Playlist takes you on a drive through the Persian-pop unknown



By Dina Maccabee

Sometimes – when I notice I’ve developed an allergy to my entire iTunes playlist, when all my CDs are mysteriously missing from their cases, and I’m not ready to resort to listening to mix tapes from high school – the silence on my stereo can be deafening. In those dire times, I resort to iTunes radio.
Scrolling down the list of offerings, there isn’t a lot of campaigning to sway your vote. I breeze past the bland listings for Classic Rock, Electronic, and Ambient, on down to International, where if nothing else the flavors have a chance of being spicy. Still, I couldn’t say what exactly prompted me to try for the first time. “Persian traditional music,” it read, sandwiched between “The Best Mix of All Things Iranian” and “Persian Pop.” I must have been feeling anti-American.

At any rate, I was pleased to discover hours of uninterrupted Persian classical music, a tradition so stately and affecting that its surface exoticism melts away after only a few minutes. But I began to wonder, from whence, exactly, issues forth this fountain of unfamiliar yet dulcet tones? I pressed a button and suddenly linked the sounds of classical Persia with a bedroom in San Francisco in 2008.

I wanted some background color for the monochromatic iTunes radio experience – and some direction on how to explore the region’s music even further (the station’s format ranges from Persian Dance to Kurdish Pop). Fortunately a friendly service representative at, identifying himself only as Cyrus, was able to set me straight on the mysteries behind the music.

SFBG: Who programs the content of

Your cassette pet


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REVIEW How’s this for a universal truth: if you’ve ever given a good goddamn about music and you’ve ever been touched by someone in your life (or wanted to be touched, as the case may be), you’ve surely sat yourself down and made a mixtape to put all of those feelings into 90 minutes or less. It’s a rite of passage for any music freak who dares to live beyond the safe confines of his or her headphones; many of us revisit that breathless, nerve-racked experience over and over again, freezing our latest crushes in little plastic time capsules, hoping they’ll build to something bigger. The messenger may have changed — we’ve gone from tape to disc and now maybe to the playlist — but the message remains the same: "I like you. Do you like me?"

Rock journalist Rob Sheffield is an expert on such matters, as Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time (Three Rivers Press, 224 pages, $13) clearly demonstrates. Taking the reader on a song- and swoon-studded travelogue through the inner workings of his heart, the memoirist begins with the wince-along bumblings of a gangly adolescent mixtaper and continues through to the instant click of meeting his similarly tune-centric wife and eventually to — and here I am not giving away anything that isn’t already mentioned on the book’s cover — her sudden death from a pulmonary embolism. It’s a genuinely moving, thoughtful, and frequently cackle-inducing work, and — perhaps best of all — it bounces as much as a book can with boundless verve about songs that have soundtracked every blunder, triumph, and openhearted, weak-kneed moment of falling in love.

For every smile and nod of appreciation at the mention of particularly meaningful musical moments — Sheffield’s anecdote about Gladys Knight and the Pips’ legendary "Midnight Train to Georgia" resonates so effectively in part because everyone knows the song in the first place — there’s a delightful story about an obscure songwriting gem just waiting to be found, thanks to the enthusiasm with which Sheffield conveys his household’s eclectic tastes. His bright-eyed declaration of love for "In a World Without Heroes" — a fey 1992 glam ballad from a short-lived Mark Robinson one-off named Grenadine — could very well send a few readers scurrying to the record shop.

Love Is a Mix Tape isn’t just a collection of musings about favorite songs from a rock critic; Sheffield celebrates the music by placing it in the context of finding his soul mate and thus allows the tunes to help tell the story of their relationship. Whether capturing the endorphin rush of being introduced to a new all-time classic, grinning unapologetically over so-bad-it’s-good radio cheese, or seeking solace from a country weeper, he offers music lovers a sympathetic reflection of their emotional lives, bumps and all. Readers, in turn, will laugh, shout, and cry — not solely because of the experiences detailed by Sheffield, but also in reaction to the author’s pinpoint prose. At its best, this book is a glowing little wonder that reminds us never to dismiss the joy or comfort we receive from a simple song.

Careers & Ed: Paid by Pandora



Before Tim Westergren founded the Music Genome Project and Pandora, an online radio station–music recommendation site that’s developed a cultlike following, he had no idea what he was going to do for a living. After all, how do you prepare for a job that doesn’t exist yet?

He wasn’t like the scores of people who go through school with specific goals in mind — for instance, major in computer science or business administration, get an entry-level position, start climbing the corporate ladder to become an engineer or manager, and acquire a 401(k).

No, for the venture capitalist, for the entrepreneur, life is more abstract. Westergren’s career path was blazed on a hunch and an intense passion for music, which he’d loved ever since learning to play piano in the suburbs of Paris as a child.

"It’s more, kind of, personal instinct," Westergren said when asked how he found his niche. "Looking around thinking, ‘OK, the problem that I have and that all my friends and everyone I know has is that they love music but they have a hard time finding new stuff.’ That’s the problem that just about every single adult faces. I also knew, as a musician, that there was an awful lot of really great music around that nobody was hearing because it was all buried. And so I figured, ‘Gosh, there’s got to be an opportunity in there of connecting those two.’<0x2009>"


If you don’t happen to be one of the many people who have already pledged their allegiance to Pandora’s wide selection of music and uncanny ability to predict what other artists you might like, let me explain.

At its simplest, Pandora is Internet radio with a brain. Signing up is free and surprisingly quick. Then you choose an artist or song as your "station," and music begins to play. Each successive song is chosen by Pandora, creating a customized streaming playlist based on the attributes of the songs you’ve chosen (and on whether or not you like the songs the site chooses for you). If you like Manu Chao, Pandora might play Los Cafres next. If you start a station around Weezer, Pandora might recommend a song by Jimmy Eat World. If you like Prince, you’ll probably soon be jamming to the Time. And if your Nine Inch Nails station is playing too much hard, dark Marilyn Manson, you can give feedback that’ll lead the station toward a more melodic NIN relative, like Tool.

It’s this system — the combination of radio station and the Music Genome Project, which offers carefully crafted music recommendations based on your tastes — that sets Pandora’s suggestions apart from those of other music sites.

"We’ve created a taxonomy of musical attributes that kind of collectively describe a song," Westergren said, sitting in the main room of Pandora’s headquarters, which looks like a computer lab crossed with a record store thanks to rows of computer stations backdropped by stacks of CDs. He showed me an example, clicking on a tune by Chet Baker at one of the stations. A form popped up on the flat screen, filled with about 40 drop-down menu fields rating musical characteristics. One, for example, says "Fixed to Improvised" and lets the user rate a song from 1 to 10 on that scale. A graphic at the bottom of the screen shows that this is the first of seven pages.

"An analyst goes through and scores each one of these, one by one," Westergren said. Around him the stations were speckled with sleepy-eyed musicians clutching Monday-morning coffee cups, while downtown Oakland glistened through large windows. "So in the end, they have a collection of about 400 individual pieces of musical information about the song. Everything about melody and harmony, rhythm and instrumentation, etc. And it’s this sort of musical DNA that connects songs on Pandora. So when you type a song in, it’s using this information to create playlists."

The criteria for these selections, much like Westergren’s qualifications for steering this funky music boat across the World Wide Web, have been gathered from scratch.


Born in Minneapolis, Westergren moved to France with his family when he was six years old. He went to high school in England, where he sang in a choir and learned a smattering of instruments: clarinet, bassoon, drums, and the recorder. But school in Europe was too tracked for his tastes, and by age 16 he knew he wanted to return to the United States. In college he majored in political science but kept finding himself drawn further into music.

"I tried a bunch of things out. The last couple of years, though, I really got deep into music and recording technology," Westergren said. With his tousled hair and green sweater, the 41-year-old has the clean-cut but cool appearance you’d expect of an Internet executive. "I went to Stanford as an undergrad, and there’s a place there called the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. It’s a place where science and music come together. There’s a lot of study of sound and sound creation and sound recording, and I [practically] lived there my senior year."

After graduating in ’88 and working as a nanny for several years, he began practicing piano eight hours a day, studying with jazz pianist Mark Levine in Berkeley, and performing at the Palo Alto Holiday Inn. But he always played in rock bands, which he says aren’t that different from start-up companies, and moved to San Francisco to be closer to the nightlife. He began writing jingles for radio ads; it was a short step from there to composing soundtracks for student films.

"The idea for the Music Genome Project, the whole sort of foundation for Pandora, actually was really hatched when I was a film composer. Because when you’re a film composer your job is to figure out someone else’s taste. So you’ll sit down with a film director with a stack of CDs and play stuff for them and try and learn what they like about music," Westergren said. "Then, as a composer, you’ve got to go back to your recording studio and write a piece of music they’ll like. So what you’re doing is, you’re transutf8g that feedback into musicological information."

But this was all just pointing in the right direction. There was still no road map, no clear way of making a musical-taste machine profitable. About this time, Westergren read an article about Aimee Mann, the singer-songwriter you may remember for sacrificing her toe in The Big Lebowski or for covering Harry Nilsson’s "One" for Magnolia. Mann had a decent fan base from her success with the band ‘Til Tuesday, but her record company had shelved her because it didn’t think she could sell enough records.

"It was really that article that prompted me to think, ‘Wow, if there was a way to let people who like her kind of music know that she had a new album coming out, then maybe she’d release her albums, because you could find the fan base.’ That was the original idea: to help connect artists with their audience," Westergren said.

In 1999 he started developing that idea. He sought the business advice of Jon Kraft, a friend from college. Kraft tapped Will Glaser for his computer expertise, and the trio began moving forward with the Music Genome Project, forming Savage Beast Technologies, the name still emblazoned on Pandora’s software today.

"We weren’t originally a radio station. In the beginning we were actually a recommendation tool," Westergren said. "You know how Amazon has ‘If you buy this book, you should also read these books?’ We thought we were going to be that kind of a recommendation tool used on other sites to help people find stuff."

The company got its first push in January 2000, when a few angel investors, or wealthy individuals, loaned it enough money to start developing software. It was on its way, but there was still no clear moneymaking mechanism, and for years the company ran on faith and credit cards. After a while cofounders Glaser and Kraft decided they had to move on. Westergren stuck with the project and kept looking for investors.

"I had been pitching venture funds for a couple of years. I had pitched over 300 times to different venture firms. I didn’t get a yes until 2004," Westergren said.

That was when was created, the Music Genome Project was plugged into personalized radio stations, ad space started selling, and revenue began to flow. It’s also when Westergren’s idea was paired with the shift the Internet has taken toward interactive marketing. Today Pandora has offices in Oakland, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York and sells ads connected to sounds that consumers like — and therefore products to consumers. The field of interactive marketing is booming, and Westergren says anyone looking to break into Internet radio should first look into a background in advertising.

Then again, you could just follow his example: use your instincts and see what develops.

Tim Westergren is traveling the country promoting Pandora with town hall meetings. See for information.

Player’s club: Todd Lavoie’s best of 2007 playlist


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Bat for Lashes are in your corner.

By Todd Lavoie

Well, it wasn’t easy, but after endless hours of fretting and ruminating and studied, stressed-out headphonery, I have at last been able to compile a play list of the tracks that got me most excited this year. What can I say? This year was a stunner – look no further than these twenty lil’ ditties, kiddies.

1. SOULSAVERS: “Revival” (Red Ink/Columbia)
Mark Lanegan + gospel singers + narcotized electronics = unmitigated bliss. The former Screaming Tree, Isobel Campbell collaborator, and bedrock-baritoned emissary from the darkest of gutters has teamed up with British downtempo dramatists Soulsavers for some post-apocalyptic spirituality and brokenhearted confessionals. And if that ain’t enough, they snagged Wendy Rose and Lena Palmer – probably best known for setting full-throated fires behind Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds on their last album and tour – to usher in the rapture with their serious gospel know-how. Ah, “Revival” – Lanegan leads the congregation in a river baptismal, spitting hellfire and salvation while still teetering close to the edge of the abyss himself, a Flannery O’Connor character brought to song. Until Spiritualized’s new one hits next year, this might be the next-best-thing to fill our medicated-soul prescription.

2. BAT FOR LASHES: “What’s A Girl To Do?” (Echo/Caroline)
Rolling out of the darkness on her forlorn little bicycle, transmitting mesmerizing sparkles from her glittery sweater, Natasha Khan – the mastermind behind the curious Bat for Lashes moniker – made quite a first impression with the opening seconds of her video for “What’s A Girl to Do?” – an ice-choked exploration of the previously undiscovered intersections between PJ Harvey, Broadcast, and the Ronettes. I won’t spoil the surprise twist of the video, but I will offer that this might be the catchiest bummer I’ve heard all year: “And when he asked me/ ‘Do you love me?’/ I had to look away/ I didn’t want to tell him/That my heart grows colder with each day.” Ouch.

3. BEIRUT: “Nantes” (Ba Da Bing)
European romance? Yes, please! Scott Walker might have long since abandoned any consideration for evening promenades and moonlit kisses in song – now that he’s a bonafide avant-garde artiste hellbent on making Stockhausen seem like sissy stuff, that is – so thankfully the world has Zach Condon, a.k.a., Beirut, to carry the torch for all of us swooning pie-eyed dreamers. Oh, the rhumba rhythm! The Montmartre-ific accordion! The swaying brass section! And atop it all, Condon waxes far more nostalgic than his 21 years should ever allow. Not as lurid as Walker or his idol Jacques Brel – honestly, who is? – but croonably smooth nonetheless. Me, I’m enchanted.

Year in Music: Long walk home


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Years ago I ended up at a San Francisco Water Department dinner with my father and an old neighborhood friend, eating in the back hall of a half-century-old Italian restaurant in the Excelsior. The room spilled over with thick-armed men who were union, white, and not bad-off and from whom I learned a thing or two about old San Francisco family names and accents that tell you if someone is from the Richmond, the old Castro, or Balboa. It was a return to the blue-collar ‘Frisco that I was raised in: a posthippie, pre-dot-com city with a ubiquitous — and at one time iconic — KFOG, 104.5 FM, playlist composed of harder rockers by the Stones, Creedence, and the Beatles. My earliest memories of the city are tied to those songs, moaning from tiny car speakers, rattling empty cans of Bud, and wafting over garages that smelled of grease.

Yet there was one member of this blue-collar pantheon I could never get too close to. He was too bombastic. His character was too huge. Even before ingesting punk rock ideology via Maximumrocknroll and Epicenter, I felt in opposition to the stadium and the spectacle. Somehow I had internalized a belief that the Boss was my enemy.

Yet this year I found myself buying Magic (Sony), Bruce Springsteen’s latest album, literally on sight. My teenage self would have been horrified to know that at 30 I would be purchasing a Springsteen record not in spite of the E Street Band but because of it, and that after listening to it again and again, my greatest criticism would be that it has too few Clarence Clemons sax solos. The truth is that I’ve moved well past being appreciative of the man and into the realm of the fan — the kind who marks his Slingshot planner with the date and time tickets go on sale for Springsteen’s latest tour.

As with many young men with elitist tastes, it was Nebraska (Sony, 1982) that broke me. With its high-contrast cover, four-track production, and the slap-back reverb echoing of Suicide, the album suggested an almost punk quality, and it subverted all of my assumptions about Springsteen’s gross theatrics. Here was a serious songwriter with compassion for working people, concern for their dignity, and a subtle hint of darkness. Suddenly, I was listening, and, as I began to discover, so were my friends.

What surprised me most was the nonlinearity and consistency of his politics. Springsteen isn’t partisan, pro-union, antiwar, or above it all. He’s for ordinary people and their battles with life, injustice, and the institutions that seem set on killing their dreams, if not destroying the dreamers. It turns out that "Born in the U.S.A." isn’t a nationalist anthem but an indictment. He takes on police, poverty, and racism with "American Skin (41 Shots)," whose title pointedly refers to the slaying of Amadou Diallo by the New York Police Department. Springsteen is a humanist who never wanted to choose sides in the process of choosing between right and wrong. Perhaps for good reason — it’s hard not to wonder whether Clear Channel radio stations’ boycott of Magic isn’t linked to his fateful decision to openly oppose George W. Bush during the 2004 election.

My slow-burning appreciation for Springsteen’s moral and political iconoclasm wasn’t what really set my obsession with him into high gear. It was the unexpected but inevitable emotional connection that grew. Before I knew it, I was sitting in the dark listening to The River (Sony, 1980) and crying to its titular masterpiece. Conversion is strange, and when a person goes from being outside the church pews to singing in the choir it’s a hard thing to explain to anyone. I can listen to "Atlantic City," "The Promised Land," or even Magic‘s "Long Walk Home" and feel the agony of every person who’s ever loved or lost. I realize I’m willing to give up being aesthetically correct, intellectually above it all, and emotionally safe just to have something I can share with people who seem to live such different lives. Certainly it’s worth it to be transported back home, which makes Magic less like a throwback and more like a time machine. *


1. Top return to shitty form: Siltbreeze

After many years languishing in the land of the giant question marks, Philly scuzz-and-fuzz merchants Siltbreeze not only have begun releasing new records but also happen to be releasing some of the best records in the American (and Australian?!) underground. Harry Pussy, Charlambides, and the Dead C meet US Girls, Ex-Cocaine, and xNoBBQx.

2. Top new band from my new hometown, Portland, Ore.: Eat Skull

What we’ve got is ear-bleeding garage punk that makes up for a lack of speed with a heavy hand on the treble knob. Presented by members of the Hospitals, Gang Wizard, and Hale Zukas, this is the kind of pop violence that hasn’t hurt this good since Henry’s Dress.

3. Top new band from my old hometown, Oakland: Zeroth

Just when I thought I couldn’t be surprised by anything anymore. A trio of smarter than average weirdos, they’ve produced the kind of strangeness that lends itself to nonsense descriptors like "electric ovarian space prog." My butt shook.

4. Top trend: pop noise albums

Though this is really a trend that started a few years ago with records like Burning Star Core’s The Very Heart of the World (Thin Wrist, 2005) and Prurient’s Black Vase (Load, 2005), 2007 saw some of America’s noise heavyweights releasing major statements with actual production values. Mouthus, John Wiese, and Religious Knives all brought great records, but perhaps most startling were the sweet clarity and depth of Sighting’s Through the Panama (Load/Ecstatic Peace).

5. Top label A&R: Southern Lord

They’ve made a pretty clean sweep of the best of left-field cult metal: OM, Wolves in the Throne Room, Velvet Cacoon, Abruptum, and Striborg. My only question is, where’s WOLD?

For more from Saloman, go to

‘Tis the season for getting even



Spending time with your family over the holidays can be difficult. Are you a vegetarian atheist with carnivorous, God-fearin’ folks? Are your grandparents racist? Then you know what I mean. But these special occasions don’t have to suck. Step one? Stop playing on their turf. Why spend one more holiday giving them the home-team advantage, biting your tongue to make them feel more comfortable? Instead, tell your relatives to get their asses up to San Francisco for a good old heathen’s ball. It may sound counterintuitive, but think about it for a minute: you’ll be in charge. It’s the perfect time to have the holiday you’ve always wished you’d had … or to just get even with your folks for all of those miserable dinners you’ve gritted your teeth through all of these years. The businesses listed below have everything you’ll need to either gently ruffle some feathers or send your folks screaming back to their safety nooks. How far you choose to take things is up to you — and your childhood trauma.


If your parents’ wholesome holiday decorations are inherently offensive (even the average gender-"appropriate" angel ornament can seem oppressive to a student of gender-continuum philosophy), you can beat them at their own game by picking up a few things at Under One Roof (549 Castro, SF; 415-503-2300, in the Castro. Most of the holiday knickknacks you’ll find there, like rainbow-cloaked Santa Claus decorations and muscle-man bottle openers, will do little more than raise a conservative’s eyebrow. But they’ll provide valuable ammunition when the conversation turns political: just watch how Dad reacts when you counter his homophobia by pointing out that the cocoa mug he’s using comes from a boy-town volunteer organization that donates all of its proceeds to HIV-AIDS research.

If that doesn’t work, try riling your folks by jabbing at their spirituality with holiday decorations. They force you to stare down Christianity at every turn? Then shove your lack of belief down their throats this year by shopping in the Mission, where a cluster of small boutiques carries everything you’ll need for an offbeat — or damn near demonic — holiday party.

Start your spree at Paxton Gate (824 Valencia, SF; 415-824-1872,, where you’ll find an assortment of unconventional home decor options, including carnivorous plants and a large collection of vaguely satanic household accessories. Although you might score some unwanted points with your hunting-aficionado brother with a few of taxidermist Jeanie M’s dangling mice angels, you’ll certainly lose plenty from your born-again aunt, whose collection of gruesome Jesus-dying-on-the-cross sculptures offend you as much as your ornaments will her.

After grabbing some choice roadkill art, you’ll want to head to Yoruba Botanica (998 Valencia, SF; 415-826-4967) for some Santeria-style pagan altars, spell candles, and heretical oils and scents, then to Casa Bonampak (3331 24th St., SF; 415-642-4079, for some Latin flair. A wreath made of chile peppers, some Virgin of Guadalupe party streamers, and a few discounted Día de los Muertos items will add a little subversive color to your thoroughly confusing collection of holiday decorations.


If you’ve lived in the city for more than two years, you’ve probably adopted a cruelty-free diet and grown weary of your family’s annual flesh-eating parties. You know those relatives who always "forget" you don’t eat meat? Now you can ostracize them by serving an alternative smorgasbord from SF’s premier food co-op, Rainbow Grocery (1745 Folsom, SF; 415-863-0620, There’s plenty to choose from here, including a full line of Tofurky products, organic cranberry sauce, and Tofutti brand frozen treats for dessert.

Even if your relatives don’t mind taking a short break from their irresponsible eating habits, you can still piss them off by directly attacking their morals with an obscene cake from the Cake Gallery (290 Ninth St., SF; 415-861-2253,, a hole-in-the-wall bakery that boasts the ability and desire to make "anything your demented mind can think up." Can the artists at the Cake Gallery make a dessert with a leather-clad transsexual peeing on the baby Jesus? You bet your family’s asses they can.


With dinner out of the way, it’s time to expose your family to a bit of real SF culture with some quality time for them and your friends. You’ll want to invite an array of typical weirdos to rival your family’s usual assortment of nerdy cousins, creepy aunts and uncles, and stoic grandparents; we suggest at least one hippie, a lesbian couple, a club kid, and a few snobby hipsters with neck tattoos.

If none of your friends are willing to flaunt their earlobe plugs or perform a contact improv dance number, you might want to put some effort into background noise. Downloading a raunchy playlist will work in a pinch, but if you really want to shock your guests, how about visiting Amoeba Music (1855 Haight, SF; 415-831-1200,, which carries almost every holiday album ever made? Start with Run DMC’s single "Christmas in Hollis" (Fedor Sigel, 1987), then move on to something more unsettling, like the heavy metal compilation A Brutal Christmas: The Season in Chaos (SoTD Records, 2003). Amoeba also carries chapters 1 to 22 of R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet (Jive; 2005, 2007) and other parent-unfriendly classics like Wondershowzen (MTV2; 2005–06) — you know, the music your friends will love as much as your folks will hate it.


Is everyone appropriately uncomfortable? Good. Now it’s time for the postdinner activity. Rather than listen to Grandpa’s drunken ramblings or watch Mom resentfully do all of the dishes herself, goddamnit, why not take the fam on a nice little trip through Yuletide SF?

If your folks seem to be planning a mutiny, you might want to appease them (i.e., ease them into submission) by booking a tour with Cable Car Charters (Pier 31, Embarcadero, SF; 415-922-2425,, which offers a holiday lights package, complete with blankets and a man dressed like Santa Claus. But if you’re really out for blood, consider heading directly to the Castro Theatre (429 Castro, SF; 415-621-6120,, whose December calendar boasts an appearance by Crispin Glover, a disco-themed Christmas party hosted by an ex–Village Person, and six performances by the SF Gay Men’s Chorus (415-865-3650,, who’ll be paying tribute to Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, solstice, and Ramadan, all at the same time.


Congratulations, you made it!

You can still torture your folks with shots of Fernet back at your apartment as punishment for all of the fattening eggnog nightcaps you’ve endured over the years, but if you ever want to see them again, you might just lead them to their half-deflated air mattresses and bid them good night. After eight full hours of tossing and turning on your floor, maybe they’ll be inspired to tone it down next time you come to visit — or at least remember to add a plate of steamed vegetables to the slaughtered-animal spread. And if they’re not, you can always bring a penis cake home with you next year. *

Gayest. Music. Ever.



Something horrible happened.

The promo package, marked Special, arrived on my desk in May from Ultra Records in New York City. Hastily, I tore the envelope open and yanked out the CD within, letting squiggles of packing confetti fall where they may. A bronze and glistening, near-naked, possibly underage Brazilian boy stared fiercely from the cover. His bulging genitalia were not quite stuffed into a Gummi-red Speedo. His hair dripped with viscous product. Posed stiffly against a seaside shack the color of processed cheddar, he looked like he was about to either blow me or feast on my liver. The text across his sculpted, slightly veiny torso read DJ Ricardo! Presents Out Anthems 2.

Oh, good lord. If there’s anything that turns me off more than DJs with exclamation points appended to their monikers — OMG! The ’90s! Low carb! Wow! — it’s some gay fool from Ultra Records in New York City trying to tell me what my "out anthems" are. Sorry, but tin-eared "Don’t Want No Short Dick Man" remixes, spacey-diva "Deeper Love" covers, mindless melodramatic thumpers, and obnoxious washes of sizzle and screech don’t quite sum up my raggedy, faggoty lifestyle or speak to my proud, if occasionally morally compromised, experience.

I adore dance music — it’s my life. Any packed dance floor is a good thing in my book. But I also have some taste, and this was the apogee of cheesiness. The presumption that these bland corporate farts are the tunes of my loony-queer times crosses a clear homo-to-homo line in the shimmering sands. (For the record, Ultra Records, my current personal out anthems are the Cinematics’ "Keep Forgetting," Shazzy’s "Giggahoe," and Gladys Knight and the Pips’ "Love Is Always on Your Mind." Go mix that.)

Listen, I can ride with the tsunami of cheap and sleazy DJ dance compilations that has flooded various music stores, in-boxes, and jittery Wal-Marts for the past decade or so, featuring tightly clenched glutes, toxic tans, and spandex-stretching silicone explosions. (And that’s just the music. Someone should really publish a picture book of all of the blindingly awful, grinding-Barbie-in-headphones cover designs. Title suggestion: Writhe the Ibiza Abysmal. Or how about just Champagne and Crap?) There’s definitely a market out there for pulsating pabulum, and I dug my own grave with two coke spoons and a mirror ball when I became a nightlife critic. I was even OK with the knowledge that because I had Out Anthems 2 grasped shakily in my hot little palm, it meant that somewhere out there an Out Anthems 1 must exist. You go, DJ Ricardo!! Work it however you can. No, that wasn’t the horrible part.


The horrible part was this: I actually kind of liked it.

Bursting with a weird glee that’s unique to our media-saturated moment — "Holy shit, you’ve got to hear-see-watch this, it’s the most horrifying thing ever!" — I had rushed the CD over to my boyfriend Hunky Beau’s house before listening to it, eager for us to put it on and tear it a new one together. That’s our modern gay love.

Yet once I’d slipped the disc into Hunky’s Mac and readied myself a hot shot of schadenfreude, I realized I don’t hear this sort of heinous stuff when I’m out and about as much as I used to. The once-omnipresent, thousand-nostriled behemoth of overbearing, poorly produced circuit and "progressive house" music has been somewhat tamed. Sure, much of the CD was atrocious, but now that this cookie-cutter hokum is no longer forced on me at every gay turn I take, pouring forth from restaurant patios and flashy video bars, after-hours megaclubs and fisting pornos, open gym windows and passing Miata convertibles, I could listen to it not as some soulless dominant paradigm that was threatening to rob gay culture of every last ounce of scruff and sparkle, but as mere tacky noodling: harmless fun in an ironic way, if you’re into irony anymore. (Not poor Hunky Beau, though. A die-hard devotee of skinhead mosh and East Bay punk, he dived beneath the covers as soon as the first few high-hat sprays had rung in the air, moaning like he had aural hepatitis.)

What happened that night — a night that found me wriggling around in my Underoos and torturing my man with shouts of "Look at me! I’m a tweaked-out fan dancer!" — sparked the more masochistic aspects of my curiosity.

Ever since the supastar DJ scene of the late ’90s and early ’00s became economically impossible to sustain — the Sisyphean task of convincing thousands of people to spend $40 to hear a scrawny dude from Manchester, UK, or Miami spin yet again burned many promoters out — the dance floor playing field has blown wide open. Megaclubs, with their monolithic sounds, gave way to smaller venues where independent promoters could experiment with fresh ideas and vent their wacky stylistic impulses, minus hefty cover charges and pat-down security. Clubs became more like house parties: the kid with the most friends or the biggest iTunes collection could plug into the DJ booth and let ‘er rip.

Gay clubs, especially, had followed the newfound freedom from big-time pressure and flight-booking budgets in myriad zany directions. Today’s gay club scene is more diverse than it’s ever been. Almost every night of the week there are options.

So maybe it was time for me to reappraise a style that I’d grown to hate, now that it was fading from mainstream gay scene ubiquity in favor of sleek hip-pop and ’80s hair bands. Maybe I could stare into the numb, drooling jaws of circuit and progressive terror and dance, dance, dance. Could it really be as bad as I remembered? Was I ready to let go of my bitterness toward a music so insidious that even my grandmother thought my life was one big party scene from — gag — Queer as Folk?

Was it possible for me to tune into KNGY, 92.7 FM (Energy), the aggressively gay-friendly "pure dance" local radio station that had become synonymous with such music — and had recent hosted a party spotlighting, yes, DJ Ricardo! — without retching uncontrollably at the first few modulated wails?

Perhaps. I dug out the hand-crank radio from my earthquake emergency kit because, like, transmission radio — who still listens to that? I reacquainted myself with how to adjust a dial. Then I turned the volume up.


Mention Energy 92.7 to most gay men, and curious things happen to their bodies. The shoulders pop, the eyes roll, the hands begin to gesticulate wildly. Those are the gay men who love the station. The others absolutely loathe it. Their bodies convulse in a spasm of disgust. Their faces twist into ghoulish grimaces. Spittle flies from their lips. The hatred is palpable. There’s no middle ground when it comes to Energy. I’ve been in cars where people have fought over it until blood spurted.

Such reactions may be the legacy of the circuit party scene. Fifteen years ago, if you asked the average straight person to close their eyes and think about "gay music," the image that would first leap to his or her mind would be a turtlenecked show-tune queen clipping pink rosebuds in her garden while whistling something from Les Miz. Or, if the hetero were more contemporary, the archetype called up would be a sweat-dripping, mustachioed disco nymph collapsing into a pile of Studio 54 fairy dust or a bleached and tragic Madonna fan in an oversize cable-knit sweater with a regrettable yen for cheap eyeliner. Many gay club kids today would gladly take those images over what replaced them in the mid-’90s: buffed-out ‘roid heads in sailor caps and tighty whiteys frantically tooting whistles while some faceless diva yelped them into an aerobic frenzy.

The colossal circuit scene had its strengths: with its world-conquering voraciousness, it served as an accessible entry point for the vast numbers of gay men who came out at the time. Clattering circuit beats and ecstatic progressive swells and breaks — the natural evolution of corporate rave music in a mainstream gay environment — pushed many HIV-positive men through despair in the time before effective AIDS meds became available, and served as an all-purpose celebration template afterward. But circuit parties also marginalized queers with no taste for militaristic conformity, gratingly regurgitated tunes, or the alphabet soup of designer drugs then in vogue. The fact that the circuit had once been a credible, if snobbish and expensive, underground movement held no sway when it hatched into a gargantuan space tarantula from Planet GHB that swallowed all semblance of queer individuality. It was the Will and Grace of clubland, and most of us got jacked.

But that was then, this is neu. Dissing the circuit scene for gay club music’s discouraging popular image is like nail-gunning a dead, glitter-freckled horse. "The scene has really downsized, along with the whole megaclub thing in general," a popular San Francisco circuit DJ confided to me recently. "The energy we’re riding on is nostalgia."

Michael Williams, co-owner of Medium Rare Records in the Castro, the go-to store for dance mix compilations, told me, "We still sell a lot of that music, but people aren’t asking for it as they once did. I think the market got oversaturated and quality became a real factor. People began asking, ‘Where’s the talent?’ Our biggest sellers now are more complex artists like Shirley Bassey, Thelma Houston, and Pink Martini, or DJs who really work to have an interesting sound, like Dimitri from Paris." Even the odiously corporate Out magazine declared the circuit party over in its current issue, so you know it must be true.

Still, the sour taste of the circuit era in many alternaqueers’ mouths has proved hard to wash out. And the stereotype of awful gay club music still reigns supreme in the straight world. Even though Energy 92.7’s been around for less than three years and is in truth, as I found out after tuning in, more prone to playing Billboard Hot 100 pop remixes than actual circuit music, it’s had to bear the backlash brunt. As the most visible mainstream gay dance music giant of the moment, it’s become guilty by association.


Greg: "Oh my god, he is such a freakin’ moron."

Fernando: "Thirty-six percent approval ratings is far too high for this president."

Greg: "The only way my gay ass would be impressed by [George W.] Bush is if he put a VJ in the Oval Office. Bitch, please — how many more troops have to die?!"

Fernando: "You’re listening to Energy, 92.7 FM. Here’s Rihanna with ‘Don’t Stop the Music.’"

Fernando and Greg in the Morning

This is how gay Energy 92.7 is: when I first visited the station recently, the station’s party promoter, Juan Garcia, recognized my hair product from 50 paces. "Little orange can, girl?" he called out to greet me.

This is how gay Energy 92.7 is: when I sat in on the morning show with hosts Fernando Ventura and Greg Sherrell, they agonized during songs over the fact that something called the "smart-fat diet" forbade them to eat nuts for a week. "You can write anything you want," Sherrell, a high-voiced, blond spitfire who frequently informs listeners that he’s wearing his most expensive jeans, told me. "But if you don’t say I’m thin, I finna kill you."

Fernando and Greg in the Morning, on air weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m., is one of the most popular shows on Energy, which has a potential reach of 3.2 million listeners. The show could be accused of a lot of things — gay minstrelsy, pandering to stereotypes, making me get up at 4 a.m. to sit in — but it could never be accused of being unexciting. It’s the only openly gay morning show on commercial radio, and some of the live quips traded by DJ Fernando, Greg "the Gay Sportscaster," and their "straight man" producer Jason are dizzy scandal. Vaginal pubic hair "creeps up like bougainvillea," poppers are bad on first dates "because they’ll make your throat sore," and Kylie Minogue gets the verbal knockdown but "Oh, we love her: she had breast cancer!" Interspersed with segments like "Homo vs. Hetero," during which one caller of each orientation is quizzed about the other’s lifestyle, are Kelly Clarkson and the Killers remixes, "Vintage Beats" by Blondie and Michael Jackson, and current dance-chart toppers by Bananarama, David Guetta, and the Sunlovers.

It’s a thing of wonder in a society still riddled with homophobia — I dare you to find a YouTube video with more than 5,000 views that doesn’t have the word fag in the comments — to have such an unequivocally queeny experience, with a strong straight following, sail through the airwaves each morning. The tunes take a backseat to the dish. "At 9:30 in the morning you can only get so adventurous with your music selections," Ventura, an easygoing, bearish guy, told me. "I mostly stick with the hits."

The station, located in a murky green downtown office building, is a buzzing hive of fluid sexuality and good-natured candidness. The hyperdrive strains of DJ Tiesto and Deepface fill the air. As the only independently owned and operated commercial radio station in San Francisco, Energy’s done well. As a suitor of the gay audience, it’s done spectacularly. Even though its press materials emphasize its appeal to a broad variety of dance music fans, Energy’s known as "the gay dance station" to most San Franciscans. (That’s not so much the case across the bay, where Energy has gained a lot of traction in the Latino and Asian communities.)

Balancing a constant need for revenue with gay political intricacies can get tricky. A chill shot through me when I saw "Energy 92.7 owns the gay community" printed in bold and underlined in the station’s media kit — apparently we’re all slaves to remixed Cher. And even though the station is a major sponsor of most large gay charity events, there have been a few controversies. The gay media has fussed that Energy is co-owned and run by a straight man, Joe Bayliss, and the station has been blamed for dumbing down gay culture to grasp the pink dollar (although that’s like saying Britney Spears’s performance sucked because her heel broke). And last year Energy released a branded compilation mix CD — with an Army recruitment ad slipped into the packaging.

"We made a mistake. It was just stupid and insensitive on our part," Bayliss, a frank, handsome man with a ready smile, said when I asked him about the Army debacle. "This institution offered us a lot of money, and hey, we’re a struggling, independent business. We answered every complaint personally to apologize. We learned our lesson." (A new, military-free compilation comes out next month, to be carried by Best Buy, with proceeds going to local AIDS charities.)


That’s the politics, but what about the music? "I’m starting to build up a dance music collection," said Bayliss, who’s been working in radio since he was a kid. "This particular format tested through the roof in this market when we were looking to buy the station. I had no idea who Paul Oakenfold or Kaskade was when we started. I used to run a country station, and I didn’t know Merle Haggard from a hole in the ground either. But we’re 100 percent committed to this music and its audience. We have to be — our listeners are very dedicated."

Rabid may be a better word. The phone lines were jammed while I was there, and according to programming manager John Peake, the in-boxes are full every morning with e-mails from gaga enthusiasts. Good portions of Energy listeners stream the station online, and employees interact continuously with members of Energy’s E-Club virtual community. Even the afternoon DJs were leaping up and down in the booth while I was there, pumping their fists heavenward.

"Often we’ll get these enormously long e-mails from people listing every song we played that night, going into intense detail about each one and exactly why it was so important to them," Peake told me. "We get a lot of e-mails at six in the morning."

Looking compact in a lavender oxford, faded jeans, and a kicky Italian snakeskin belt, Peake took me through the music selection process. Each week he and music programmer Trevor Simpson go through new releases, recently submitted remixes, and requests from the station’s fans. They form a playlist based on what they think will most appeal to listeners and then program their picks into a hilariously retro MS-DOS program called Selector with, I shit you not, a rainbow-colored interface. "It’s tacky, but it’s bulletproof," Peake said, laughing. DJs either punch up the tracks automatically or refer to the playlist to make their own mixes using Serato software. Zero vinyl’s involved.

Peake and I talked about the criteria for choosing songs. "It’s a moving target. There’s definitely a ton of music out there that falls within our brand, and our nighttime and weekend DJs get to play a huge variety of mix music from around the world, so there’s a lot of latitude. I think our biggest challenge right now is figuring out the role of hip-hop. Our younger listeners demand it, but a lot of our demographic is still afraid of it. If we play something with rapping in it, we get flooded with angry callers screaming, ‘How dare you play this! Don’t you know it’s homophobic?’"

Later I spoke with Energy’s promotions director, Tim Kwong, about the backlash against the station. "We get it from both sides," Kwong, a young Bay Area native with impressively gelled hair, said. "Trance and progressive fans say, ‘Why don’t you play more harder, locally produced records?’ Rock and hip-hop fans want us to play fewer remixes of their favorite songs. We try to strike a balance, but the truth is what we do works for our audience."

"I can totally understand the frustration people feel when a certain image is projected that doesn’t fit them," he continued, addressing the gay question. "As an Asian American with a punk and indie background, I have a lot of experience with stereotypes, believe me. But we try to be as broad as possible in our appeal and acknowledge differences. And we’re not bribing people to listen to us."


To their credit, the folks at Energy also acknowledge that their programming may not be in sync with what’s going on in the gay club scene now. "It’s apparent when you listen to the morning show that I don’t go out to clubs very much," DJ Fernando told me. "But when I do, I notice there is so much more choice these days. In the past there were a bunch of huge nights or clubs, and everybody went. Now there’s a night or a bar for everybody."

"Ick! I think it’s total crap. It’s like the dance music equivalent of Weird Al," said Bill Picture, who, along with his partner, DJ Dirty Knees, is the city’s biggest gay rock club promoter, when I asked him his opinion of Energy. "We’re much more into visceral rock energy and seeing live, local queer punk. But a lot of gay people do like that kind of music. And I’m glad that there’s a radio station that they can tune in to. How boring would it be if all gay people liked the same things? We’re happy to be an alternative."

The alternatives have arrived aplenty. In addition to Picture’s metal events, there’s DJ Bus Station John’s bathhouse disco revival scene, which fetishizes pre-AIDS vinyl like the smell of polished leather. There’s DJ David Harness’s Super Soul Sundayz, which focuses on atmospheric Chicago house sounds. There’s Charlie Horse, drag queen Anna Conda’s carnivalesque trash-rock drag club that often — gasp! — includes live singing. Queer-oriented parties with old-school show tunes, square dancing, tango, hula, Asian Hi-NRG, hyphy, mashups, Mexican banda, country line dancing, and a bonanza of other styles have found popularity in the past few years. The night’s a sissy smorgasbord of sound.

There’s even a bit of a backlash to all of this wacky fracturation and, especially, the iTunes DJ mentality. A segment of gay club music makers is starting to look back to the early techno and house days for inspiration, yearning for a time when seamless mixing and meticulously produced four-on-the-floor tunes — not sheer musical novelty — propelled masses onto dance floors.

Honey Soundsystem, a gay DJ collective formed by DJs Ken Vulsion and Pee Play and including a rotating membership of local vinyl enthusiasts, attempts to distill Italo disco, Euro dance, acid house, neominimal techno, and other cosmic sounds of the past three decades into smooth, ahistorical sets spanning the musical spectrum from DAF’s 1983 robo-homo hit "Brothers" to Kevin Aviance’s 1998 vogue-nostalgic "Din Da Da" to the Mahala Rai Banda’s 2006 technoklezmer conflagration "Mahalageasca (Felix B Jaxxhouz Dub)."

"Girl, that shit must be pumped out by a computer with a beard somewhere," the 21-year-old Pee Play opined of Energy 92.7’s music. I didn’t tell him how close to the truth he was as he continued, "But I’m over most of the goofy alternashit too. I never lived though circuit, but the music is fucked-up. I’m just really into quality. I want to play records that every time you hear them, they just get better."


I’m not sure if there’s such a thing as gay music. If there were, its representative incarnation would probably be closer to experimental duo Matmos’s homophilic soundscapes, like those on their 2006 album The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of the Beast (Matador) — each track named for a gay community hero and composed of poetically related sampled objects ("Sequins and Steam for Larry Levan," "Rag for William S. Burroughs") — than anything that ever soared from Donna Summers’s throat. As far as gay dance goes, the epochal choreography of the uncompromisingly out Mark Morris, currently the hottest dance maker in the country, may prove more historically resilient than the image of semiclothed bears raving on a cruise ship.

Yet despite the Internet drain, clubs are still where homos meet to get sweaty, and the music they get sweaty to has a big impact on the culture at large. Dance music is ephemeral in the best sense: how good it sounds has everything to do with how and where you experience it and what and who you experience it with. Energy’s playlist was perfectly amusing in a broadcast booth full of campy, happy people or while twirling half naked in my BF’s bedroom. But in a club setting, maybe not so much — it all depends on who my been-there, done-that ass is dancing next to, no?

I recently spoke with Steve Fabus, one of the original DJs at San Francisco’s legendary Trocadero Transfer gay disco, launched in 1977. He’s been spinning continuously for 30 years and has pretty much seen it all. "Dance music is magic — it’s what gay people are," he explained. "It brought us together and kept us going through some incredibly hard times. Disco gathered everyone under one roof, and then house came along and did the same. Circuit was fun in the beginning, but it got too aggressive, and people of color or people into other things didn’t feel welcome. It took over everything, and, of course, it burned out."

"I love that kids are expressing themselves in smaller clubs, with different kinds of playing. It’s encouraging," he continued. "But it’s a shame that circuit took the big clubs down with it, where everyone could share in this experience together. Of course, there are other factors involved — crystal meth, the Internet, economics. You have to be very clever to be gay and live here now. It’s just so damned expensive."

"But oh well," he said with a laugh. "Everything comes in cycles."

Extra! Click here for the Gayest. Videos. Ever.

Click here for a list of upcoming alternaqueer dance events

Word on la calle


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Times are tough in the music biz. Not only are CD sales slumping, but radio stations are losing ad revenue to online ventures. One of the only genres or formats holding it down commercially is Latin music — a fact that falls well below the radar of your average gringo.

This shouldn’t be so surprising, considering that Latinos are the largest minority group in the United States and represent the fastest-growing segment of the population. Another factor fueling Latin music’s stateside success is the rise of reggaetón, the energetic blend of hip-hop, Jamaican dancehall, and Puerto Rican sounds that tops the Latin charts and even garners airplay on mainstream hip-hop and R&B stations. The so-called Latin boom that reggaetón triggered — far surpassing that of the late ’90s — inspired media behemoth Clear Channel to convert dozens of stations from English to Spanish in 2005 and roll out a new reggaetón-heavy format known as Hurban.

Although Hurban doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue — it’s an awkward combination of Hispanic and urban — radio execs are hoping it will be easy on the ears of US Latinos ages 35 and younger, who represent somewhere around $350 billion in purchasing power.

In the Bay Area, the Hurban phenomenon is represented by San Rafael radio station KWZ, 100.7 FM ("La Kalle"), owned by Hispanic media titan Univisión. Although the name suggests urban edginess, the station’s director of programming, Bismark Espinoza, explains, "It’s basically a top 40 station…. It’s a Spanish CHR [contemporary hit radio station], if you will." Earlier this summer, the station dumped its tagline "Reggaetón y más" as the gasolina-fueled genre hit a sales plateau. Pop artists such as Shakira, Maná, and teen sensation RBD get more airtime now. Reggaetón still dominates the playlist, however, and DJs lace their bilingual banter with Puerto Rican street slang like perreo, which can mean dirty dancing or doggy-style sex — either way, the Federal Communications Commission wouldn’t have a clue.

Bilingualism is the most innovative aspect of Hurban radio. In attempting to reach the ostensibly bicultural second- and third-generation young adults of Generation Ñ, Hurban stations hire on-air personalities who can code switch between Spanish and English with the fluidity of a United Nations translator — or a Spanglish-spitting street hustler. "If our audience talks like that, we just try to relate to them as much as we can," Espinoza says. "It’s just natural — the way they talk on the street, the way they talk to their families, the way they talk to their friends."

La Kalle has the language down. The music is another question. In June the station ranked number 24 in the region, with four other Latin stations ahead of it. In order to compete, the station’s programmers continually experiment with the format, trying to stay on top of the remarkably varied musical tastes of young Latinos. Espinoza contends that the latest craze is a hybrid of reggaetón and Dominican bachata balladry. Sometimes referred to as "crunkchata," the tropical style is favored by artists such as Aventura, Rakim y Ken-Y, and Toby Love, who top La Kalle’s request lists.

Tropical music? This is California, carnales. Given that the vast majority of Latinos in the Bay Area are of Mexican descent, where’s the Chicano rap? Where’s the Mexican banda? No doubt, Chicanos in San Francisco like their island music. They’ve been dancing to salsa con sabor since the days of Cesar’s Latin Palace in the Mission District. But the hottest thing right now among Mexican Americans is regional music from their homeland: ranchera, grupero, Tejano, norteño, and banda. All four of the top-ranked Bay Area Spanish-radio stations play some variation on a Mexican theme. For listeners between 18 and 34, the second most popular spot on the dial is KRZZ, 93.3 FM ("La Raza"), a regional Mexican station in San Francisco.

At its core, regional music is steeped in the cultural traditions of rural Mexico, in folkloric forms that have been around for more than a century. But Chicanos are coming up with their own cutting-edge hybrids of rap and Latin music. Los Angeles duo Akwid melds banda with breakbeats, and Jae-P pairs G-funk with norteño. These artists earn some airplay on Hurban stations but get very little love on Bay Area urban radio, despite the fact that they each sell hundreds of thousands of records.

La Kalle’s Espinoza insists that urban music with Afro-Caribbean roots is much hotter right now than "urban regional" sounds like Akwid’s. One notable exception to Mexican American obscurity is Chicano rapper Down, whose chart scorcher "Lean Like a Cholo" is currently in heavy rotation on La Kalle. Similar to urban-regional artists, Down wears his brown pride on his throwback jersey sleeve, but he does it by invoking Southern California barrios, not rural Mexican pueblos. His homeland is Nuevo LA, a city with the second-largest concentration of Mexicans in the world.

Given the size of the Mexican American population, you have to wonder how many Chicano artists are out there searching for a record deal or some airplay. "Some people blame the radio stations, some people blame the record companies," Espinoza wearily attests. "I don’t know. I listen to my kids — I play whatever is hot." But Mexican and Chicano music is hot right now. It just can’t seem to find a home on youth-oriented "urban rhythmic" radio formats like La Kalle, much less English-only Bay Area stations such as KMEL, 106.1 FM, and KYLD, 94.9 FM, whose audiences also lean heavily Hispanic.

Although Mexicans and Chicanos are currently relegated to the broadcast barrios of Spanish radio, it will be interesting to see how those borders open up once media companies realize the American mainstream is more brown and proud than ever.

Fall Arts: Sing or swim


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AUG. 28

Aesop Rock, None Shall Pass (Def Jux) We’ll see if ‘Sop has lost his edge livin’ in ol’ Frisky. Blockhead and Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle take a pass on the nervy rhymes.

Akon, Konvicted (Konvict/Upfront/SRC/Universal Motown) Konvinced? Or just plain a-korny?

Evelyn Champagne King, Open Book (RNB/Jaggo/Fontana) The disco queen who was discovered while cleaning the offices of Philly International brings “Shame” into the 21st century.

Ledisi, Lost and Found (Verve Forecast) The local singer’s debut for the true diva cathedral of all jazz labels has been three years in the making.

Liars, Liars (Mute) Work that skirt.

Noreaga, Noreality (Babygrande) Wake me up when Noreality TV has finished its broadcast day. Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Jadakiss, Three 6 Mafia, David Banner, and a cast of thousands trade off on enabling duty.

Scorpions, Humanity Hour 1 (New Door/UME) Oh, the inhumanity; Billy Corgan scorps out new turf.

Yung Joc, Hustlenomics (Block/Bad Boy South) Joc’ed up on java with the first single, “Coffee Shop,” off this Neptunes-, Fixxers-, and Gorilla Zoe–produced disc.



Calvin Harris, I Created Disco (Almost Gold) The brazen Scot is irreverent enough to lay claim to inventing the big D, the buzzword of this year and the year before.


SEPT. 11

Animal Collective, Strawberry Jam (Domino) Helmed by frequent Sun City Girls producer Scott Colburn, their eighth album’s nine songs include one dedicated to Al Green.

B5, Don’t Talk, Just Listen (Bad Boy) Diddy’s answer to the Backstreet Boys unknowingly use the favorite phone phrase of the Weepy-Voiced Killer as the title for their album.

Dirty Projectors, Rise Above (Dead Oceans) Another punk machismo-reclamation project? Queerific art rockers team with Grizzly Bear playas to rewrite Black Flag’s Damaged — from memory and with a hearty helping of cracked experifolk whimsy.

50 Cent, Curtis (Shady/Aftermath/Interscope) The artist also known as a form of VitaminWater that tastes like grape Kool-Aid continues his marketing onslaught.

Go! Team, Proof of Youth (Sub Pop) Will their first single, “Grip Like a Vice,” hook till it hurts?

Jenny Hoyston, Isle Of (Southern) The Erase Errata guitarist finds paradise far from the dashboard blight.

Modeselektor, Happy Birthday! (BPitch Control) Genre-hopping Berlin duo go the celebrity cameo route, enlisting the vox of Thom Yorke and others.

Pinback, Autumn of the Seraphs (Touch and Go) Will this top Pinback’s last album, Summer in Abbadon, which sold more than 80,000 copies? Indie music sellers wanna know!

Qui, Love’s Miracle (Ipecac) Jesus Lizard David Yow’s quid pro quo — with covers of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” and Frank Zappa’s “Willie the Pimp.”

Simian Mobile Disco, Attack Decay Sustain Release (Interscope) I got my pulverizing bass in your acid keyboard scrunchies!

Kanye West, Graduation (Roc-A-Fella) West’s mom has been caught saying that this is his best album ever. Making or breaking the case: West has said that Lil’ Wayne will rap over a song titled “Barry Bonds.”


SEPT. 18

Babyface, Playlist (Mercury) The onetime close, personal friend of Bill just wants do covers, like “Fire and Rain,” “Time in a Bottle,” and — hoo boy — “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”

James Blunt, All the Lost Souls (Custard/Atlantic) U-g-l-y, this ain’t got no alibi.

Chamillionaire, Ultimate Victory (Chamillitary/Universal Motown) The H-town star’s long-delayed sophomore effort has a mammoth supporting cast even by commercial-rap standards; it kicks off with a single featuring Slick Rick.

The Donnas, Bitchin’ (Purple Feather/Redeye) Named after the fluffy puppies overrunning their studio?

Eve, Here I Am (Aftermath/Interscope) Had anyone been looking? Listening in are producers Dr. Dre, Timbaland, Swizz Beatz, and Pharrell Williams.

Rogue Wave, Asleep at Heaven’s Gate (Brushfire/Universal) Just don’t drift off around Marshall Applewhite while wearing black-and-white Nikes. A new bass player — Patrick Abernathy — and a new label for the locals.

Angie Stone, The Art of Love and War (Stax/Concord) The road back from VH1’s Celebrity Fit Club may yet be one to salvation, since it’s passing through the holy land of Stax.


SEPT. 25

Devendra Banhart, Smokey Rolls down Thunder Canyon (XL) Gael García Bernal sings on one track, and Vashti Bunyan sings on two; Noah Georgeson produces a collection that is supposed to flit from Gilberto Gil breezes to Jackson 5–style pop.

The Cave Singers, Invitation Songs (Matador) Pretty Girls Make Graves–Murder City Devils, Hint Hint, and Cobra High grads calcify in intriguing country-folk shapes.

Keyshia Cole, Just like You (A&M/Interscope) Two years on, it’s clear that Oakland girl Cole’s The Way It Is was the best R&B debut since What’s the 411? Through the sheer intense focus of her singing, she rescues overexposed Missy and Lil’ Kim on the first single here.

José González, In Our Nature (Mute) Yes way, José. The long wait for the follow-up to Veneer is over. González recorded this in his hometown over a three-week period after obsessing about today’s religion and (lack of) ethics.

PJ Harvey, White Chalk (Island) Peej draws in longtime collaborator Eric Drew Feldman and Jim White of the Dirty Three.

Iron and Wine, The Shepherd’s Dog (Sub Pop) Here’s hoping three’s the charm for Sam Beam.

Jagged Edge, Baby Makin’ Project (So So Def/Island) Yet another case for population control.

Mick Jagger, The Very Best of Mick Jagger (Rhino UK) It’s semiofficial: the best of Mick Jagger is worse than the worst of the Rolling Stones.

Bettye LaVette, The Scene of the Crime (Anti-) A singer who can bring out the black-and-blue tone of that title, especially because the scene of the crime is Muscle Shoals, Ala., where she returned to record this album. She’s backed by Drive-by Truckers.

Matt Pond PA, Last Light (Altitude) Neko Case and Kelly Hogan hold a candle.

Múm, Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy, Let Your Crooked Hands Be Holy (Fat Cat) Mum’s the word?

Meshell Ndegeocello, The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams (Decca) Connecting her MySpace page to the gender-bending edges of her cover of Bill Withers’s “Who Is He (and What Is He to You?),” you might say the man of her dreams is Miles Davis.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Raising Sand (Rounder) Why does my mouth fill with sand when I think about this project?

Queen Latifah, Trav’lin’ Light (Verve) Latifah steps to a song that will always be owned by Billie Holiday — and sings some other songs as well — on her debut album for one of Lady Day’s main labels today.

Scott Walker, And Who Shall Go to the Ball? (4AD UK) The enigma returns more quickly than usual, albeit with a four-movement instrumental mini-LP composed for a dance piece., Songs about Girls (Interscope) The Black Eyed Pea with the lamest name loves the ladies, egged on by Snoop Dogg.


OCT. 2

Cassidy, B.A.R.S. (Full Surface/J) The Philly battle rapper rebounds from injury and lockup and leans on Bone Thugs, John Legend, and others for faith.

Annie Lennox, Songs of Mass Destruction (Arista) No doubt about it, “Why?” can be very irritating. But this title suggests she’s really amped up the damage inflicted by her tunes.


OCT. 9

Band of Horses, Cease to Begin (Sub Pop) Ben Bridwell expresses his love for YouTube video directors on this Phil Eks–produced second LP.

Dengue Fever, Untitled (M80 Music/NAIL/Allegro) On recordings, they’re sometimes glorious, sometimes not — will the third time be a charm for the group led by Chhom Nimol’s dynamic voice?

The Fiery Furnaces, Widow City (Thrill Jockey) The prolific sibs thrust forth their sixth full-length, emboldened by engineer John McEntire of Tortoise.

The Hives, The Black and White Album (Interscope) The ebullient Swedes will be donning black after a dozen or so shows opening for Maroon 5.

Jennifer Lopez, Brave (Epic) Are listeners courageous or is she?

Robert Pollard, Coast to Coast Carpet of Love and Standard Gargoyle Decisions (Merge) Two releases in one day — guided by bipolar voices?

She Wants Revenge, This Is Forever (Geffen) Let’s hope not.

Amy Winehouse, Frank (Island) Pre–US juggernaut album by the singer in rehab, for anyone who doesn’t think she’s overexposed or wouldn’t rather look at Ronnie Spector and listen to Ruth Brown.


OCT. 16

Nicole Scherzinger, Her Name Is Nicole …(Interscope) …and she’s the Pussycat Doll whom you can tell apart from the other Pussycat Dolls — I think. She falls in seconds-long love at first sight with prospective members of her group during auditions, if the trashiest TV show in recent memory is to be believed.


OCT. 23

Ashanti, The Declaration (The Inc.) I’ll flabbergast many by saying that Ashanti has served up more quality hit singles than the other R&B diva releasing an album this week.

Alicia Keys, As I Am (J) She can sing, she can play, she can sell Proactiv Solution like few others. But will she ever truly let that voice loose?


OCT. 30

Backstreet Boys, Unbreakable (Jive) Do we really want it that way again? Can they give it to us that way? One thing’s for sure — this should give Chelsea Handler months of comedy material.

Chris Brown, Exclusive (Jive) Yeah, he’s cuter than kitten posters. But his appearance in a tribute to the Godfather of Soul at last year’s Grammy Awards verged on sacrilege.


NOV. 13

Wu-Tang Clan, The 8 Diagrams (Street Recordings) Their first album in six years — thus their first post-ODB recording — takes its title from the Shaw brothers’ film Eight Diagram Pole Fighter; in tune with the George Harrison revival, it includes a cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”


NOV. 20

Six Organs of Admittance, Shelter from the Ash (Drag City) The Redwood Curtain’s guitar-wielding heir to John Fahey breaks out a new LP, said to be smokin’.<\!s>*


Welcome to Summer Scene 2007


Click here to go to Summer SCENE 2007: Our Guide to Nightlife and Glamour

It’s almost summer, and I feel shamelessly trendy. Not Bobby or big sunglasses trendy — or even Lindsay gray hoodie or Paris orange jumpsuit trendy (well, maybe a little). No, I wanna know. What’s going on in the wide and wicked world of fashionable nightlife? Make me care, dammit.

In New York, the wild, proudly heterosexual rich kids who run the überpopular Box are talking about opening an after-hours bathhouse. We can’t do that in San Francisco (it’s still illegal), but I love that the little downtown brats are hauling wet-het sleaze from their gilded water closets. In Syria, according to the New York Times, gentlemen’s clubs — and there really isn’t any other kind of club in Syria — have started Iraqi refugee–themed stripper nights. No, thank you. And in Europe, there are so many seven-foot-tall Danish, Turkish, and Ukrainian drag queens ruling the dance charts right now, it’s like some flamboyant aural Amazon gypsy carnival exploded. Stevie Nicks was right!

But what about here in the Bay? It seems like dance music is still going through what hip-hop went through 15 years ago — digging up the past, mixing it up with the future, dropping golden nuggets on the playlist. Pairing that turquoise off-the-shoulder cable knit with a fuzzy pink mini, tucking our leopard-print stockings into our pixie boots. Only now, at last, we’re edging our way slowly into the ’90s, with brassy neu rave air horns, sly acid bass lines, and e-fueled hyphy goofiness sidling up to the frosty early ’80s and offering to buy her a double Manhattan. My edge-of-’90s deep-dish DJ wish list for summer 2007: Leila K, "Got to Get"; Mory Kante, "Yeke Yeke"; Nicolette, "O Si Nene." And anyone who can find a way to slip on Guru Josh’s "Infinity (1990s: Time for the Guru)" with a straight face wins my vote for Queen of the Rave-iverse.

Yet things aren’t totally bass-ackward in clubland, although I fondly hope that the recent giant Vivienne Westwood fashion retrospective at the de Young fills the dance floors with gorgeous beaded corsets, golden safety pins, padded asses, ostrich feathers, crazy harlequin prints, and deconstructed plaids for years to come. (Did anyone else shed a tear when they came upon the famous sparkly platforms that made Naomi Campbell tumble to the runway? Tragic. I nearly threw my cell phone in sympathy. But that would be expensive.)

Techno’s making a huge and forward-looking comeback, ripping an electronic page from the mashup scene’s playbook and going live, helped by mind-boggling new software. It’s complicated, but it’s lovely. Indie rock DJs, like techno DJs before them, are discovering contemporary classical ("new music") and throwing rough street sounds and angular, alien textures into their sets. The dub scene is also booming, mixing high-tech breaks and ragga beats with Southeast Asian instrumentation and more than a little African flavor. And the queer kids? We’ve ceased embracing our inner Beyoncé so much and are turning to live bands and smoky cabaret to get our kicks. Rawk.

All of which just means anything goes. And lover, it’s going well. So make this summer work for you — however, whyever, whenever. It’s almost like democracy!

Poach the crowd,

Marke B.

Music for nothing


› a& We’re living in a golden age of commercial radio in the Bay Area: It’s now possible to hear “Brandy” by Looking Glass on at least four stations. Ladies and gentlemen, meet 95.7 Max FM, the station that plays whatever it wants, whenever it feels like it, as long as it was a Top 40 hit between 1970 and 1995. Max FM, the station that never plays the same song in the same day, as long as you don’t consider John Cougar Mellencamp’s “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” and Huey Lewis and the News’ “The Heart of Rock ’n’ Roll” to be the same song. Max FM is part of the wider “Variety Hits” movement that’s been shaking up the airwaves in the last two years. Countless FM stations are firing their on-air talent and concocting identities based on computer-generated playlists and smart-assy yet avuncular personas. Usually played by a single vaguely familiar commercial actor, the voice-overs provide the attitude during the seemingly endless interstitials that have replaced the human DJs. The personae’s names vary — Jack, Bob, Max — but they share a certain rock-solid, Rotary Club cachet. They’re names scientists give to captive chimps. Names of high-end teddy bears. Names that survivors of ritual abuse give to their multiple personalities. Guy names. Whatever the local moniker, the Jack-Bob-Ben-Dave-Max aesthetic is multifaceted, encompassing everything from Adult Hits to Variety Alternative to Adult Variety. Granted, the playlist is a cut below what you might find on Cameron Crowe’s Ultimate Megamix: it’s Don Henley and Billy Squier instead of the Eagles and Led Zeppelin. Still, there’s an element of surprise in the so-called “train wreck” segues that are the format’s bread and butter. Stick around for long enough and you’ll hear blues (the Fabulous Thunderbirds’ “Tuff Enuff”), Afrobeat (Paul Simon’s “Call Me Al”), and even reggae (the first 10 seconds of the Police’s “Roxanne”) — possibly all within the same set. What follows is an attempt to crack the Variety Hits–slash–Max FM code in one nonstop 24-hour sitting. CHRONOLOGY 7:58 p.m. First four songs: Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” Edwin Starr’s “War,” John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses,” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” An earnest heartland vibe, but nothing too objectionable so far. 8:35 p.m. Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing.” One of the station’s mottoes is “Max FM: The songs you forgot you remembered,” and they’re not joking. When you hear the guitars break in, you realize just how kick-ass this song really is. Just kidding. Oliver Sacks should write a book about those of us who are immune to the chill that shoots down the spine after recognizing the first three chords. 9:23 p.m. Following a whopping 16 consecutive male artists, token female-fronted act Blondie weighs in with “The Tide is High” — followed by the Boss, U2, and Elton John. The male-heavy playlist reinforces our image of the archetypal Max FM listener as a dude who bought one of the first CD players in the mid-’80s and then built his collection around a string of strategic BMG and Columbia House memberships: lots of greatest hits collections, lots of middling white-guy rock. 10:18 p.m. Parliament’s “We Want the Funk.” This one came out of left field. “I really wanted to hate this station,” admits Will York. “But I have to say, I like a solid one-fourth of the songs they play.” For the record, this is the second song by an African American artist in three hours. The first: Phil Bailey, in collaboration with Phil Collins on the soul-dead classic “Easy Lover.” 11:18 p.m. King Harvest’s “Dancing in the Moonlight.” Haven’t heard this one in a while. Another musty oldie-but-sure-enough goodie. 11:35 p.m. Just when you start to fall in love with the station, they turn around and blast you right in the package with some insipid ’80s fossil like Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” 11:39 p.m. And they follow it up with Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F.” Wow. Music at its worst. 11:42 p.m. Interstitial: “Max FM. We break all the rules.” Do they call “shotgun!” while they’re still eating dinner? If it’s yellow, do they not let it mellow? What is so anarchic about a computer that plays Top 40 hits? 12:46 a.m. Night suddenly takes turn for the better when housemate arrives with partially eaten Middle Eastern platter found on the street. Pita gone. Lots of hummus, tabbouleh, and baba ghanoush left. Embodying the anything goes spirit of Max FM, Jay and Will decide to eat it. 12:52 a.m. Night takes turn for the grotesque: Will finds part of a severed thumb with a nail through it buried in the hummus. U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” plays in the background. 1:22 a.m. Actual listener phone call: “Even the guy I share an office with is, like, ‘What station is that?’>” You can picture them tuning in and hoping for an “Eye of the Tiger” to get them pumped up to go duke it out with the yahoos down in accounts receivable. P.S. Calling a radio station that doesn’t have a DJ is like writing a letter to Ronald McDonald — pathetic. 2:02 a.m. Peter Frampton’s “Baby, I Love Your Way.” Delirium is slowly descending, as the conversation starts to resemble dialogue from a Philip K. Dick novel: WILL: Is that from Frampton Comes Alive? JAY: What isn’t from Frampton Comes Alive? WILL: Good point. 2:36 a.m. Toni Basil’s “Mickey.” A challenging game to play while listening to Max FM: Name the Weird Al Yankovic Version of That Tune. He’s parodied a good 20 percent of the station’s playlist, including this one. 2:40 a.m. Interstitial: “You never know what you’re going to hear next on Max FM!” Maybe not, but at this point, it’s far more likely to be an Eddie Money song than, say, a James Gang deep cut or an excerpt from Malcolm X’s “Keep That White Man’s Claws off Our Women” speech. 3:28 a.m. Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Exhaustion setting in. Will is now listening to pirated George Carlin MP3s on his laptop; Jay is playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and starting to hallucinate. Sky still dark as the night continues. 3:46 a.m. Actual listener phone call: “I thought my girlfriend was playing music from my CD collection, but it turned out to be Max FM. Keep up the good work!” Dear listener: You might want to head down to the Money Mart at 16th Street and Valencia, because it appears the hobo with the CDs lined up against the wall is unloading your “collection” at 25 cents a pop. 5:15 a.m. K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s “Shake Your Booty.” If there’s one word to describe this station’s music, it’s Caucasian. Jay and Will haven’t felt this uncomfortable being white since the Rodney King verdict. 5:22 a.m. Mike and the Mechanics’ “Silent Running.” The face in the mirror is not my own, thinks Jay. I am gazing into the five o’clock shadow of a serial killer. 7:02 a.m. Interesting batch of songs in the last 45 minutes: “Time” by the Alan Parsons Project, “Clocks” by Coldplay, and “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” by Chicago. The computer that programs these songs appears to be signaling for help in cleaning up some residual Y2K issues. 8:41 a.m. The Beatles’ “Get Back.” They play one Beatles song, and it’s hands down one of their worst ever. 9:06 a.m. Ambrosia’s “You’re the Only Woman.” The next person Will meets who actually wants to hear an Ambrosia song on the radio will be the first. 12:44 p.m. Huey Lewis and the News’ “Hip to Be Square.” There’s a very real possibility that Jay will be handcuffed to a gurney by the end of this experiment. 1:43 p.m. Genesis’ “Invisible Touch.” Will feels like Chevy Chase in European Vacation, only instead of pointing out, “Big Ben! Parliament!” he’s muttering “Phil Collins … Genesis.” Six more hours. 3:37 p.m. Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young.” Never question the Elton Joel Theorem: “If a station plays Elton John, then it also plays Billy Joel.” It took a while, but Joel is officially on the board — although Elton still leads the competition, four to one. 4:23 p.m. “I put a moratorium on crap,” announces Max FM voice-over specialist John O’Hurley, a.k.a. J. Peterman from Seinfeld. Unfortunately, the moratorium lasts just 0.7 seconds, as the next song is Jermaine Stewart’s “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off.” 6:31 p.m. In the last hour: Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” and “The Heart of the Matter.” It’s simply impossible to underestimate Henley’s place in the Max FM pantheon. His Building the Perfect Beast and The End of the Innocence are the Sgt. Pepper’s and “White Album” of the Variety Hits genre. 7:56 p.m. Bruce Hornsby’s “Mandolin Rain.” This plain vanilla piano ballad marks a fitting end to a day of plain vanilla music. Having come out on the other side, Jay and Will can empathize with the character from the French plantation scene in Apocalypse Now Redux who described the Vietnam War as “the biggest nothing in history.” SFBG