Gang of Four

Local all-girl outfit Erase Errata finds the common ground between noise and dance music

"The image of punk as portrayed in the media was a very negative one of foul-mouth yobs, spitting and getting drunk. In fact, it was a very creative time, politically aware and expressive."

-- T.V. Smith of the Adverts

"I wanna see some naked people! Who's gonna get naked?" shouts the organizer of "Gay Shame," a daylong reaction to the corporatization of the Gay Pride Parade. The woman holds up a box of condoms, dental dams, and sex toys, offering them to anyone who's willing to strip down and get dirty -- literally.

Two young, pierced, tattooed women step forward, shed their clothes, and begin to wrestle in the muck, as the exotically clad throng at Hunters Point's "Toxic Beach" cheers wildly. The police arrive, making a halfhearted effort to shut down the non-licensed event; instead, they succeed in chasing away only the PA owner. After they leave, a band led by a man in whiteface and leather plugs into a makeshift sound system and unleashes an intestine-twisting mix of goth sludge and operatic shrieking. Half the crowd begins to slam dance, while the rest wanders over to the free pie table.

Only a year ago, San Francisco's music scene seemed on the verge of extinction. Exorbitant rents, disappearing practice spaces, and a dearth of live venues forced many local musicians to leave town or give up music altogether. But suddenly, the tide seems to have turned. Events like "Gay Shame" and underground venues such as Club Hot and the 40th Street Warehouse are popping up faster than mud wrestlers can fling off their T-shirts; exciting new bands seem to be forming every nanosecond.

Take, for instance, Erase Errata, a band scheduled to play "Gay Shame" until equipment problems forced it to cancel. Though Erase Errata has released only one single so far, the all-women Oakland/San Francisco outfit has one of the biggest buzzes going. The quartet was handpicked to open for highly revered Dutch art-punks the Ex at a recent Great American Music Hall show; after a national tour, Erase Errata will play with Olympia's latest punk hopes, the Gossip, at the same venue. The band will also release its debut LP in the fall through Troubleman Unlimited, a New Jersey label that's increasingly influential in the post-hardcore world.

As for creating a scene, Erase Errata's singer/trumpeter Jenny Hoysten and drummer Bianca Sparta live at Club Hot, the all-ages warehouse space in Oakland that hosts bimonthly shows featuring nationally touring underground groups and local artists. Bassist Ellie Erickson lives next door with the label owners of ToYo Records, which releases punkish recordings by Pink & Brown and Baby Patrol.

But don't try lumping Erase Errata in with your average punk music.

"I tell my parents it's dance music," Hoysten says.

"Noisy, dance-y, punk rock music," guitarist Sara Jaffe affirms.

Erase Errata began as a lark, in December 1999, when Sparta and Hoysten's roommate at Club Hot moved away.

"Our first practice was in this room," Sparta says, indicating Hoysten's very small, very blue bedroom. "The guy who used to live in this room was out of town, so we took all of his furniture out and brought our stuff in."

Sparta and Hoysten, who grew up together in San Luis Obispo, had played in the guitar/drums duo California Lightening for several years. After moving into the Club Hot warehouse, they met their neighbor, Erickson (who went to college with Jaffe).

"[Bianca and I] wanted something that had more people in it, you know? To give us more freedom," recalls Hoysten. "We were all just hanging out so we thought [playing] would be a good idea."

According to Jaffe, during that first practice, "We just said, "OK, first song: Go!' And we just did that 15 times in the next 45 minutes. "OK, this one's done, next one.' And it totally worked."

"We didn't remember any of the songs though," Erickson laughs.

"We can just make songs up," Hoysten explains. "If we wanted to, we could do a complete set of made-up songs."

Whereas California Lightening (which still does shows) has a straightforward, noisy pop approach similar to Sleater-Kinney, Erase Errata has a far more angular, eclectic feel. Sparta's drumming moves from big disco-y beats to free jazz sprawl, while Erickson and Jaffe take turns sparring and sputtering in different directions. Hoysten's vocals have the authoritative feel of prime riot-grrl singers like Kathleen Hanna, but with an absurdist edge.

"All of us come from a different angle, and it all fits together so well that it becomes its own thing," Sparta says.

The band's first single, released on Jaffe's Inconvenient label in August 2000, shows just how unique the group is. On the first song, "Cat and Canary," Hoysten archly sings, "I'm the kind of guy/ That you really need in your life," as Jaffe delivers a string of short, sharp riffs and Sparta and Erickson lay out a thick groove.

To support the release, the quartet went on a six-week jaunt in September.

"We ate peas out of a can," Hoysten says, when pressed for tour highlights.

"We had the van broken into. We had a couple windows broken in in Baltimore -- in broad daylight," Sparta says.

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