Cover Story

Doug Hream Blunt’s Funk Revival

Three decades after its release, the 67-year old San Francisco musician’s debut album finally enters the limelight.

SF Weekly (Cover Story)

Screen_Shot_2017-05-03_at_5.59.09_PMDoug Hream Blunt was watching TV in his first-floor, Visitacion Valley home when the phone rang. It was the middle of 2015, and the 67-year-old — who doesn’t own a computer and only recently upgraded from a flip-phone to a smartphone — had just returned from dropping his daughter Juanita off at middle school. Blunt wasn’t expecting any calls that day, least of all from a boutique record label in New York City.

“I looked for Doug online and called him up,” says Yale Evelev, president of Luaka Bop Records. “The conversation was along the lines of me saying we loved his music and we’d like to put it out, and him laughing and saying, ‘OK.’ ”

Unusually late in life for a musician, Blunt began recording his kaleidoscopic, guitar-forward music in 1985 at the age of 35, but he hadn’t released any new material for almost two decades. The label, formed by Talking Heads frontman David Byrne in 1988, had learned of Blunt through an obscure DJ mix that contained his late-’80s, fuzzy, psychedelic jam, “Gentle Persuasion.” The song’s hypnotic melodies and Blunt’s breathy, stream-of-consciousness lyrics impressed Luaka Bop, which had just finished a five-year record-release project with funk musician William Onyeabor.

“We found [Blunt’s music] really mind-blowing and interesting and weird and hard to explain,” says Eric Welles-Nystrom, Luaka Bop’s director of communications. “It sounded like it was from the ’70s, but at times, it had an ’80s and even ’90s sound.” (Click here to read more)

Beyond The Stage

The history of San Francisco’s most iconic music venues

SF Weekly (Cover Story)

2017-03-16From techno warehouses to indie-rock taverns, San Francisco has no shortage of music venues. We’re especially lucky to have a few that are over a century old, having weathered fires, multiple owners, and at least one earthquake.

But if you’ve visited any of these spaces, a few questions have probably popped up (aside from “How much are the drinks?” and “When does the headliner come on?”). You might have wondered why The Fillmore gives away free apples or why there’s a window behind the stage at Bottom of the Hill. Perhaps you wanted to know why there’s a balcony above the stage at Great American Music Hall that never gets used. Or maybe you were curious about Social Hall, the music venue below the Regency Ballroom that looks like a mid-century school auditorium. (Click here to read more)

Beats Antique

The groudbreaking Bay Area trio is using music to connect global cultures.

SF Weekly (Cover Story)

feature4-640x480“Welcome home,” says a girl with a back tattoo, snaking her arms in the air.

I’m standing in the pit of the Fox Theater in Oakland on a Saturday night in December, waiting for the electronic world-fusion band Beats Antique to take the stage. The venue, with a capacity of 2,800, is packed with people wearing yoga pants, utility belts, sombreros, and crystal necklaces. Whiffs of weed, patchouli, and peppermint are everywhere.

It’s the kind of crowd where random high-fives are doled out, and I overhear clips of conversations about Renaissance Faire-themed weddings, the best stretches to do in the morning, and whether or not “these are drugs or just pills.” In fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d think I was at a Burning Man party.

The guy to my right, a techie from S.F. who’s wearing a zip-up fleece jacket, tells me he rode BART in to see the band, which he’s never before seen live but has been listening to since 2012. Earlier, I met a throng of women clad in flared pants and adhesive gold tattoos who had flown in from Boston just for the show.

“They’re my favorite band of all time,” one of them tells me, before being interrupted by a friend who brags about liking Beats Antique “since high school.”

Eventually, the lights dim and a hush falls over the crowd as a woman with long, dark hair, smeared eyeliner, and a gold bra with tassels on the nipples takes the stage. She’s Zoe Jakes, Beats Antique’s principal dancer, and she’s carrying a glowing golden ball of twine, just as she does on the cover of their most recent album, Shadowbox. The ball of light casts shadows across Jakes’ face as she dances in the darkness, and the beginnings of an Indian raga, created by the other two members of Beats Antique — Tommy Cappel and David Satori — peal throughout the room.

Ten minutes in, and Jakes is still performing, her gestures and movements mirroring the song’s changing tempos. As strobes of red light beam down from the rafters, the bass picks up, careening into a full-fledged gallop, and Jakes starts spinning in circles, the ball extended horizontally in front of her.

When the bass dies down, Jakes stops spinning and slips backstage while Satori addresses the audience.

“It’s good to be home,” the bespectacled musician says, picking up the violin. “We love you, Oakland.” (Click here to read more)

A Different Stream

Zoë Keating Wants to Disrupt The Music Industry — In Artists’ Favor

SF Weekly (Cover Story)feature-1-44cc1d7ed8801999

It was springtime 2015, and Zoë Keating was staring at rabbits.

Through the curved window of the Georgian house outside of London, Keating, a critically acclaimed independent cellist, and Imogen Heap, a Grammy-nominated singer, watched the animals on the lawn. The house belonged to Heap, who grew up there and later purchased it from her parents. Although it was surrounded by all the tropes of the English countryside — rolling hills, bluebells, and the wild rabbits — it was only a few miles outside of London in a government-protected swath of wilderness. If they looked closely enough, the women could see the city in the distance.

It was Keating’s second day as Heap’s guest. Or maybe it was her third. Ever since her husband’s death two months earlier, she had trouble keeping track of time. “It was all a blur,” she recalled months later. (Click here to read more)

Hitsville High

The unlikely music factory at Pinole Valley High School

SF Weekly  (Cover Story)

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The lunch bell rings at Pinole Valley High School, and hordes of teenagers swarm out of squat, rectangular bungalows.

Since the fall of 2013, Pinole Valley’s 1,200 students have been learning out of 83 portable buildings placed on what used to be a baseball diamond next to the school’s track. The old school, a one-story building dating from 1967, was torn down two years ago to make way for a substantially larger replacement, replete with palm tree-lined walkways and enough classrooms to house 400 additional students. The estimated opening date is 2019, which means three classes of Pinole Valley students will spend the entirety of high school at a campus that lacks an auditorium, cafeteria, gym — or buildings in general.

But on this Friday in March, aside from the facts that there are no lockers on campus nor hallways (other than the outdoor paths between bungalows), Pinole Valley could be any other suburban high school in California. In the central eating area — a collection of cement picnic tables partially covered by an awning, the main hang-out area for students — students dine on packed lunches or meals purchased from one of the two cafeteria kiosks. Seagulls hover nearby to swoop up stray bits of food as a delighted senior hugs a plush white teddy bear while telling a gaggle of girls how her boyfriend asked her to the prom.

A combination of pop and hip-hop songs play from a lone speaker connected to a cell phone carted out to the lunch area by the student government — a weekly tradition, Principal Kibby Kleiman says, that has rolled over from the old school.

(Click here to read more)

The Yogi and the DJ

Two brothers’ separate paths to music stardom.

SF Weekly (Cover Story)

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On a Sunday evening in April, MC Yogi, a 37-year-old rapper and yoga teacher, bounded across the stage of The Independent, wearing a short-brimmed fedora and his trademark rectangular eyeglasses. It had been a long weekend. Early that morning, he had risen “at the butt crack of dawn” to host a New Age triathlon — a 5K run and a yoga class, followed by a meditation session, hosted by the music and yoga festival Wanderlust — for more than 4,000 people in Golden Gate Park. The day before, he’d done the same in Mexico City, snatching only a few hours’ sleep after his flight landed at SFO on Saturday night.

As images of lotus flowers and OM symbols flashed across a screen behind him, MC Yogi told stories of his childhood in Marin — where he was born Nick Giacomini — and how he met his wife, Amanda, in a yoga-teacher training course 16 years ago — before launching into the first song of the evening: the Indian-inspired electronic dance rap “Clear the Path.”

Throughout the night, he performed selections from all six of his albums, spitting positive, life-affirming messages like “Only love is real,” “Spiritualism above materialism,” and “Swallow your pride and you’ll become whole” over exotic beats. In the packed crowd, fans clad in yoga pants and prayer beads danced and struck a few impromptu yoga poses.

“People said it was like a TED talk on acid,” he said later.

Among the Namaste-ing crowd were a middle-aged couple — MC Yogi’s parents — and their youngest son, a 33-year-old dressed in a hoodie from his own clothing line.

(Click here to read more)

The Hatching of Dirtybird

The story of how four friends turned a barbecue in Golden Gate Park into a dance music empire.

SF Weekly (Cover story)

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-2-14-59-pmI’m standing in the center of a party bus, clinging to a stripper pole. Deep, molecule-rearranging bass music vomits out of the speakers, drenching the packed bus in hypnotic melodies as it trundles toward our destination.

It’s a crisper-than-expected Saturday afternoon in the middle of August, and I’m about to attend a barbecue. But not just any barbecue: one thrown by Dirtybird, the tech-house collective and label that has become an international phenomenon since its modest beginnings in San Francisco 13 years ago.

The crowd gathered on the eastern edge of Treasure Island is young — in their early 20s to mid-30s — and dressed as if they’re at a Halloween carnival. I see zookeepers and dinosaurs, caped wizards and gray squirrels with inflatable tails. Two girls in white faux-fur coats wander about wearing matching rubber hamburger masks, while a man dressed as Jesus heaves a baseball at a tower of milk jugs. One guy with dreadlocks walks around tapping people on the shoulder and asking, “What’s up, Dirtybird?”

Scattered around the asphalt-covered, palm-tree-dotted space are a variety of white tents housing the party’s essentials: alcohol, merchandise, and barbecue courtesy of the SoMa-based eatery, Cat Head’s BBQ. But the real draw is the stage.

Claude VonStroke, the bearded father of Dirtybird, stands behind the red-and-white checkered DJ booth, his hands hovering over the mixing board, flipping switches and twisting knobs with studied nonchalance. The bulk of attendees are gathered here, their heads bobbing and arms flailing in time with the music, which is a blend of Detroit techno and ghetto house, with a piercing, energetic bassline. Buried beneath the monotonous soundtrack, so deep that it almost sounds subliminal, is a high-pitched voice intoning scandalous words and phrases, like “in the butt” and “dick, dick, dick.” (Click here to read more)

Finding a Place in Homophobic Hip-Hop

Four Bay Area lesbians are rising stars in a genre that has long-shunned LGBT artists.

SF Weekly (Cover story)

screen_shot_2016-11-02_at_10-39-15_am-1It’s an unusually warm Sunday in October, and half a dozen women mill around the Chabot Space and Science Center in East Oakland, in a room designed to look like a Mission Control. Dressed in black latex, metallic fabrics, and colorful wigs, the women pound away on large, clunky keyboards, mouthing silent words into disconnected landline phones and scribbling gibberish into notebooks.

Suddenly, they stop what they’re doing and glance up, their eyes directed to the front of the room, where a 5-foot-4-inch woman stands. Except for her rainbow-tinted cyclops sunglasses, she’s dressed entirely in black and silver, and her short brown hair is woven into tight braids that hug her skull. Even though the silver gleams on her shoulders are actually drainage grates, and the “armor” on her elbows is rollerblading pads, her DIY outfit has done the trick.

JenRo looks like a futuristic astronaut from a faraway planet.

Arms straight at her sides, like a soldier, she clears her throat and begins her monologue: “Planet Earth, do you read me? Straight people, can you hear me? Animals, can you hear me? We’re calling all people, not just lesbians, who want to come to Planet Z. We’re coming back to collect our allies. Do not be afraid. You have not been left behind. You will not be left out of the party. Planet Z is here for you.”

They’re filming a music video for the lead single of JenRo’s album, Planet Z.The song tells the tale of a fictional future in which every nation sends its lesbians to the faraway world. It’s not clear why they’ve chosen to do so, but it’s ostensibly for homophobic reasons. And yet their plans backfire. Planet Z ends up becoming the place to be, where parties go on for days, and everyone has a grand old time. Pretty soon, people of all sexual orientations are boarding spaceships headed for Planet Z, deserting the now-dull Earth en masse. (Click here to read more)

Designer Drugs Masked As Bath Salts

Honolulu Weekly  (Cover Story)

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The half-gram bottle of bath salts promises an “invigorating” and “energizing” experience. But the new designer drug, called MDPV (or “legal cocaine”) is sending an alarming number of curious teenagers and seasoned drug users to emergency rooms and mental hospitals throughout the country, according to the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center, the poison control center for Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Colorado and Nevada. It reports that two weeks ago it had only three calls relating to bath salts across all five states. As of Feb. 16, however, that number had jumped to 13 calls.

The substance, disguised as “bath salts” or “plant food,” contains a toxic chemical called mephedrone and is deceptively marked “not for human consumption.”

“We are really alarmed,” says Alan Johnson, chief executive officer of Hina Mauka, a residential treatment facility in Kaneohe. “We haven’t seen cases of bath salt use yet but it’s a growing concern. It produces intense cravings very quickly. They inhale it, which makes it a lot worse. There are other agents in it that might be interacting with the drug but we don’t know because it’s proprietary information.”

“Bath salts have already been linked to an alarming number of ER visits across the country,” says Nora D. Volkow, M.D., director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in a recent NIDA newsletter. “Mephedrone presents a high risk for overdose. The [limited] information we have is worrisome.”

In Hawaii, local law enforcement officers on all the islands have reported mephedrone being sold as a new “ecstasy-like” drug on the street.

(Click here to read more)

Harvesting Hawaii’s Aquarium Fish

 Honolulu Weekly (Cover Story)

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More than 150 years ago, Hawaii had some of the most well-managed fisheries in the Pacific. Portions of each island were divided into separate ahupuaa, which in turn were watched over by the konohiki, who managed natural resources and made sure that they were used sustainably.

“In the past, people would fish within their own ahupuaa and, as a result, you would fish wisely to make sure that you have enough fish for tomorrow,” says Alan Friedlander, a fisheries ecologist for the US Geological Survey. “Survival and subsistence living was paramount then. Now, management regulations have become quite lax and people no longer operate in harmony, but in opposition, to the environment.”

As a result, the aquarium fish industry–a modern industry based primarily on aesthetic pleasure–has grown.

Most of the sales of aquarium fish are to mainland buyers, and only a small portion (about 10 percent) of sales are to locals, says Randy Fernley, an aquarium fish collector and the owner of Coral Fish Hawaii, a tropical fish store in ‘Aiea.

Fernley, who claims he makes about $55,000 in a good year, says that his customers like to buy fish from Hawaii–especially Yellow Tang and Tang Kole, the two most fished species in the state–because of their beauty and because the fish are collected in a humane manner, according to Fernley.

“Hawaii is known to have quality fish–more so than any other area in the world–and they are caught in an environmentally friendly manner using no chemicals, poison or dynamite.”

However, Friedlander points out, most of these fish are rare and unique to Hawaii, purchased by customers who care more about the visual appeal of the fish than the longevity of the species.

“With rare and endemic species you walk a fine line of not only depleting certain populations, but of wiping out the species as a whole.”

(Click here to read more)