Pop Philosophy

Downtown Rehearsal agreement; Aquarius Records' 30th anniversary; political songs contest

And everyone lived happily ever afterThe tenants and owners of Downtown Rehearsal finally reached an agreement over a settlement this past weekend. After Greg Koch's initial offer -- $500,000 to be placed in a fund for a new practice site -- was rejected last Wednesday, Koch upped his offering to $750,000, on the condition that someone would match the increase.

The new offer was quickly shot down by the musicians, leading Koch to make another for the same amount but with the extra $250,000 going directly to the tenants. Initially, they turned this proposal down too, causing a great deal of frustration on the part of Koch and Gavin Newsom (who, instead of being referred to as "gooey-haired supervisor," will now be known as "the crazy supe who ditched a wedding reception replete with drunk debs and foie gras for a contentious meeting with ornery music types").

"I really want to make this big fat check and put it on foam core," an exasperated Koch said over the phone on Friday. "I want to feel good about this. Everybody's saying, "It's about the music community,' but now they're saying, "Yeah, it's about the music community, but what about me?'"

"I'm just afraid they'll end up with nothing and we'll have to start over with bake sales or something," Newsom said on Friday. "Already I have all these nonprofits who are complaining that we're helping a profit venture before them."

In the end, cooler heads prevailed. After a heated debate Friday night, the 300 or so musicians agreed to accept the offer, with one change: Instead of the tenants being responsible for clearing out any stragglers, Koch would be.

"We were just looking for something that was fair," tenant representative Mark Gregory said on Sunday. "This gives people money for storage space, moving costs, and possibly rent for those who were living in the building. It wasn't a money grab or a buyout as some people have been saying.

"I felt physically nauseous going in and out of the building [on Friday]," Gregory said. "I know we did something positive for the scene but my life has drastically changed. The message is now you have to fight to save the arts in San Francisco; you can't just take them for granted anymore."

What's your sign?Recently I met a 22-year-old dot-commer whose professed life philosophy is "Work hard and play hard." This to me was baffling, since when my friends and I were 22, our motto was "Play hard and work as little as possible." (Of course, as one person pointed out, 22-year-olds in San Francisco often think playing hard means going out to clubs to listen to house music.)

While Aquarius Records bills itself as "the store that's old enough to drink," its unofficial motto might as well be "We work hard so you can play records." For 30 years now, the shop's employees have been searching the far regions of the music world to provide listeners with unique, often challenging records.

Originally, the store was located in the Castro next to Harvey Milk's camera shop, and served as a haven for punk fans. Bands like the Ramones, the Dead Boys, the Minutemen, Hüsker Dü, and Blondie all gave in-store performances before they even had full-length records out. The Dead Kennedys met through a bulletin board ad at Aquarius, and the Residents designed numerous window displays for the shop.

In 1996, longtime owner Butch Bridges sold Aquarius to store manager Windy Chien, who then moved the shop to its present Valencia Street home. "It's cheaper rent for twice the space," Chien says. "Also, our customers live in the Mission, and my employees and myself [do too]."

Still, the move from the quaint and creaky 24th Street confines to the more glacial palatial space wasn't perfectly smooth. At first the new store felt cavernous, and slightly unwelcoming; the drum 'n' bass seemed to skitter around the walls looking for a place to land. But, over time, Chien and her employees' constant attention to detail and genuine good-natured love for music warmed the setting. Now, pictorial displays by local and regional photographers adorn the walls, along with band promotional displays that have been tinkered and toyed with until they look more like art than commercial eye candy. Many of the albums feature attractively designed review stickers that describe sounds and detail histories.

Still, the main reason people visit a record store is the music. Aquarius excels at finding records that no one else in the Bay Area -- or in the country -- carries, whether it's the circus synth new wave of Italy's Confusional Quartet, the French avant-lounge rock of Dominique A, or the long-unreleased soundtrack to Deep Throat.

"That's what this store is good at," Chien says, "making sure that that stuff has a home and you can find it."

In 1996, when Chien took over the store, she held a benefit concert featuring Mark Eitzel, Barbara Manning, Dirty Three, Fifty Foot Hose, and more to pay off old taxes. Now, for the store's 30th anniversary, she is putting on a free show to thank all the people who have supported Aquarius over the years. The event, which takes place at the Bottom of the Hill on Saturday, features four of the employees' favorite bands: former Sacramento/future New York City group Outhud, which makes punky dance sounds from '80s no-wave and post-punk; Milk Cult, an offshoot of local combo Steel Pole Bathtub which recorded its last album with over 30 artists, including French folkies, Buddhist chanters, hip hop artists, and an African orchestra; Village of Savoonga, a German trio that's equally at home with noisy avant-rock and ambient soundscapes; and Finland's Circle, a heavy guitar band that leavens kraut rock's love for droney repetition with jazz and dub sounds. Call 621-4455 for more info.

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