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Why Oakland
When cutting through the gossip and hot-air speculation the corporate music world calls news, it's always wise to err on the side of skepticism. Deals fall apart, labels dump artists, and hype fizzles. But occasionally someone flashes just enough background and blueprint to color us impressed.

Such is the case with Y? Entertainment. The team behind the Y? project includes Oakland's Denzil Foster and Thomas McElroy, former members and producers of '80s flash-in-the-pan Club Nouveau. (Their hit was a synth remake of Bill Withers' "Lean on Me.") Like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who graduated from the Time to reinvent Janet Jackson's career, Foster and McElroy moved on to production-only deals and scored with a few biggies, including Oaktown boys Tony Toni Tone and the gazillion-selling En Vogue.

Under the Y? umbrella, the pair's behind two separate record labels: the R&B- and hip-hop-oriented Alien Records and the rock and alternative Global Warming Records. Alien opens full throttle this week with a San Francisco-based Filipina R&B trio named Premiere. Leila Steinberg, the former manager of Tupac, will run the imprint.

At the helm for Global Warming is one Tim Sweeny, who if nothing else has his hyping skills well honed. "I think you could find that [Y? Entertainment] becomes the Warner Brothers of Northern California."

We'll see. Sweeny does have a track record as a consultant with Sony, Warner Bros., and Mercury, and owns a small artist development company in Southern California. He's also written a new book called Tim Sweeny's Guide to Releasing Independent Records.

Sweeny's guide, a polar opposite to Maximum RocknRoll's Book Your Own Fuckin' Life, is designed for those intent on farming themselves out to majors rather than sticking with the independent route. At the same time, he likes bands who have developed an independent support base for themselves. "The way to get the best record deal is to show the labels you don't need one," he writes.

So far, Global Warming has made three signings without Sweeny, including the Marin-based Big Lunch, which features Grace Slick's son George. Sweeny says he's actively seeking Bay Area acts. His top priority? Generic alternarockers Vegas DeMilo.

Sweeny says he likes the dedicated, serious work ethic of S.F. groups. He says he'll only deal with bands who want to sweat for a living, not just pose on MTV. "It's going to be a lot of hard work," he says. "They'll have to be out there playing shows and shaking hands."

Either that or barking for quarters, should the hot air rise.

By Jeff Stark

 
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