Earlier this fall Funkanometry SF celebrated their fourth anniversary at the same place, 111 Minna Gallery, that is hosting this year’s Goldies ceremony and party. They packed the joint. Between then and now the company has been places. Six core members — including directors Emerson Aquino and Gina Rosales — answered an invitation to travel to Bogotá, Colombia. There, as part of the city’s Festival de Danza Urbana, they taught classes, were interviewed on the streets for radio and television, and gave performances.
Funkanometry SF is traveling these days — this month includes a trip to Chicago — but their heart remains in the Bay Area, where every Sunday night they take over the Westlake School for the Performing Arts in Daly City. In one large room company members and new students might run through eight counts while in another, smaller classroom veteran dancers hone an upcoming performance. Before, after, and in between the dancing, everyone hangs out in the courtyard, where kids and parents stop by to see what’s up.
“I really started choreographing when I was 14,” the soft-spoken Aquino explains one such Sunday, as he, Rosales, and cofounder Kyle Wai Lin good-naturedly attempt to break down the group’s history, kidding each other all the while. “To me, choreography is about making pictures. Once you realize the amount of people you have [to work with], you can maneuver them to make pictures.”
The pictures the group creates aren’t just captivating still images — they form waves of energy as friends in the audience shout encouragement to dancers on the floor. That type of flow is no small feat, considering Aquino and the 20-some-member group tap into many different genres of music. The ladies are as slyly, stylishly sexy-tough as Amerie and Aaliyah, and the gentlemen aren’t buried under baggy clothes — they’ve got debonair flair. In other words, Funkanometry SF aren’t solemn hip-hop snobs — they’re just as likely to draw from J-pop, house, or rock as they are Bay Area hyphy. “The art of choreography involves movement that is clear,” Aquino says while discussing the fact that Janet Jackson is a dancer’s pop singer if there ever was one (an axiom that extends to Timbaland as producer). “But a lot of people focus on movement at the expense of feeling. You can just move, but if you’re not feeling the music, you’re not dancing.”
Like Aquino, Funkanometry SF’s other codirectors started dancing in high school. Before joining Funkanometry SF the energetic Rosales captained a high school team and was part of another local crew, Xplicit. Lin and Aquino are friends dating back to childhood; these days Lin oversees the business and Web creative side of the group (www.funkanometrysf.com and www.funksters.org), letting Aquino guide the dancers. “Both of us wanted to create a foundation to serve the community, to challenge dancers, and create an outlet for youth,” Lin says. Judging from the huge response to the group’s Funksters youth program — overseen by Mary Jane Huang — they’re succeeding on all fronts.
Each fall the San Francisco Hip Hop Dance Fest rolls around, and along with another community-based local company — Oakland’s Izzy Award–winners New Style Motherlode — Funkanometry SF can be counted on to represent. This year Aquino and company are preparing a new show, Funk’s Boutique, for Micaya’s annual Palace of Fine Arts event. “It’s set in a trendy boutique, and it showcases the versatility and diversity of the company,” Aquino explains. Versatility and diversity — those are just two of the qualities that make Funkanometry SF unique. Each dancer brings another reason to check out their boutique. (Johnny Ray Huston)
Earlier this fall Funkanometry SF celebrated their fourth anniversary at the same place, 111 Minna Gallery, that is hosting this year’s Goldies ceremony and party. They packed the joint. Between then and now the company has been places. Six core members — including directors Emerson Aquino and Gina Rosales — answered an invitation to travel to Bogotá, Colombia. There, as part of the city’s Festival de Danza Urbana, they taught classes, were interviewed on the streets for radio and television, and gave performances.
FILM FESTIVAL After a week of stealth watching at the Vancouver International Film Festival, you wonder about odd things. Such as: what’s with the trend of naming movies after post-punk touchstones? Jia Zhangke probably started it with 2002’s Unknown Pleasures. In its wake came All Tomorrow’s Parties by Jia’s cinematographer Yu Lik-wai and the Smiths-inflected twist of Lee Yoon-Ki’s terrific This Charming Girl. The 25th annual VIFF brought So Yong-Kim’s In Between Days (title swiped from Cure single) and one of this year’s best movies, Pedro Costa’s Colossal Youth (English title courtesy of classic Young Marble Giants album). As Costa explained during a candid Q&A that included a pointed Hou Hsiao-hsien dismissal, his film’s extraordinary look and atmosphere derive from the fact that mirrors are its chief nonnatural light source.
A more perplexing minitrend might be the sudden return of ’80s MTV vixen Kim Wilde via art films — not as an actress but as set decoration or spectral presence. Wilde posters dominate the walls of the title character’s apartment in last year’s Cannes un Certain Regard winner The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, and this year a 45 by the “Kids in America” songstress becomes one of manic-depressive Romain Duris’s last lifelines in Dans Paris, Christophe Honoré’s vastly improved and new wave–inflected follow-up to his debut, the Georges Bataille adaptation Ma Mere. Though Duris’s walk on the Wilde side might not be the most convincing evidence, Dans Paris makes wonderfully inventive use of music.
I love Paris in the springtime, I love it in the fall, and for the most part I love ’Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris, Raymond de Felitta’s video mash note to the late, underknown jazz singer — a work of fan devotion that ultimately uncovers uncomfortable facts about its subject. Most of all, I love Vancouver when ’tis autumn, because it’s home to the most impassioned and inventive strains of commercial cinema, partly due to VIFF programming associate Mark Peranson, who edits the excellent journal Cinema Scope.
This year’s VIFF showcased the Slavoj Zizek–guided The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, which places the psych theorist in lecture settings such as Melanie Daniels’s Bodega Bay Birds motorboat. Rarer treats included the North American premiere of Jacques Rivette’s 743(!)-minute new wave touchstone from 1973, Out 1: Noli Me Tangere. I caught most of it but missed a six-hour excerpt of Stan Douglas’s endlessly variable new installation, Klatsassin — to my regret, since one of Douglas’s previous projects warps Dario Argento’s Suspiria and this latest connects North American Indian history to a score by the excellent Berlin electronic dubster duo Rhythm and Sound.
If such disparate ingredients can have a bond, then so can Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Tsai Ming-liang, to name just one of the better-known directors commissioned to make movies for the “New Crowned Hope” film series in honor of the composer’s 250th birthday. Tsai’s I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone is his first feature set in his birth country of Malaysia, but its near-silent strains of lovelorn pathos and comedy fit alongside past works. The movies made thus far for “New Crowned Hope” are uniformly and individually superb. A case could be made that Garin Nugroho’s Opera Jawa — in which powerful waves of sound might even be overshadowed by gorgeous costume and set design — is the best. That is, if one discounts Syndromes and a Century, the latest miracle by Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul — an improvement on Tropical Malady that condenses all the director’s unique gifts into a fine mist.
Apichatpong was on the jury for this year’s Dragons and Tigers Award for Young Cinema, a prize that thanks to programmer Tony Rayns has helped make the name of directors such as Jia — primarily because Rayns’s trailblazing broader Dragons and Tigers selections have introduced Miike Takashi, Bong Joon-ho, and others to North American audiences. This was Rayns’s last year in his current capacity at VIFF, where he’s offered a peerless example of what a festival programmer can do for filmmakers and filmmaking. Through happenstance on my last night at the fest, I wound up at a spontaneous Rayns-thrown dinner that included documentarian Amir Muhammad (who has a way with a wickedly funny Keyser Söze punch line) and the respective directors of what would soon be the Dragons and Tigers winner, Todo Todo Teros, and honorable mention Faceless Things. That the meal took place immediately after the genuinely scatological latter film — a provocation that moves postteen Kim Kyong-Mook beyond the Sadie Benning–of–South Korea realm of his earlier short Me and Doll Playing — was just one of the reasons it was memorable.
I wound up seated next to Todo Todo Teros director John Torres and his friend — as well as one of the first faces glimpsed in his movie — Alexis Tioseco, who oversees the outstanding Web site criticine.com. Tioseco’s site currently features a poignant Paris diary by the talented young filmmaker Raya Martin, whose A Short Film about the Indio-Nacional (or the Prolonged Sorrow of Filipinos) hints at Apichatpong-level brilliance and is at the vanguard of a new Filipino cinema powered by friendship and inspiration rather than the country’s film industry or government funds. It was a pleasure and in some ways a revelation to talk movies with the Andrei Tarkovsky–loving Tioseco, who likes to kid Torres, though he’s perceptively respectful of his friend’s filmmaking efforts in a current Criticine interview. The reward of such a meeting wouldn’t be possible without Rayns — here’s hoping whoever takes the VIFF reins will follow his example. SFBG
For more extensive reports on this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival, go to the Pixel Vision blog at www.sfbg.com/pixel_vision.
SONIC REDUCER Boo! And hiss, while you’re at it. Isn’t it scary how the music retail biz has changed? As a onetime music store flunky, I was hard-pressed to decide whether it was a trick or treat when I heard a few weeks back about the liquidation of Tower Records — this after filing for bankruptcy twice in the last two years. After all, I wasted a good, penniless year and a half of the late ’80s behind a register in the “tape” room and then behind a clipboard at one of the Sacto chain’s flagship stores at Columbus and Bay in San Francisco.
Those were the days — the horror, the horror of trying to subsist on megamuffins and minimum wage. The fun of stacking and alphabetizing cassettes under the benevolent leadership of the azure-Mohawked experimental musician Pamela Z. The joy of talking psychedelia and envisioning earth-shattering cultural epiphanies (one fave: imagining Sonic Youth teamed with Public Enemy years before “Kool Thing”) with Winter Flowers’ Christof Certik. The insanity of controlling the red-eyed, camped-out crowd from behind the Bass ticket booth when the final Who tour went on sale — and getting a Tower sweatshirt when my $50,000-in-two-sellout-hours register totaled to the penny.
The shock of realizing, as a budding world music buyer, that my assistant was thieving bags of Van Morrison and Chieftains CDs from my section. The starstruck bedazzlement of glimpsing the musicians and celebs pour through the glass doors on a regular basis (following a testy Todd Rundgren around with a drooling coworker, catching a lady-killing grin from Chris Isaak, and listening to Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys praise the version of Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem pouring out of the speakers). The weirdness of instructing shut-in customers on what to do when the cassette ends (you press “rewind” or you find Scotch tape and record over it in disgust). The surprise of ordering vinyl and CD versions of the same release and finding certain humongous labels unwilling or unable to ship records, making available only the higher-priced so-called alternative. The pleasures of the lurching, lumbering 1 a.m. Muni ride home after completing the midnight closing shift, back to my digs in the Lower Haight. The switch-flipping surrealness of realizing I was the only one actually bothering to work during most of my shifts — while everyone else was down the street on three-hour lunches or fielding drinks with label reps.
Sure, the party was great while it lasted, and in pop cultural backwaters like Honolulu, Tower became the only, life-changing game in town — jetting in imports, hard-to-find discs, zines, and books at below list prices — and likewise you could get your hand-stapled xeroxed zine into Towers from Tokyo to Paris. And while the sprawling stores flourished, they drove out of business the local mom-and-pop music stores that didn’t recalibrate and start to sell used music and books, collector’s cards, comics, and games.
So now it’s being boiled down to end racks and wire fixtures — after a 30-hour bankruptcy auction ended in favor of the Great American Group’s $134.3 million bid rather than that of Trans World Entertainment, which said it would have kept most of the stores open. And frankly, I feel only somewhat sentimental — despite the initial quality of in-house magazine Pulse and the quasi-democratic, carry-everything supermarket atmosphere — because Russ Solomon’s retail model was far from carefree. The reason the prices were so low was that the workers there were barely scraping together a living (therefore often resorting to unrepentant graft — one staffer funded his trip to Italy on returned, unmarked promo music). At the time it felt like the glamorous equivalent of a record store sweatshop, with its overeducated, obsessive employees bitterly muttering to themselves about the amount of money that would pass through their hands — and straight into Solomon’s coffers.
Why stay? Pre–Amoeba Music, Tower was the biggest and best music store in San Francisco. And did such rampant thieving make a dent in profits, leading to the chain’s demise? Maybe it only started to show when downloads began their rule and the market shattered into a grillion niches, when even a megalith like Tower didn’t seem able to keep up.
As Tower crumbles, I may not be able to find the music I passionately want or need at 11:55 p.m., but I might shed a tear for my last shred of connection with the store — those times I’d trot up Market, between sets at Cafe du Nord, when most shops are darkened and early birds are tucked in bed, and duck into the Castro Tower to browse the magazine racks, those fluorescent lights beating down and the words dancing beneath my ringed eyes.
NO PAIN, NO DOCTORS If you think this election season is painful, tell it to the Bay Area–by–way–of–Chicago art-rock transplants No Doctors. Their whistle-stop tour of sorts stops this week at Club Six in San Francisco and ends at Eli’s Mile High Club in Oakland — and takes the formidable loudness of the foursome to some scenic points such as Joshua Tree and Lompoc. A working vacation with a message?
The tour has been dubbed “US out of CA,” guitarist Elvis DeMorrow told me. “I think everyone can get behind secession at this point.” After spending most of the past year working on their new LP, Origins and Tectonics, due spring 2007 on Yik Yak, the band “somehow arrived on an all-California thing, playing all the places no one even tries to play,” he continued.
Luckily for the No Doctors, DeMorrow is keeping his administrative job at the Stanford medical school’s pain research division. “To me, it’s totally relevant to playing music with a band and the effects it might have in your life,” he declares. Playing music as pain control? Don’t tell that to the bright bulbs at the CIA who came up with the Red Hot Chili Peppers as an instrument of torture. SFBG
Tues/31, 8 p.m.
60 Sixth St., SF
The San Francisco Examiner reported last week that enrollment in the local public schools is down by another 1,000 students this year, which means, some school board members say, that more sites will have to be closed.
I understand the economic issues — the state pays for education based on average daily attendance, and if fewer kids show up, the school district gets fewer dollars. And I’ll admit I have a dog in this fight: my son goes to McKinley Elementary, a wonderful school that represents everything that’s right about public education in San Francisco — and McKinley was on the hit list last year. It’s a small school; that makes it vulnerable.
I also understand that there are some things the school board can’t control. Families are leaving San Francisco in droves. That’s largely because of the high cost of housing, which is an issue for the mayor and the supervisors (and one that’s going to take a lot more work and resolve to address). So we’re going to lose some students that way.
But we’re also losing a lot of kids to private schools; I know that because I have good friends who’ve chosen that route, mostly because they don’t think the public schools can offer what they want for their kids. This is a perception problem, and it’s something the school board doesn’t have to sit back and accept.
That, I guess, is what really frustrates me — so many people simply saying that as a matter of strategic planning, we need to assume 1,000 fewer students a year will go to the public schools. The district spent around a quarter of a million dollars last year on a public relations office, and almost all the office seemed to do was hide information from the press and promote the career of then-superintendent Arlene Ackerman. Now Ackerman’s gone, and so is her officious flak, Lorna Ho. It’s time to take district PR seriously.
How hard would it be to have one PR staffer dedicated to creating a major citywide ad campaign promoting the public schools? I suspect it would be relatively easy to find a top-flight local ad firm that would work pro bono and not at all impossible to raise money for media (billboards, bus sides, direct mail, print ads, TV, whatever). Lots of prominent people would do testimonials. Set a goal: no enrollment drop-off next year. Before we close any more schools, it’s worth a try.
Now this: Clear Channel, which owns 10 radio stations in San Francisco and does almost no local public affairs programming at all, recently dropped its only decent San Francisco show, Keepin’ It Real with Will and Willie on KQKE, and replaced it with a syndicated feed out of Los Angeles. To listen to most of Clear Channel radio, you’d never actually know that you’re in San Francisco; the giant Texas chain doesn’t care anything about this community.
If you’re sick of this kind of behavior by an increasingly consolidated monopoly broadcast industry (using, by the way, the public airwaves), you’re not alone: Media Alliance, the Youth Media Council, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will host a hearing on media consolidation in Oakland on Oct. 27, and two Federal Communications Commission members, Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps, will be there to take public comments.
The hearing’s at the Oakland Marriott Civic Center, 1001 Broadway. For more information, go to www.media-alliance.org. SFBG
OPINION I first saw Aimee Allison, District 2 candidate for the Oakland City Council, when she addressed a large, enthusiastic crowd of high school students, mostly students of color, from Oakland Tech, McClymonds, and Skyline. She spoke about the ruin and costs of war, the need for decent jobs, and practical ways and means for overcoming poverty in Oakland.
What impressed me about the young, vivacious candidate from the Grand Lake–Chinatown district was not just her Ron Dellums–like vision of Oakland, where “a better world begins.” It was her special ability to break through youthful feelings of despondency, the Generation X cynicism that continues to impede social progress. Allison has a special asset that her adversary, incumbent Pat Kernighan, lacks: an ability to inspire hope and activism among youth, including the struggling students in the least affluent sections of our city.
On Sept. 17, Constitution Day at Laney College, students hosted a debate between Kernighan and Allison. After the debate I talked with Reginald James, a 24-year-old Laney College student. He told me other students agreed that Kernighan was unprepared. “She was unable to relate to youth, to find common ground.”
James said Kernighan tended to blame the federal government for Oakland’s problems, deflecting responsibility from the City Council on which she serves. In contrast, Allison said incumbents should accept accountability for their failures, and she challenged the students to become active in their own cause.
During the debate Kernighan was almost fatalistic. “When there are not enough resources, we have to make hard decisions,” she argued. After the debate, Oakland teacher Jonah Zern summarized Kernighan’s presentation: “Pat continuously stated that she was powerless to change the problems of Oakland, that it was the state and federal government that need to make changes. It made me wonder. Why was she running for City Council?”
It was not her political positions as such or even her record that irked the youthful audience. One student asked Kernighan why the streets in the flatlands are not as clean as those above the freeway. She replied, “They don’t sweep the streets up there because the people do not tend to throw their trash out in the street.” The insinuation that people in the hills are superior to less-fortunate folk upset some students. Allison’s remarks, in contrast, were well received. Allison said, “In rich neighborhoods, parents can raise money for their kids’ sports teams. In others, schools don’t have teams. In rich neighborhoods, they can send their kids to music lessons, while in poor neighborhoods, music and art programs are being cut. Every child deserves an opportunity.”
Kernighan works hard. She knows the ins and outs of city government. But she has no vision, no plan to address the structural defects of Oakland’s social life. As a successful businessperson, Allison responds well to the needs and feelings of the middle class. But unlike most politicians, she maintains close relations and ties with the young and poor of Oakland. She has a valuable talent for enlisting youth in the fight against crime, for uniting our diverse cultures.
Understanding the needs and longings of young Oaklanders, tapping their potential to become agents of change, is a precondition of effective leadership on the City Council. If the Laney debate is an example, Kernighan is out of touch. SFBG
Paul Rockwell is a writer living in Oakland.
With time, one finds oneself bidding fond farewells to one’s spicehound friends. Oh, nothing changes too dramatically, except that bit by bit (or bite by bite), onetime fire-eaters lose their taste for the thrill of capsicum. Certain alluring foods of yore — chili, pepperoni pizza, Mongolian beef — start to cause problems, especially if eaten too near bedtime. You still go out with them, your spicehound pack, but when they point at this or that on the menu, wondering which dishes are spicy, they are plotting routes of retreat now, not angles of approach. Everybody is silently hoping to sleep through the night, like babies with dry diapers, not awaken at 2 a.m. with a remorseful jolt and a growing blaze amidships. People sip their green tea, and they do so carefully.
For years I held out against this trend. X and Y might no longer fling themselves into the spiciest dishes they could find, like boys from a Mark Twain novel plunging with a whoop into a water hole of unknown depth, but I still had a taste for flame. Then, recently, I ate at So, a modish Chinese noodle house on that insanely busy stretch of Irving just west of 19th Avenue, and I heard the bell toll. There was no need to ask for whom it was tolling: it tolled for me. It tolled and tolled, in fact, and I ignored it. Later I was sorry, but at the time I was in a bliss of tingling lips and couldn’t be bothered to heed the alarm.
So is an atypical Chinese restaurant in a number of respects. For one thing, its menu consists largely of soup and noodle — and soupy noodle — dishes, as at a Vietnamese pho house. It also has a spare, modernist youthfulness devoid of tired linoleum floors and harsh overhead lighting; the walls are bright yellow and the ceiling a rich gray blue, while a noisy crowd young enough to match the youth of the staff sits at rosewood tables on rosewood chairs. Mainly, though, So is a temple of the incendiary. I cannot recall the last time I found so much chile firepower in one place. It is the gastronomic equivalent of a munitions cache.
So … you have been warned, or summoned. I must also add that portion sizes are simply immense. The noodle soups are served in bowls the size of cantaloupe halves and can easily satisfy two if not three, especially if you open with one of the splendid starters. If you notice that these take a little longer to reach the table than is usual in Chinese restaurants (many of which rush them out in just a few minutes), it’s because they’re made to order and with care. The pot stickers ($5.50) in particular are exceptional; they reach the table nested in a pinwheel pattern, are fragrant with fresh ginger when opened, and — what is most noticeable — are wrapped in homemade dough that has a definite fresh-bread springiness and smell to it. When you eat these pot stickers, you will likely realize that most of the other restaurant pot stickers you’ve ever eaten in your life were prepackaged and reheated items. Mass-market, mass-produced stuff. So’s are revelatory.
Nearly as good are fried shrimp dumplings ($6), also powerfully gingery, and dried sautéed string beans ($5) in a thick garlic sauce. The So chicken wings ($5.25) — really a hodgepodge of wings and drumsticks — are a clever and potent Chinese retort to the American cliché of buffalo wings; So dips its poultry parts into a batter that crisps up nicely, then drizzles them with a molasses-thick sauce of garlic, ginger, and slivered red chiles for some smolder. The sauce accompanying the curry coroque ($4) — three Japanese-style potato croquettes, about the size and shape of Brillo pads — looks similar but has a stronger acid presence: hoisin with some rice wine vinegar?
The starters are tasty but not, as a rule, hot, which makes the arrival of a dish like pork with hot peppers ($6.35) — a platter heaped with a stir-fry of shredded meat, chopped jalapeños, onions, and scallions, with a spicy garlic sauce — rather bracing. Only slightly less forceful is shredded pork with garlic ($6.35), which substitutes serene water chestnuts and willow tree fungus for the raucous hot peppers and adds a splash of vinegar for clearheadedness.
“My nose is running,” said the spicehound emeritus to my left. He found himself confronting the seafood soup noodle ($6.35), a sea of spicy broth clogged with shrimp, calamari, scallops, and napa cabbage — something like an East Asian answer to cioppino. His longing gaze drifted across the table to the seaweed noodle soup ($6.35), a kind of giant egg-drop soup fortified with seaweed and spinach, peas, mushrooms, and shrimp. The flavor of the broth was deep but beatifically mild, like the blue of a lovely sunset at the end of a windless and warm — but not hot — day.
The social experience of So is nearly as intense as the peppery food. We found the place packed early on a Sunday evening; tablefuls of young folk mounted a steady roar of conversation while others waited on the sidewalk, barking into cell phones of many colors until tables opened up. The service at dinnertime is friendly and efficient but forever teetering on the brink of being overwhelmed. During a noontime visit, on the other hand, I found a rather startling calm and was able to notice that a “help wanted” sign was posted on the front door — a clue that business is quite a bit better than so-so. SFBG
Tues.–Thurs., 5–9:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat., noon–10 p.m., Sun., noon–9:30 p.m.
2240 Irving, SF
Beer and wine
Very noisy if crowded
“The shattering of paradise” is how Kali Yuga director Ellen Sebastian Chang refers to the 2002 bombing in Bali in which 202 people from 22 nations died. A series of attacks in 2005 killed 23 more. A world indeed had crashed, not only for the Balinese people but for the music and dance lovers who have made pilgrimages to that magical isle where art is integrated into the texture of daily life.
Gamelan Sekar Jaya was particularly hard-hit. With both Balinese and American members, the El Cerrito–based music and dance group has had an ongoing, close relationship with Balinese culture. In 2000, during its last tour, the group received a Dharma Kusuma award, Indonesia’s highest artistic recognition, never before given to a foreign company. So Gamelan Sekar Jaya wanted to address the tragedy in artistic terms. Its members also realized, says company director Wayne Vitale, that “what happened in Bali is a worldwide problem.”
The result is Kali Yuga, directed by Sebastian Chang and choreographed by I Wayan Dibia, with music composed by Vitale and Made Arnawa. Two years in the making, the work will receive its world premiere Oct. 14 at Zellerbach Hall. “We want this to be a gift to the Balinese people,” Vitale explains.
Working closely with poet-journalist Goenawan Mohamad, a vocal critic of the Indonesian government, the collaborators found the seed for the 70-minute piece in the Mahabharata: during the Kali Yuga — the age of chaos and destruction — a prince, challenged by his brother, gambles away everything he owns, including his wife. From this story of male testosterone and female humiliation arises a contemporary parable about the gambling we do with Mother Earth.
At a recent rehearsal in a warehouse in West Oakland, one could sense a little of Bali’s community-minded spirit. Kids roamed freely around the periphery of the performance space. One of the dancers had a baby slung over her shoulder; another would periodically step out to gently redirect the energy of a particularly rambunctious little boy. For a sectional rehearsal, Sebastian Chang knelt on the floor, coaxing the required laughs and stories from two six-year-old girls. Minutes earlier, they had exuberantly twirled all over the place; now they focused diligently on the task at hand.
The team has conceived Kali Yuga as a conflict between two parallel universes, one visible, the other not. Even in the piece’s unfinished state, it appeared that the dancers were keeping to the parameters of Balinese drama. The villain — who in the original tale humiliates the woman by attempting to strip her naked — is wonderfully raucous; the heroine is soft and pliant.
However, even traditional forms allow for innovation, as Sebastian Chang knows from experience. A writer as well as a director, she has worked within many genres and often with young people, hip-hop artists and the poets of Youth Speaks among them. In conceiving Kali Yuga, she wondered about the people in that Balinese nightclub. They must have been young. But who were they? What kind of music did they listen to on that fateful night? What were the dance moves that those bombs cut off so fatally?
Rhythmic sophistication, she also knows, is not unique to gamelan music. Rashidi Omari-Byrd is an Oakland-based rap artist and hip-hop dancer with whom Sebastian Chang has worked in the past. He had never heard gamelan music. Nor was he was familiar with Kecak, the percussive chanting originally performed by Balinese male ensembles. But the match was perfect. In Kali Yuga, Omari-Byrd — a tall, lanky performer who towers over everyone in the show — raps Mohamad’s poetry and break-dances to the musicians’ snapping heads and chack-chacking chant. (Rita Felciano)
Sat/14, 8 p.m.
Lower Sproul (near Bancroft and Telegraph), UC Berkeley, Berk.
Director Paul Rachman and writer Steven Blush collaborated on every aspect of American Hardcore — literally. “This is a two-person operation,” Blush explained as we settled into a booth at a downtown San Francisco restaurant, where the filmmakers (and passionate music fans) discussed their new documentary.
SFBG What drew you into the hardcore scene?
PAUL RACHMAN I was a college kid at Boston University in the early ’80s [when] I went to my first hardcore show at the Gallery East: Gang Green, the Freeze, and the FU’s. I’d never heard anything like it. It was dissonant, it was loud, and it was coming from 16-year-old angry kids. It just socked it to me, and I wanted more of this all the time. That’s what made me pick up a Super 8 camera and start shooting; it was the beginning for me in terms of both my introduction to hardcore and me becoming a filmmaker. Ever since those days I’ve never, ever done anything else.
STEVEN BLUSH Somewhere at the end of my freshman year [at George Washington University in Washington, DC], I saw Black Flag at Nightclub 9:30, right before Henry Rollins joined the band. It just wrecked my life. A decade later I realized how much the subculture affected me, as to who I am today — but I also realized that the history was totally lost. I just decided, DIY-style, to write a book. Around that time [when it came out], I ran into Paul again — we knew each other from the hardcore scene — and he broached the idea of making the film.
PR I instantly knew what the film should be. It needed to be this kind of visceral, first-person account — no narrator, no experts. Because hardcore didn’t have that. You didn’t listen to anybody. Nobody explained to you how to do anything. You didn’t want that around, and the film had to reflect that. So it was documentary in its rawest, purest form: let your subject tell its story. We shot 120 interviews and it was about culling the story out of that.
SFBG Were there any artists not in the film that you wish you could have included?
SB There’s two bands you will not see in American Hardcore: Dead Kennedys and the Misfits. With both bands there’s a real problem between the singer and the other band members. It was like, if you work with one, you couldn’t work with the other. We just had to bail out of that situation. Ultimately, this is the story of a culture. It’s the story of a scene and a community. There were no stars in hardcore. We wanted every single person — we did extend the offer to everybody. But at a certain point, if they don’t come through, you have to move on.
SFBG Do you hope that people who aren’t hardcore fans will see the movie, and what do you think they’ll take away from it?
SB American Hardcore is a rock film, but it’s really about youth culture. It’s a testament to the power of youth, about what you can achieve against all odds. Because these bands had nothing. They had no resources, no talent, no hot look. They had nothing to fall back on except their conviction. So it is kind of a clarion call to kids to say, you know, seize the moment. Take off the iPod. Log off MySpace and get with it. (Cheryl Eddy)
For an extended interview with Paul Rachman and Steven Blush, visit www.sfbg.com/blogs/pixel_vision.
REVIEW Tired of those battered punk-rock veterans of the hardcore years? You know, the geezers rocking in their thrift-store easy chairs, wheezing, “You had to be there — those were the days. I saw Darby when …” before heading to the acupuncturist? Can you help it that you never saw Flag back before My War? That you never tasted the ostracism that the real punks experienced?
No — and those born too late, after the jocks took over the mosh pit, will be thankful that none of the aforementioned ’tude is present in this exhaustive but not exhausting documentary by Paul Rachman and Steven Blush. The filmmakers’ cred is impeccable (Rachman directed music videos for Bad Brains, and Blush wrote Feral House tome American Hardcore: A Tribal History, upon which the film is based), and their resilience (the two toiled in true DIY style for five years on this sprawling document) allows them to rise above Johnny-slams-lately poseur status. And as historians, journalists, and cat wranglers, they deserve the highest praise meted out to those hoping to encapsulate a fired-up, barely containable, and truly grassroots DIY movement: they get the story mostly right.
The filmmakers conducted more than 100 interviews with key players in the US hardcore scene (as well as sundry head-scratchers like, um, visual artist Matthew Barney). My, does it show. Getting essential punkers like Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye, Bad Brains’ HR, Circle Jerks’ Keith Morris, Cro-Mags’ Harley Flanagan, and Black Flag’s Henry Rollins to party with the camera and to tell their own stories was the best possible move the filmmakers could have made. Their subjects look back with all the intelligence, humor, honesty, urgency, and perhaps surprising to some, subtlety that made them form their own bands, book their own tours, and put out their own music in the first place.
Within the first half hour, Rachman and Blush do the important work of politically contextualizing the 1980–86 wave of hardcore, connecting the dots between the “mourning in America” election of Ronald Reagan; an era that only appeared to offer the alternate balms of disco decadence and shallow sitcom kicks; and the rise of a disgusted and less-than-heard generation that produced more songs, posters, and agitprop railing against a sitting president than the world has seen … until Dubya. Few other recent music docs have been as refreshingly clear-cut — and cutting — about their politics, a direct reaction to an ’80s marked, as one commentator puts it, by a ’50s-style return of the “white man’s order.” In a sense, American Hardcore will be an education not only for kids bred on MTV-appropriated mall punk but for baby boomers convinced of Generation X’s apathy; a far-from-mellowed Vic Bondi (Articles of Faith) offers, “If you’re looking for radicalism in the 1980s, you should look at hardcore.” The film also gives adequate shrift to the pressures that shaped and perhaps ultimately destroyed the genre — for instance, the TV news–making melees between punks and the Los Angeles Police Department — drawing the line from those clashes and band names like, natch, Millions of Dead Cops (MDC).
Bristling with the energy of its music, fans, and grainy shots of men yelling into mics at rec centers, Kiwanis clubs, and random bunkers-turned-venues throughout the country, American Hardcore abounds with great moments. Rachman and Blush rightfully focus on the nexus between DC and LA — Minor Threat–Bad Brains and Black Flag–Circle Jerks — giving Bad Brains in particular, and notably the few black faces in a wash of pasties, their genuine due and eyeballing that straight-outta-an-unwritten-great-American-novel, Apollonian-Dionysian odd couple, MacKaye and Rollins. Though one wishes the filmmakers had snagged more and better live footage, American Hardcore can still claim such incredible, illustrative instances as that of the graying Rollins complaining today of all the crap he’d catch from audiences as Black Flag’s frontperson (remember the halcyon days when being in a punk band meant getting loogied on?) followed by archival images of Rollins onstage getting repeatedly pummeled by an audience member before the vocalist finally loses it and starts wailing back a hundredfold.
But even as the filmmakers display a real affection for their subject, they resist getting too nostalgic. Rachman and Blush don’t pull punches when it comes to fingering the sexism and violence in the scene — and go as far as to name names. Yet the filmmakers talk to too few women and apart from Bad Brains, too few players or observers of color: perhaps there’s no skewing reality, but for a scene that’s this politicized, it looks pretty pale and male.
Perhaps revealing their native predispositions and personal connections, the pair also give the Boston and NYC scenes far too much emphasis and they pointedly neglect the flyover zones. Where are Minneapolis’s Hüsker Dü and Texas’s Big Boys? And while Rachman and Blush get brownie points for their cultural-anthropological leanings and quirky side stories, they eventually fall down on exploring the music itself, its permutations, and its impact outside the rec rooms: do we get any inkling, for instance, of the fact that hardcore started to seep into the MTV mainstream with bands like Suicidal Tendencies?
When the scene finally peters to a close in ’86, Rachman and Blush chalk it up to fickle fans moving on with the trends — wither hair bands? — and stalwarts like MacKaye wearying of the fisticuffs, but there’s just as valid a case to be made for the music changing and artists evolving, as they so often inconveniently do. Black Flag morphed toward heavier, sludgier metal, Bad Brains embraced tradder Rasta sounds, and MacKaye broke it down, post-punk-style, with Fugazi. But perhaps that’s for the next installment: American Hardcore: the Metal/Grunge Years. SFBG
Opens Fri/13 in Bay Area theaters
Editor’s note: The following story has been altered from the original to correct an error. We had originally identified Courtney Ruby as running for Alameda County Auditor; the office is actually Oakland City Auditor.
Oakland City Auditor
Incumbent Roland Smith has to go. He’s been accused of harassing and verbally abusing his staff and using audits as a political weapon against his enemies. The county supervisors have had to reassign his staff to keep him from making further trouble. And yet somehow he survived the primary with 32 percent of the vote, putting him in a November runoff against Courtney Ruby, who led the field with 37 percent. Ruby, an experienced financial analyst, would bring some credibility back to the office.
Peralta Community College Board, District 7
Challenger Abel Guillen has extensive knowledge of public school financing and a proven commitment to consensus building and government accountability. In the last six years Guillen, who was raised in a working-class community and was the first in his family to go to college, has raised $2.2 billion in bond money to construct and repair facilities in school districts and at community colleges. Incumbent Alona Clifton has been accused of not being responsive to teachers’ concerns about the board’s spending priorities and openness.
This race has progressives tearing at each other’s throats, particularly since they spent a ton of cash last time around to oust former mayor Shirley Dean and replace her with Tom Bates, who used to be known as a reliable progressive voice.
Bates’s reputation has shifted since he became mayor, and his record is a mixed bag. This time around, he stands accused of setting up a shadow government (via task forces that duplicate existing commissions but don’t include enough community representatives), of giving developers too many special favors instead of fighting for more community benefits, and of increasingly siding with conservative and pro-landlord city council member Gordon Wozniak.
The problem is that none of Bates’s opponents look like they would be effective as mayor. So lacking any credible alternative, we’ll go with Bates.
Berkeley City Council, District 1
Incumbent Linda Maio’s voting record has been wimpy at times, but she is a strong proponent of affordable housing, and her sole challenger, Merrilie Mitchell, isn’t a terribly serious candidate. Vote for Maio.
Berkeley City Council, District 2
A valiant champion of every progressive cause, incumbent Dona Spring is one of the unsung heroes of Berkeley. Using a wheelchair, she puts in the energy equivalent of two or three council members and always remains on the visionary cutting edge. If that weren’t enough, her sole challenger, Latino businessman and zoning commissioner Raudel Wilson, has the endorsement of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce. Vote for Spring.
Berkeley City Council, District 7
Incumbent Kriss Worthington is an undisputed champion of progressive causes and a courageous voice who isn’t afraid to take criticism in an age of duck and run, including the fallout he’s been experiencing following the closure of Cody’s on Telegraph Avenue, something conservatives have tried to link to his support for the homeless. His sole challenger is the evidently deep-pocketed George Beier, who describes himself as a community volunteer but has the support of landlords and the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce and has managed to blanket District 7 with signage and literature, possibly making his one of the most tree-unfriendly campaigns in Berkeley’s electoral history. Keep Berkeley progressive and vote for Worthington.
Berkeley City Council, District 8
Incumbent Gordon Wozniak postures as if he is going to be mayor one day, and he’s definitely the most conservative member of the council. During his tenure, Wozniak has come up with seven different ways to raise rents on tenants in Berkeley, and he didn’t even vote against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s special election last year. Challenger Jason Overman may be only 20 years old, but he’s already a seasoned political veteran, having been elected to the Rent Stabilization Board two years ago. Vote for Overman.
Berkeley city auditor
Ann-Marie Hogan is running unopposed for this nonpartisan post, which is hardly surprising since she’s done a great job so far and has widespread support.
Berkeley school director
KAREN HEMPHILL, NANCY RIDDLE, NORMA HARRISON
With five candidates in the running and only three seats open, some are suggesting progressives cast only one vote — for Karen Hemphill — to ensure she becomes board president in two years, since the job goes to the person with the most votes in the previous election.
Hemphill has done a great job and has the support of Latino and African American parent groups, so a vote for her is a no-brainer.
So is any vote that helps make sure that incumbents Shirley Issel and David Baggins don’t get reelected.
Nancy Riddle isn’t a hardcore liberal, but she’s a certified public accountant, so she has number-crunching skills in her favor. Our third pick is Norma Harrison, although her superradical talk about capitalism being horrible and schools being like prisons needs to be matched with some concrete and doable suggestions.
Rent Stabilization Board
DAVE BLAKE, HOWARD CHONG, CHRIS KAVANAGH, LISA STEPHENS, PAM WEBSTER
If it weren’t for the nine-member elected Rent Stabilization Board, Berkeley would have long since been taken over by the landlords and the wealthy. This powerful agency has been controlled by progressives most of the time, and this year there are five strong progressives running unopposed for five seats on the board. We recommend voting for all of them.
Oakland City Council
When we endorsed Aimee Allison in the primary in June, we pointed out that this was a crucial race: incumbent Patrician Kernighan has been a staunch ally of outgoing mayor Jerry Brown and Councilmember Ignacio de La Fuente — and now that Ron Dellums is taking over the Mayor’s Office and a new political era could be dawning in Oakland, it’s crucial that the old prodevelopment types don’t control the council.
Kernighan’s vision of Oakland has always included extensive new commercial and luxury housing development, and like De La Fuente, she’s shown little concern for gentrification and displacement. Allison, a Green Party member, is the kind of progressive who could make a huge difference in Oakland, and she’s our clear and unequivocal choice for this seat.
From crime to city finance, Allison is well-informed and has cogent, practical proposals. She favors community policing and programs to help the 10,000 parolees in Oakland. She wants the city to collect an annual fee from the port, which brings in huge amounts of money and puts very little into the General Fund. She wants to promote environmentally sound development, eviction protections, and a stronger sunshine ordinance. Vote for Allison.
East Bay Municipal Utility District director, Ward 4
Environmental planner Andy Katz is running unopposed. Despite his relative youth, he’s been an energetic and committed board member and deserves another term.
AC Transit director at large
Incumbent Rebecca Kaplan is a fixture on the East Bay progressive political scene and has been a strong advocate of free bus-pass programs and environmentally sound policies over the years. A former public interest lawyer, Kaplan’s only challenger is paralegal James K. Muhammad.
BERKELEY PUBLIC SCHOOLS TAX
This measure takes two existing taxes and combines them into one but without increasing existing rates. Since 30 percent of local teachers will get paid out of the revenue from this measure, a no vote could devastate the quality of education in the city. Vote yes.
RENT STABILIZATION BOARD VACANCY
Measure E seeks to eliminate the need to have a citywide special election every time a vacancy occurs on the Rent Stabilization Board, a process that currently costs about $400,000 and consumes huge amounts of time and energy. The proposal would require that vacancies be filled at November general elections instead, since that ballot attracts a wider and more representative group of voters. In the interim, the board would fill its own vacancies.
GILMAN STREET PLAYING FIELDS
Measure F follows the council’s October 2005 adoption of amendments that establish the proper use for public and commercial recreation sports facilities, thereby allowing development of the proposed Gilman Street fields. Vote yes.
GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS
Measure G is a nice, feel-good advisory measure that expresses Berkeley’s opinion about the dangers of greenhouse gas emissions to the global climate and advises the mayor to work with the community to come up with a plan that would significantly reduce such emissions, with a target of an 80 percent reduction by 2050. Vote yes.
IMPEACHMENT OF PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH AND VICE-PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY
In left-leaning Berkeley this is probably the least controversial measure on the ballot. Do we really need to spell out all over again the many reasons why you should vote yes on this issue?
If this measure passes, both Berkeley and San Francisco will have taken public stands in favor of impeachment, which won’t by itself do much to force Congress to act but will start the national ball rolling. Vote yes.
AMENDING CONDO CONVERSION ORDINANCE
NO, NO, NO
Measure I is a really bad idea, one that links the creation of home ownership opportunities to the eviction of families from their homes. It was clearly cooked up by landlord groups that are unhappy with Berkeley’s current condo conversion ordinance, which allows for 100 conversions a year. Measure I proposes increasing that limit to 500 conversions a year, which could translate into more than 1,000 people facing evictions. Those evictions will hit hardest on the most financially vulnerable — seniors, the disabled, low- and moderate-income families, and children. With less than 15 percent of current Berkeley tenants earning enough to purchase their units, this measure decreases the overall supply of rentals, eliminates requirements to disclose seismic conditions to prospective buyers, and violates the city’s stated commitment to fairness, compassion, and economic diversity. Vote no.
AMENDING LANDMARK PRESERVATION ORDINANCES
A well-meaning measure that’s opposed by developers, Measure J earns a lukewarm yes. It establishes a nine-member Landmarks Preservation Commission; designates landmarks, structures of merit, and historic districts; and may approve or deny alteration of such historic resources but may not deny their demolition. It’s worth noting that if Proposition 90 passes, the city could face liability for damages if Measure J is found to result in substantial economic loss to property — all of which gives us yet another reason to say “vote no” on the horribly flawed Prop. 90 while you’re voting yes on Measure J.
POLICE AND FIRE RETIREMENT BOARD INVESTMENTS
Measure M would amend the City Charter to allow the board that oversees the Oakland Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) slightly more leeway in making investment decisions. The board claims that its current requirements — which bar investment in stocks that don’t pay dividends — are hampering returns. That’s an issue: between July 2002 and July 2005, the unfunded liability of the PFRS grew from $200 million to $268 million — a liability for which the city of Oakland is responsible. We’re always nervous about giving investment managers the ability to use public money without close oversight, but the new rules would be the same as ones currently in place in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
LIBRARY IMPROVEMENT AND EXPANSION BONDS
Oakland wants to improve and expand all library branch facilities, construct a new main library at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, and buy land for and construct two new library facilities in the Laurel and 81st Avenue communities. The upgrades and construction plans come in response to residents’ insistence that they need more space for studying and meeting, increased library programs and services, tutoring and homework assistance for children, increased literacy programs, and greater access to current technology and locations that offer wi-fi.
This $148 million bond would cost only $40 a year for every $100,000 of assessed property. Vote yes.
INSTANT RUNOFF VOTING
Ranked-choice voting, or instant runoff voting, is a great concept. The city of Oakland is using it to elect officials in the November election without holding a prior June election. There’s only one problem: so far, Alameda County hasn’t invested in voting equipment that could make implementing this measure possible. Voting yes is a first step in forcing the county’s hand in the right direction. SFBG
“Who’s Afraid of San Francisco?”
Who’s afraid of San Francisco? The whole world, it sometimes seems, including the people who live here. A new group show at Frey Norris Gallery brings together more than 20 works by local artists that examine San Francisco and what it stands for in the public consciousness. Recent “Bay Area Now”-er Frederick Loomis’s apocalyptic work reps the visionary side of matters, while an attractively vivid painting by Enrique Chagoya that chows down on Ellsworth Kelly is one of at least a few works dealing with immigration. (Johnny Ray Huston)
6-9 p.m. reception
Through Nov. 16
Frey Norris Gallery
456 Geary, SF
The Detroit duo, formed in 1997, don’t adhere to the whims of popular youth culture: it is this very aversion that helped inspire their very mature handle. ADULT.’s calculated sparse beats, often reminiscent of kitchen utensils clattering, collide with ominous synthesizers and seething vocals to form a heavily dissonant brand of no wave techno that demands a visceral reaction. They don’t care if it’s love or hate, as long as it makes you listen. (Hayley Elisabeth Kaufman)
With Hardplace and Landshark
444 Jessie, SF
For 25 years, Sonic Youth have dutifully served as a gateway band. Just as the group has made room in its discography to accommodate elegant noise rock and more avant-garde explorations, so too have its members cashed their cred to draw attention to their own favorites, some pop (e.g., Nirvana), most not. Many record hounds of a certain age can attribute much of their most challenging music to Sonic Youth’s generous thumbs-up – for me, this list includes titles like Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come and Wolf Eyes’ Dread. Though the band’s trademark noise rock is refined with each new release, its taste for adventure remains, here showing its face in the band’s cherry-picking local favorites Erase Errata and 16 Bitch Pile-Up as openers. (Max Goldberg)
1805 Geary, SF
The Mass and Triclops!
Oaktown’s Golden Bull has been having some pretty bad-ass Sunday evening shows, thanks to Scott Alcoholocaust. Such as? Such as the Mass, one of the heaviest rock bands going, and Triclops!, which features the brutalized vocals of John Geek from the Fleshies as well as members from Bottles and Skulls, Victim’s Family, and Lower Forty-Eight. Their Web site states their musical goal is “to keep rock music uncomfortable for themselves and others.” Listen to “Bug Bomb” and you’ll see what they mean … somewhere in the instrumental break, you’ll swear the ghost of Steel Pole Bath Tub had crawled into your ear and laid eggs. (Duncan Scott Davidson)
With Grayceon and We March
412 14th St., Oakl.
TECHSPLOITATION Usually I don’t let the PR e-mails get to me. My standard procedure is to review and delete these missives from alternate marketplace universes where people care about incremental changes to the graphic user interface in a piece of useless software. But last week when the bizarrely clueless announcement from domain-name megaregistrar Dotster arrived in my inbox, I just couldn’t stand aside and let it pass.
Maybe I was feeling particularly grumpy because the ongoing Hewlett-Packard scandal is constantly reminding me that all my nightmares about the corporate surveillance of media types are, in fact, true. Whatever the reason, I just got plain pissed off by Dotster’s craven bid to appeal to youth with its new PimpedEmail product for MySpace users. For $7.95 per month, Dotster will sell you access to a “pimped” domain name via your MySpace account. Apparently, according to the press release, these domains “tend to favor hip buzz phrases … for example, if a visitor types ‘Stephanie’ into the DDS search box and clicks ‘Name Search,’ the results might include stephanieisthebomb.com, stephanyshizzle.com, or worldofstephanie.com.”
OK, it’s true that what leaps out immediately here is the slap-your-head stupidity of these “hip buzz phrases” — my personal favorite is worldofstephanie, which has to be one of the buzzingest, hippest phrases I’ve ever encountered. But what pushed me over the line from merely bemused to actually offended is Dotster’s crass attempt to suck money out of one of the most cash-strapped communities on MySpace: unknown musicians trying to get people interested in their music.
Most of the suggestions for how to use PimpedEmail involve using it to promote unknown bands. “A new group calling itself Nikki Blast could use band search to register nikkiblastrocks.com,” suggests Dotster. Then “they can set up as many e-mail addresses as they like using that domain extension. For example, the drummer could be firstname.lastname@example.org, and the band could award loyal fans with their own addresses such as email@example.com.” Hmmm, could “madbeatz” be another one of those hip buzz phrases? What about “rocks”?
Of course these suggestions won’t necessarily control youth behavior, partly because they’re just lame. And I’ll admit that MySpace teaming up with Dotster isn’t nearly as problematic as MySpace collaborating with state governments to police what kids are doing on one of the world’s largest social networks. But PimpedEmail is more insidious than you might think. It pushes conformity under the guise of cool; it turns the ideal of freely sharing band information into something that requires payment by the month.
No, it’s not surprising that the News Corp.–owned MySpace is figuring out ways to accessorize its free service with little nuggets at teen prices. I still reserve the right to be grossed out when it happens.
More depressing still is the way PimpedEmail pulls the covers over the true process involved in doing one of the most basic tasks of any Web user: getting a domain name and setting up e-mail. The Dotster press release describes its service as a “unique Domain Discovery System (DDS),” adding helpfully that “visitors to the service’s Web site can generate unique domains.”
Huh? There’s nothing “unique” here — this is the usual way one searches for domains and buys them online. Every time I’ve ever bought a domain, apparently, I’ve had a “unique” experience when I searched to see if annaleenewitz.com (for example) was available and then purchased it. The only thing that’s different here is that instead of getting boring suggestions for domains (like annaleecompany.com), you’ll get allegedly cool ones (like annaleeshizzle.com).
The misrepresentations here go beyond the usual “we’re unique” marketing ploys. Dotster makes it seem that getting a domain and getting e-mail are the same thing — and that the easiest way to do both is through MySpace. Let’s leave aside the privacy issues involved in tying your MySpace page together with your e-mail and domain services. I’m more worried that services like PimpedEmail will actually lower technical literacy in Web users by hiding what’s really going on when you create the address firstname.lastname@example.org. Not only does PimpedEmail take money away from its users, it takes away their knowledge of how domain names work — and by extension, it takes away just a bit more of their power. SFBG
Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who’s got all the hip buzz phrases, like “get funky” and “far out” and “make the scene.”
Dick Cheney surveys the teeming white crowds at the 2004 Republican National Convention. With their Cheney Rocks! placards and stars-and-stripes Styrofoam hats, these people worship him, but he still looks like he wants to spray them with buckshot. “You’re all a bunch of fucking assholes!” he sneers. “You know why? You need people like me — so you can point your fucking fingers and say, ‘That’s the bad guy.’”
OK, maybe Cheney didn’t use those exact words in his convention speech, but we all know he was thinking them, so bless Bryan Boyce’s short video America’s Biggest Dick for making the vice president really speak his mind — in this case, via Al Pacino’s dialogue in Scarface. The title fits: Boyce’s two-minute movie exposes the gangster mentality of Cheney and the rest of the Bush administration, perhaps giving his subject more charisma than he deserves. Ultimately, Cheney gets around to admitting he’s the bad guy — after he’s compared the convention’s hostile New York setting to “a great big pussy waiting to be fucked” and speculated about how much money is required to buy the Supreme Court. “Fuck you! Who put this thing together? Me — that’s who!” he bellows when a graphic exhibition of his oral sex talents receives some boos.
One might think the man behind America’s Biggest Dick might be boisterous and loud, but Boyce — who lives in San Francisco — is in fact soft-spoken and modest, crediting the movie’s “stunt mouth,” Jonathan Crosby (whose teeth and lips Bryce pastes onto Cheney and other political figures), with the idea of using Brian de Palma’s 1983 film. “I knew I wanted extensive profanity, and Scarface more than delivered,” Boyce says during an interview at the Mission District’s Atlas Café. “But I was also amazed at how well the dialogue fit.”
The dialogue fits because Boyce masterfully tweaks found material, particularly footage from television. It’s a skill he’s honed and a skill that motivates the most recent waves of TV manipulation thriving on YouTube, on DVD (in the case of the Toronto-based TV Carnage), and at film festivals and other venues that have the nerve to program work that ignores the property rights of an oppressive dominant culture. “It is, admittedly, crude,” Boyce says of America’s Biggest Dick, which inspired raves and rage when it played the Sundance Film Festival last year. “It’s a crude technique for a crude movie matched to a very crude vice president.” As for the contortions of Crosby’s mouth, which exaggerate Cheney’s own expressions, Boyce has an apt reference at hand: “The twisted mouth to match his twisted soul — he’s got a Richard III thing going on.”
America’s Biggest Dick isn’t Boyce’s only film to mine horror and hilarity from the hellish realms of Fox News. In 30 Seconds of Hate, for example, he uses a “monosyllabic splicing technique” to puppeteer war criminal (and neocon TV expert) Henry Kissinger into saying, “If we kill all the people in the world, there’ll be no more terrorists…. It’s very probable that I will kill you.” All the while, mock Fox News updates scroll across the bottom of the screen. “That footage came from a time when Fox thought that Saddam [Hussein] had been killed,” Boyce explains. “That’s why Kissinger kept using the word kill. Of course, no one says kill like Henry Kissinger.”
In Boyce’s State of the Union, the smiling baby face within a Teletubbies sun is replaced by the grumpier, more addled visage of George W. Bush. Shortly after issuing a delighted giggle, this Bush sun god commences to bomb rabbits that graze amid the show’s hilly Astroturf landscapes — which mysteriously happen to be littered with oil towers. With uncanny prescience, Boyce made the movie in August 2001, inspiring fellow TV tweak peers such as Rich Bott of the duo Animal Charm to compare him to Nostradamus. “Even before Sept. 11, [Bush] was looking into nuclear weapons and bunker busters,” Boyce says. “His drilling in the [Arctic National Wildlife Reserve] led me to use the oil towers.”
Having grown up in the Bay Area and returned here after a college stint in Santa Cruz, Boyce — like other Bay Area artists with an interest in culture jamming — calls upon Negativland (“I thought their whole Escape from Noise album was great”) and Craig Baldwin (“He’s kind of the godfather of cinema here”) as two major inspirations. In fact, both he and Baldwin have shared a fascination with televangelist Robert Tilton, whose bizarre preaching makes him a perfect lab rat on whom to try out editing experiments. “He speaks in tongues so nicely,” Boyce says with a smile. “He’s just so over-the-top and sad and terrible that he lends himself to all the extremes of the [editing] system, such as playing something backwards.”
Boyce believes that the absurdity of “an abrupt jump cut between incongruous things” can “really be beautiful.” And the TV Carnage DVDs put together by Derrick Beckles might illustrate that observation even better than Boyce’s more minimalist tweaking. In just one of hundreds of uproarious moments within TV Carnage’s most recent DVD, the wonderfully titled Sore for Sighted Eyes, a sheet-clad John Ritter stares in abject disbelief at a TV on which Rosie O’Donnell pretends to have Down syndrome. At least two different movie writers at this paper (yours truly included) have shed tears from laughing at this sequence.
“I just picture a conveyer belt, and there are just so many points at which someone could press a big red stop button, but it doesn’t happen,” Beckles says, discussing the source (an Angelica Huston–helmed TV movie called Riding the Bus with My Sister) for the O’Donnell footage. “There’s this untouchable hubris. It blows my mind that people are paid for some of these ideas. Crispin Glover told me that the actors with Down syndrome in [his movie] What Is It? were offended by [the O’Donnell performance], or that they felt uneasy. It is uneasy to see Rosie O’Donnell do a Pee-wee Herman impersonation and think she’s embodying someone with Down syndrome.”
Beckles’s interest in manipuutf8g TV — or as he puts it, “exorcising my own demons” by exorcising television’s — dates back to childhood. But it took several years in the belly of MGM to really fire a desire that has resulted in five DVDs to date. “TV Carnage is my way of screaming,” he says at one point during a phone conversation that proves he’s as funny as his work. Like Boyce and audio contemporaries such as Gregg Gillis of Girl Talk (see “Gregg the Ripper,” page 69), he filters “mounds and mounds and shelves and shelves” of tapes and other material through his computer.
“It’s not so much that I’m always in front of the TV,” Beckles explains. “I’d just say that I have this divining rod for shit. I have these psychic premonitions when I turn on my TV. I have years and years of footage. I pull all of it into my computer and say, ‘Now what?’ Then I take a swig of whiskey and go, ‘You’ve got yourself into it again.'” On Sore for Sighted Eyes this approach results in eye-defying montages dedicated to subjects such as white rapping. (Believe me, you have not lived until you’ve died inside seeing Mike Ditka and the Grabowskis or the Sealy Roll.)
Overall, mind control is TV Carnage’s main theme. One segment within the release Casual Fridays looks at children who act like adults and adults who act like children — two plagues that run rampant on TV. “Kids are like al-Qaeda,” he says. “They’ll shift their plans every day to keep you wondering. [Meanwhile], you can just feel the adults who host teen shows thinking about their mortgage payments: ‘What are kids doing now? Slitting each other’s throats? Great! Let’s do a show about it!’” An infamous “swearing sandwich” sequence within TV Carnage’s When Television Attacks encapsulates Beckles’s worldview. “People who are into self-help — they might as well be taking advice from a sandwich.”
Breaking from the more free-form nature of TV Carnage — which isn’t afraid of running from Richard Simmons to Mao Zedong in a few seconds — Beckles is working within some self-imposed restrictions to make his next project. The presence of rules has some irony, since the project is titled Cop Movie. “I’m taking 101 cop movies and making a full-length feature from them,” he says. “The same script has been used for hundreds and hundreds of cop movies — they just change the characters’ names, using a name that sounds dangerous or slightly evocative of freedom.”
“The reason I’m using 101 movies stems from this ridiculous mathematical aspect I’ve figured out,” he continues. “If I take a certain number of seconds from each movie, it adds up to 66 minutes and 6 seconds, and the whole construct of 666 makes me laugh. I’ve already cut together a part where a guy gets hit by a car, and he goes from being a blond guy to a black guy to a guy with red hair to a guy with a mullet. It flows seamlessly. It’s a real acid trip — and kind of a psychological experiment. After I finish it, I’ll probably just pick out a casket and sleep for a hundred years.”
The encyclopedic aspect of Beckles’s TV Carnage sucks in more recognizable footage such as American Idol’s Scary Mary and a musical number from The Apple. In contrast, the duo who go by the name Animal Charm tend to work with footage that few, if any, people have seen, such as corporate training videos. “Our interest from the beginning has not been to turn to a video we love or have a nostalgic connection to,” says Jim Fetterley, who along with Rich Bott makes up Animal Charm. “We were looking for things that were empty that could be used to create new meanings.”
Those meanings are often hilarious — the new Animal Charm DVD, Golden Digest, includes shorts such as Stuffing (in which a real-life monkey watches animated dolphins juggle a woman back and forth) and Ashley (which turns an infomercial for a Texas woman’s Amway-like beauty business into a bizarre science fiction story). But if reappropriation brings out the political commentator in Boyce and the comedian in Beckles, for Fetterley it’s more of a philosophical matter. Pledging allegiance to contemporaries such as Los Angeles’s TV Sheriff and the Pittsburgh, Pa., collective Paper Rad, he talks about Animal Charm’s videos as “tinctures” he’s used to “deprogram” himself and friends. “Our videos can make an empty boardroom seem like the jungle or something very natural,” he says when asked about his use of National Geographic–type clips and dated-looking office scenes. “In the videos, the animals are like puppets. You could say it’s like animation but on a more concept-based level.”
While Boyce, TV Carnage, and Animal Charm most often work with found material, their cinematic practice — jump-cut editing, for example — is more imaginative and creative than that of many “original” multimillion dollar productions. “We’re not predetermining any space we want to get into,” Fetterley explains, “other than most often that level of disassociation and absurdity where you are almost feeling something like the rush of a drug.” For him, generating this type of “temporary autonomy” is liberating. “With massive paranoia and war going on, it’s so easy to control a lot of people with fear and paranoia. We like to think if we can sit down and show our videos to our friends and others and have a laugh and talk about it seriously, it might help take everyone out of that mind frame.”
Because of the popularity of YouTube and its ability to create a new type of TV celebrity (and also the recent notoriety of musical efforts such as Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album and Girl Talk’s Night Ripper), reappropriation is reaching the mainstream. But even as Animal Charm’s and Boyce’s clips proliferate on the Internet, a veteran such as Fetterley looks upon such developments with a pointedly critical perspective. “There’s a general tendency right now to get excited about things that are unknown or anonymous,” he says. “Accountability is almost more important than appropriation nowadays. All of a sudden, if something is anonymous, it makes people feel very uncomfortable.”
For artists with names, censorship is still very much an issue. Boyce recently found America’s Biggest Dick (along with Glover’s What Is It?) cited during a campaign to withdraw funding from a long-running film festival in Ann Arbor, Mich. But Fetterley sees a troubling larger picture. “Danger Mouse’s Grey Album is a very solid conceptual project — it’s gray,” he notes. “In comparison, if somebody is doing a New York Times article about something current politically or globally, there are red zones and flags that will be brought to others’ attention whether you or I know it or not. Those are things making this moment dangerous, in terms of not being able to be anonymous. With ideas about evidence dissolving and accountability hung up in legalities, it makes the culture around music or aesthetics or youth culture pale in comparison.” SFBG
LAMPOONS AND EYE-TUNES: BRYAN BOYCE’S CULT JAMS AND MUSIC VIDEOS
With launch party for Animal Charm’s Golden Digest DVD
Oct. 7, 8 p.m.
Artists’ Television Access
992 Valencia, SF
For complete interviews with Derrick Beckles of TV Carnage, Bryan Boyce, and Jim Fetterley of Animal Charm, go to Pixel Vision at www.sfbg.com/blogs/pixel_vision.
Everybody seems to love Thai food, but the oohing and aahing is generally confined to the cooking. You don’t hear much about the stunning designs of Thai restaurants. In one sense, this is just fine; good food is its own reward, and overclever interior decoration can lead to sensory overload. Still, Thai restaurants tend to be plain Janes more often than not, many fitted out with those steel-frame chairs that look like they’ve been salvaged from the mess hall of some battleship that’s being put into mothballs, or scrapped.
You will not find such chairs at Be My Guest, a Thai bistro that opened recently along inner Clement. You will find, instead, curvy white plastic numbers that look like halves of giant eggshells mounted on bird legs. Have we stumbled onto the set of an early Woody Allen movie, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, maybe, in which Woody plays spermatozoa anxiously awaiting to launch to … he knows not where? One would not say the overall bleachiness of Be My Guest’s look — white walls and curtains complete the laundry-day motif — is beautiful, exactly, but it does command attention and does strike a certain balance between camp and hip. (Camp hip, is this a permissible term?) And those who detect a slight LA edge in the playful tackiness will not be surprised to learn that there is a sibling restaurant, Gindhi Thai, in the southland.
The chairs are not particularly comfortable. They have a water-slide quality, and one has to be careful not to end up on the floor while shifting one’s legs, which must serve as braces. But that is really my only misgiving about a place that otherwise is a worthy addition to the already formidable array of restaurants along Clement between Arguello and Park Presidio. Be My Guest might not quite be a destination restaurant on its own, but it is part of, and contributes to, one of the city’s premier destination zones, those stretches of street you can meander along, studying menu cards, until you find a place that appeals and pop in, knowing you aren’t likely to be disappointed. (NB: parking is an ordeal.)
Like a number of Thai places I have visited recently, Be My Guest is rather effortlessly vegetarian friendly. To make sure, I paid a visit with a vegetarian friend, who immediately picked up the flavor of shrimp in the basket of delicious rice crisps of many colors set before us, to nibble as we pondered the menu. (With this quibble duly noted, we nibbled them together.) She went on to detect the presence of fish sauce in the delicious tofu larb ($6.95), minced (and slightly rubbery, but not in a bad way) bean curd mixed with lime juice, mint, and chiles and heaped on romaine spears useful for scooping. Since I am just a part-time vegetarian, it would never have occurred to me that fish sauce — which is as central to the Indo-Chinese cuisines as soy sauce is to the cooking of China and Japan — would raise an issue. Full-time vegetarians will want to plan accordingly.
No flag was raised over the sweet-potato fritters ($6.95), which resembled dragonflies cast in bronze and would have been even better if there’d been some kind of sauce to dip them in. (The fritters were presented with cucumber two ways: as slices linked together in paper-doll fashion, and diced into a vinegary little salad with carrot threads.) And we knew beforehand that the panang curry ($9.95), fettucinelike strips of boneless chicken awash in a well-tempered red sauce, would present no vegetarian issue, since no vegetarian would go near it despite its rich deliciousness. (Panang curry is a coconut-milk curry enhanced with ground peanuts — a Malaysian touch.) On the other hand, the veg curry corner ($9.95) — a crock of soupy, basil-scented green curry laden with broccoli florets, chunked eggplant, snow peas, and green beans — passed vegetarian scrutiny like a traveler, divested of shoes, watch, belt buckle, loose change, and toothpaste, sailing through a security checkpoint at the airport.
Given the egg-shaped chairs, it follows that we would find an omelet ($6.95) on the noontime menu — a vegetarian omelet no less, filled with mixed greens, spinach, asparagus, mushrooms, and tofu and given a definite Southeast Asian perfume by ginger and lemongrass. But the wider possibilities of lunchtime are grouped under the rubric “Afternoon Delight,” which provides (for $7.25) a choice of starter and of main course, along with soup, salad, rice, and seasonal fruit. One day’s soup, of celery and tofu in a pale vegetable broth, we found to be no better than serviceable, the salad was a wallflower heap of mixed greens, and the fruit consisted of some grapes and orange wedges. But the fish cake, though texturally a bit of a rubber sponge, was intensely tasty (and a pretty caramel color), while a red vegetable curry was rich and just spicy enough to conceal the plebeian character of its carrot-and-potato ballast.
Thai bistro. I choke slightly on this expression while accepting that, at least in its American sense, it does apply to Be My Guest. The place captures just the right balance of hominess and style: its hours are liberal and its prices moderate, and it draws (especially on weekend evenings) a diverse crowd, tilting toward youth and bubbling with energy. And that’s everything you always wanted to know. SFBG
BE MY GUEST THAI BISTRO
Dinner: daily, 4–10:30 p.m.
Lunch: daily, 11 a.m.–3 p.m.
951 Clement, SF
It’s easy to be confused about the Chromatics. The Portland group used to be a herky-jerky four piece made up of two men and two women, but the ladies left to form Shoplifting. Only Adam Miller remains from the original lineup, but all along Glass Candy’s Johnny Jewel, who has now joined the band, has produced their records. With Natty Miller rounding out the trio, today’s Chromatics have moved on from their kicking and moaning youth to the more grown-up and sophisticated world of disco. (Deborah Giattina)
With Glass Candy and Clipd Beaks
1131 Polk, SF
San Francisco Fringe Festival
Not every show worth seeing happens under the big top. That’s what’s so great about fringe festivals. They allow both the amateur and seasoned performer with a curious idea to put on a sideshow both offbeat and electrifying. At this year’s 15th Annual San Francisco Fringe Festival, theatergoers can enjoy edgy and creative spectacles of all stripes, as the SF Fringe has booked 49 acts to put on more than 200 performances in fewer than two weeks. Take a break from the banality of the everyday with Jack Halton, who will roll a rock up Powell in Sisyphus on Vacation, a Drive-By Theater Production. (Giattina)
Through Sept. 17.
Call or see Web site for showtimes, locations, and prices (festival passes, $35–$65)
This too may pass, but let it be said that “outrageous” is currently one of Mission District artist Keegan McHargue’s favorite descriptors — applied with equal enthusiasm to the thugs who smoke blunts down the street, his waxy-eyed portrait by Japanese artist Enlightment, Heavy Metal Parking Lot sequel Neil Diamond Parking Lot, and a new art book with a cover font composed of turds — and one that could easily apply to the refreshingly direct, boyish painter himself. Not many young artists are in the position to tell national television to take a cold shower in a couple hot minutes, but that’s just where McHargue is: he isn’t your archetypal stylist-damaged celebutante or attention-ravenous art star. The 2004 Goldies winner — last sighted at that award’s soiree shaking his sharp, narrow suit on the dance floor alongside beat legend Bruce Conner and hip-hop crew Sistaz of the Underground — warily considered this interview and then consented.
“Seriously, it’s crazy. Recently, all sorts of different people have been interested in me for different reasons. It’s pretty strange,” he marvels, leaning back in front of a recent large acrylic ready to be packed off to New York, where it will be exhibited in “Control Group,” McHargue’s solo show at Metro Pictures opening Sept. 21. CBS Sunday Morning was one such caller. “But I just said, ‘Fuck you.’ Kinda. I told ’em straight up, ‘I was, like, y’know, really flattered, but I don’t know if your demographic is exactly who I even want to know who I am.’
“If I’m doing that, I’m probably doing something wrong!”
It may sound like the arrogance of youth on line one — who wants to cater to the crowd who’s even up on Sunday morning? Yet it’s gotten to the point where Devendra Banhart (who described McHargue as his “favorite living artist”), Interview, and even Spin have lined up to lavish praise on the 24-year-old artist, with the last naming him one of the top 25 hottest people under 25, beating out Nicole Richie. “Outrageous!” exclaims McHargue. “Seriously, I swear to god. I don’t know what the general consensus is. It’s weird. It’s strange. I’m just a normal person who makes artwork and just happens to be an artist for a living.”
Perhaps this miniature media frenzy is linked to the fact that the self-taught McHargue is so young and makes such intriguing, increasingly exploratory work: paintings and drawings that swing between clean, Byzantine sophistication and fresh, obsessive energy, bright pop abstraction and darkly foreshadowed storytelling. His latest extravagantly hued, sprawling acrylics — a new series that differs from those in McHargue’s “Air above Mountains” show (named after a Cecil Taylor free-jazz disc) at Galerie Emmanuel Perriton in Paris earlier this year — revolve around true crime and headline news narratives populated by murderous mothers, power plants, dozing or dead kittens, and sinuous streams of toxic runoff. Picture the Yellow Submarine adrift beneath a mushroom-clouded sky.
As ripe and exciting as this week’s tabloids and likely less perishable, the canvases reflect McHargue’s latest ideas and techniques. “I’m just basically trying to constantly be expanding the scope of my practice or something,” he says, puttering around the tidy studios in the top-floor flat he shares with another artist — this despite the fact that his works have landed in such collections as the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. “I guess the long and short of it is now I’ve got tons of time on my hands and all I have to do is make art, so the bottom line is to just continue making better and better pieces.”
Psychedelic is almost too easy an adjective for his enigmatic imagery, the natural product of a childhood steeped in art, courtesy of his watercolorist mother. “That would make me instinctively want to change what I was doing,” says McHargue, who moved to San Francisco from his native Portland, Ore., five years ago. “I understand that people want to belong to cliques. But that’s not where my head’s at right now. I would just like to make some paintings that are insane to look at. Just hurt some people’s brains a little bit.”
Small pieces by Barry McGee, Will Yackulic, and others are clustered on the mantel above a Roland SP808, a drum machine, and an iPod emanating keening noise collaborations between McHargue and fellow artist Ry Fyan — the work of what McHargue describes as a Whitehouse tribute band. Some of the music will probably be released later this year by Tarentel’s Jef Cantu, along with a Japanese book surveying his work. “I’m just a hardcore music fanatic all across the board,” the artist explains. “Luckily, I live close to Aquarius, and I collect records too. That’s where I get inspiration for the work, from listening to music. It’s really, really important to me.”
And it’s an increasingly necessary hobby — preferable, he cracks wise, to “photography or yachting.” After working almost continuously for more than a year on consecutive gallery shows and finding himself on a rotating exhibition schedule stretching to 2012 (2007 will see shows at Jack Hanley Gallery in San Francisco and Hiromi Yoshi Gallery in Tokyo), McHargue is hoping to take it easy at last — following the “Control Group” opening and his partner Tauba Auerbach’s October show at Deitch Projects — and spend his autumn months in New York City. “It’s like all of a sudden I’m totally grown up and doing this all the time,” he says. “I need to cool out. Between now and the fall, I’m just going to kick it.” SFBG
“I want to be a mainstream artist,” says East Oakland rapper and spoken word poet Ise Lyfe, discussing his rejection of the label “conscious rap.” “I’m not trying to be some backpack cat performing in Davis. I want to be …”
The 23-year-old trails off thoughtfully. “I think the only way to do it harder than Jay-Z is to have a real movement, something tangible that will effect change in the world through music. I’d like to be that big but at the same time put a dent in the Earth.”
At first glance, it’s hard to imagine a rapper less like Jay-Z than Ise Lyfe, whose 2004 self-released debut, SpreadtheWord, is devoid of the big pimpin’, cheese-spending exploits that have endeared Jiggaman to millions. But like James Baldwin — who once said he didn’t want to be the best black novelist in America, he wanted to be Henry James — Ise isn’t talking about betraying his identity for success. He’s simply saying he wants to be the best, period. If there’s anything common to all four of these artists, it’s the awareness that in order to be the best you must change the game. With the rerelease of SpreadtheWord, complete with new artwork, a bonus DVD, and a mildly retooled track list, on fledgling independent Hard Knock Records, in addition to his recently concluded nationwide tour with the Coup, Ise Lyfe is hoping to do just that.
Born in 1982, Ise was raised in Brookfield, deep in East Oakland next to the notorious Sobrante Park. “I grew up as a young kid right when the crack epidemic was flourishing and having a real effect on our families,” he says. “My father had been affected by drugs. For me, growing up in a single-parent home was the manifestation of that existing in our community. But I also came up amongst a large level of social justice activity and youth organizing. That influences my music. I think Oakland has a history that unconsciously bleeds into everyone from here.”
The legacy of this history — which includes a spoken word scene at least as old as Gil Scott Heron’s mid-’70s albums for underground label Strata East — endures in Oakland, where Ise first made a name for himself as a teen slam poet. “I would be three years deep into performing spoken word before there was any place I could go and perform hip-hop,” he says. “Hip-hop was all 21-and-up venues, where I was the number one slam poet in the country when I was 19.” Repping the Bay in 2001 at the Youth Speaks National Poetry Slam, Ise would achieve a modicum of fame through appearances on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam.
“When I started recording,” he confesses, “folks didn’t even know I was making a hip-hop record. They thought it was a spoken word record, but I fused both in there.” The success of this fusion of art forms is all the more apparent on the rereleased SpreadtheWord, the continuity of which has been improved by a few judicious edits. Ise’s flow is so dexterous that the moments of purely a cappella poetry enhance rather than disrupt the musical experience. In fact, musicality underscores an important difference between SpreadtheWord and most conscious hip-hop recordings, for most of the beats on even otherwise impressive efforts sound like they were made sometime in 1993. The lack of curiosity about the sound of contemporary hip-hop gives such music a perfunctory air, while the tracks on SpreadtheWord are infinitely fresher even after two years. While it’s not exactly hyphy, a tune like “Reasons” still sounds like a Bay Area slap that would work on a mixtape with other new tunes.
“My fan base is predominantly young people of color,” Ise says, articuutf8g his other major difference from most rappers who fall under the conscious rubric. “I think it’s all good. The music is for everybody. But I’m proud of seeing the music connect with who it’s really written to, directly from, and for. I don’t want to be distant from the community.” In the face of the failure of so many conscious rappers to continue to appeal to their original listeners, it’s hard not to attribute Ise’s own success to his closeness to both his audience and hip-hop.
“It’s important for me to have real community work behind what I say,” he explains, commenting on a busy schedule that includes everything from teaching classes to street sweeping to performing at the Youth UpRising community center on the bill with Keak Da Sneak on Aug. 25.
Moreover, his refusal to place himself in opposition to the hyphy movement despite his very different approach to hip-hop lends him a credibility unavailable to others.
“I consider myself just the other side of hyphy,” he concludes. “I don’t think there’s anything different in what I’m saying than what they’re saying. Those cats is positive — they’re talking about uniting the Bay. I just think it’s important that we set a standard for what’s acceptable. When we calling a 13-year-old girl a ripper, it’s just abusive music. But even in its industrial prepackaged form hip-hop comes from the hood, and I think that going dumb or getting hyphy is revolutionary in principle. I’m-a jump on this car, I’m-a shake these dreads, I’m-a be me. I think that it’s a positive energy.” SFBG
Youth UpRising’s “Lyrical Warfare”
with Keak Da Sneak
Fri/25, 4–7 p.m.
8711 MacArthur, Oakl.
OPINION Make no bones about it: the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) is a program of the US Department of Defense. Its purpose is clear: to recruit high school students into the military. Two years ago, 59 percent of San Franciscans demonstrated their disapproval of that sort of recruiting by supporting Proposition I. It’s time for the Board of Education to follow the wishes of those voters and phase out the JROTC in favor of a nonmilitary program.
On Aug. 22, it’s very likely that the San Francisco school board will do just that. Before the board is a proposal to not only ease out the JROTC but also form a blue-ribbon panel to find an alternative.
It’s not a new idea. In the mid-1990s, a similar board proposal failed by a 4–3 vote. This time the vote will probably be reversed. Phasing out the JROTC in San Francisco should be a breeze. Two years ago, a measure to put the city on record as wanting to bring the troops home from Iraq passed by 64 percent. Since Sept. 11, hundreds of thousands of San Franciscans have protested the wars in the Middle East. There’s no other city in this country with so much antiwar activity. So what’s the problem?
It’s the kids. The JROTC has successfully organized scores of young people (mostly white and Asian) to attend school board meetings to testify about the benefits of the program. A few LGBT kids have said that the local chapter of the JROTC does not discriminate, which JROTC officials confirm. What they don’t talk about is the fact that a queer kid can’t be out (or found out) in the armed forces. Since 1994, when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was first implemented, more than 11,182 queers have received the boot. There are also beatings and harassment to contend with in the military if you’re suspected of being queer. It’s not a pretty picture.
The JROTC doesn’t tell kids that a lot of what the recruiters promise is a lie — the kids might not get the educational benefits and job training promised in all the promotional materials. As Z Magazine reported (August 2005), 57 percent of military personnel receive absolutely no educational benefits. What’s more, only 12 percent of men and 6 percent of women who have served in the military ever use job skills obtained from their service. As Lucinda Marshall noted in an Aug. 24, 2005, article on ZNet, “According to the Veterans Administration, veterans earn less, make up 1/3 of homeless men and 20% of the nation’s prison population.” Be all that you can be?
Education was never the point of the military, of course. As former secretary of defense Dick Cheney once said, “The reason to have a military is to be prepared to fight and win wars…. It’s not a social welfare agency, it’s not a jobs program.”
Let’s not sell our youth short. Or make them fodder for oil wars. Or subject them to antiqueer discrimination and hate crimes. Let’s give them all the skills they need to make their lives the best they can be. We can do that without the military. SFBG
Tom Ammiano, Mark Sanchez, and Tommi Avicolli Mecca
Tom Ammiano is a queer former school board president and current supervisor of District 9. Mark Sanchez, the only queer member of the current San Francisco Board of Education, authored the current anti-JROTC resolution. Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a queer antiwar activist who was recently honored by the American Friends Service Committee.
The sweet 16 has nothing on your average quinceañera, a celebration of reaching womanhood at age 15 that has roots in ancient Aztec civilization and is a tradition still very much alive throughout the Americas. Not unlike the bank-breaking theatrics of debutante balls, weddings, and bar mitzvahs in other communities, there’s often a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses extravagance to them that celebrates prosperity and community as much as youth and the coming-of-age.
Two such blowouts bookend Quinceañera, which won both the Grand Jury and Audience awards for Best Dramatic Feature at Sundance this year. Dazzled by her cousin Eileen’s bash — complete with DJ, live band, and Hummer limo with lighted stripper pole in the back — 14-year-old Magdalena (Emily Rios) begins stoking her own delusions of imminent coming-out grandeur. This dismays her less-than-prosperous priest-by-day, security-guard-by-night dad (Jesus Castaños), who likes to think of his little girl as pure, simple, and devout. That image takes a worse beating when he finds out Magdalena is in, you know, “trouble” — something that freakishly came about despite her not having gone all the way with on-off boyfriend Herman (Ramiro Iniguez).
When the physical evidence can no longer be hidden, the domestic consequences are predictably dire, and Magdalena ends up another black sheep taken in by Tío Tomas (Chalo Gonzalez), the great-uncle who “loves everyone and judges no one.” Already in residence is Magdalena’s cousin and Eileen’s tattooed, muscle-bound, cholo sibling Carlos (Jesse Garcia), thrown out by his parents for being a “liar and a thief and a pothead and a gay.” He sure acts the part of bad news, though like Magdalena may well be more sinned against than sinner.
Both ashamed of past deeds and uncertain what their futures hold, the cousins cohabit uneasily, the household barely kept afloat by Tomas’s earnings as the neighborhood champurrado vendor and Carlos’s at the local car wash. At least the latter is getting some action — when a yuppie gay couple (David W. Ross and Jason L. Wood) buys the Echo Park property encompassing the front house and Tomas’s longtime rear garden rental, Carlos becomes the nightly “peanut butter in their sandwich,” as Magdalena snorts. But this too turns problematic, raising issues of gentrification, fidelity, and economic power, which the movie is careful not to hammer too heavily.
A gay couple who themselves live in Echo Park — the idea for this movie arose when they were asked to photograph the quinceañera of their neighbors’ daughter — cowriters-codirectors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland risk overstacking the deck with a heavy-handed screenplay. But Quinceañera takes the mantle from 2006’s Junebug as the hugely satisfying little late-summer movie amid so many bigger ones worth skipping. Its pet project genuineness is especially heartening given that Glatzer and Westmoreland (who previously codirected 2000’s idiosyncratic The Fluffer) are longtime toilers in the Hollywood trenches where not much art is made, let alone for art’s sake: one has done a whole lotta reality TV (including conceiving America’s Next Top Model), while the other’s résumé includes such one-handed wonders as Dr. Jackoff and Mr. Hard. SFBG
See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com for theaters and showtimes
Come to a campaign finance reform panel with Kris Greenlee of California Common Cause; Maria Guillen of SEIU Local 790; and Dan Purnell of the City of Oakland Public Ethics Commission. The panel – moderated by Tony West, a UC Hastings College of the Law board member – will discuss how to take reforms to the state level. (Deborah Giattina)
Commonwealth Club of California
595 Market, second floor, SF
Free, advance registration required
International Youth Music Festival
Musical whiz kids from around the United States and Europe converge on San Francisco for a run of orchestral shows at SF landmarks St. Mary’s Cathedral (Wed/2), Mission Dolores (Mon/7), and Grace Cathedral (Tues/8). The chamber orchestra will perform music by Dvořák, Brahms, Shostakovitch, and others. With performers ranging in age from 12 to 21, prepare to be blown away by the level of play and prodigious talent. (Joseph DeFranceschi)
St. Mary’s Cathedral