Is San Francisco doomed? The legendary SF punk band Crime said so 35 years ago on their album San Francisco’s Doomed. Yet with tech money flowing into San Francisco and musicians being priced out of the city, the phrase has taken on a new resonance among those musicians who have stayed in town.
There’s been no shortage of music and other art forms lamenting the sea change in our dear city: Earlier this month, Katie Day drew accolades and vitriol with “San Francisco (Before the West Falls),” and tonight [Wed/25], cabaret singer-songwriter Candace Roberts will celebrate the debut of her theatrical “Not My City Anymore” with a party at the Gold Dust Lounge (where the music video was shot).
Stepping up to the plate for the indie/garage/punk kids is Hannah Lew, currently of Cold Beat, formerly of Grass Widow, and most recently the curator of a compilation whose name differs from Crime’s album by one contraction: San Francisco Is Doomed. Released on Lew’s Crime On The Moon label, the compilation features 13 songs by either former or current San Francisco bands and artists, from Thee Oh Sees to Erase Errata to Violent Change, all of them dealing with the tech boom’s effect on the city and its music scene.
Lew has lived in the city since 1989, and was a first-hand witness to the ascent of the city’s garage-rock scene to international prominence as a member of Grass Widow. Though she plans to stay in the city, it’s increasingly difficult for musicians in San Francisco to keep up with increased prices. Most of the artists on the compilation have since moved.
“People are moving here to make money now,” Lew said. “It’s never really been like that before — not since the Gold Rush. Because of that there’s a lot of foodie culture…things catered to people with a lot of money. I think that creates a cultural divide.”
The compilation isn’t an act of war against the “techies,” though; according to Lew, some of the artists on the compilation actually work in the tech industry. It’s not a benefit album either. It’s simply a snapshot of the time and place in which SF musicians currently exist.
For now, Lew and Cold Beat are still headquartered and playing shows in the city — the compilation seems timed nicely to coincide with the release of the band’s latest, Over Me, which will be out July 8 (a music video for the first single just premiered over at NPR). But it’s hard to say the band is part of a “scene” anymore. Bay Area scenes have come and gone, of course, from psychedelic rock to ’80s thrash metal, and, as others have noted, it’s increasingly apparent that the garage-rock movement is at the end of its lifespan. The question of whether or not San Francisco’s music scene is truly doomed relies on a different equation — whether musicians are willing to move into San Francisco. And according to Lew, it’s not exactly an attractive option for most.
“I can’t really imagine people moving here for a thriving music scene without the rent prices going way down,” she said. “Usually the towns with a thriving music scenes are affordable to live in. But it’s hard to even find an affordable practice space in San Francisco these days.”
“There’s nothing we can do about it,” she added. “[San Francisco] is becoming more of a fancy town. But we just want to talk about it and hopefully provide another voice in that conversation.”
San Francisco Is Doomed Record Release
With Cold Beat, Synethic ID, Violent Change, Caged Animal
July 1, 9pm, free
Brick and Mortar Music Hall
1710 Mission, SF