’ve ever danced with abandon to Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push-It,” or jammed out in your room to an extended mix of “Axel F”—and who here among us has not—then you’ve been touched by genius Bay Area DJ and producer Cameron Paul, who passed away Monday at the age of 60 after an illness. His passing was announced on his Facebook page by his sister, who was helping to take care of him in Tulsa. 

Cameron Paul’s importance went far beyond those pop triumphs: To an entire generation of club-goers in the late ’70s and early ’80s, he was the whole reason to step out to spots like City Nights and the Broadway Power and Light Club—or bop at home to master mixes on KSOL and KMEL.

He was a crucial link between disco (he played the first promo copy of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack here in 1977) and electro and beyond (his classic version of CCCP’s “American Soviets” crushed dance floors from underground gay goth to bougie penthouse)—at a time when “DJ” was becoming more than just a service occupation, and more of an artistic calling. Beyond the incredible DJ, radio, and dancefloor-friendly remixes and medleys he produced through his Mixx-It service, he also pioneered the “how-to” video series for DJs. He worked with almost every local DJ or remixer of consequence in the 1980s, and is still revered for his technical expertise. 

“Cameron was one of my earliest contacts to the SF dance music production scene,” says Jim Hopkins, another legendary spinner and remixer, who now heads up the essential San Francisco Disco Preservation Society, which archives classic mixes by local DJs, including the two you can hear by Cameron Paul on this page, both remastered by Jim.

“We both started doing tape re-editing for Hot Tracks DJ remix service around the same time in 1985,” said Hopkins. “I was living in Sacramento, CA at the time, While he was in the Bay Area.

“He was the technical guy that I dealt with when I first started submitting my reel-to-reel edits to Hot Tracks. He was the one that told me the gear that I needed to buy to start tape editing professionally. We spoke on the phone quite a bit, talking about techniques. He was an inspiration and gave me some good advice on editing techniques.”

The early electro, or “Beat” style—which was actually an eclectic, beyond-niche melding of sounds that were being marketed as freestyle, breakdance, hip-house, New Wave, etc—has been overlooked by many writers and modern-day musical excavators, passed over in favor of the well-worn narratives of hip-hop, house, and techno. But for a few halcyon years, Beat connected dance floors from Dallas to Paris. With Cameron’s passing, I’m hoping that the freedom and abandon of these years (if not the hyper-cumulus clouds of AquaNet) will be rediscovered. RIP, Cameron! 

Full announcement from Cameron’s Facebook page: 

Cameron Paul 5/31/1957-3/26/2018
Cameron Paul, born and raised in San Francisco, CA passed away in peace with Christ on March 26, 2018 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Cameron was a music producer and legendary DJ who, under the stage name Cameron Paul, revolutionized club music and introduced the world to a new form of entertainment, “Mixx-It”. Cameron’s music could be heard on the legendary Bay Area radio stations KSOL and KMEL-FM, and he earned gold records for his remixes of iconic songs like Salt n Pepa’s “Push It” and George Michaels’ “I Want Your Sex”.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s his music drew enormous crowds to San Francisco dance clubs like City Nights and Studio West where the masses danced the nights away to his unique style of music. Cameron’s irreplicable contribution to the music industry resulted in him being inducted into the Legends of Vinyl DJ Hall of Fame, solidifying his reign as an artist whose music will inspire others all over the world for generations to come.
Cameron was preceded in death by his loving sister Laura, and leaves behind his loving parents, Larry and Caroline of San Francisco, CA, his devoted sister Suzanne and her husband Steve, his niece Kirsten, two nephews, Brandon and Jordan, and many cousins.
A simple memorial will be held in San Mateo, CA and will be announced on his Facebook page “Cameron Paul.”
Cameron had a compassionate heart and shared his love for animals with his sisters, Laura and Suzanne. In lieu of flowers, he requested donations be made to Alley Cat Allies, a charity that assists shelters in saving cats and kittens around the US. Donations can be made under Cameron’s name directly to donate@alleycat.org or to the Porta Caeli Hospice house in Tulsa, Oklahoma where he was lovingly cared for in his final days.