By Erin Sherbert
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Riley's greatest concern is not with hyphy's lyrical content or societal outlook, but its staying power. "As long as radio is the thing that's moving it, it could be shut down at any time," he says. At the same time, he wonders why songs on the radio can't be militant or political, provided they have the same anthemic qualities as the songs that do receive airplay. "Here's my stuff that's real good, here's my radio song. Why can't it be some crazy stuff with a call to arms?"
That's a question worthy of a larger discussion, but in the meantime, hyphy is leading to an increased sense of collaboration and unity among the local hip-hop contingent, which wasn't always the case. For example, E-40 recorded with Mac Dre prior to his death, as significant a development to the local scene as an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord; the two hailed from rival neighborhoods in Vallejo. Similarly, Dem Hoodstarz' "Grown Man" remix featured artists from the 408, 510, 415, 650, and 707 area codes on the same song for perhaps the first time ever, while the ubiquitous F.A.B. appears on new albums by Zion-I & the Grouch, Traxamillion, Too Short, and Lyrics Born.
At the end of the day, relates Oakland's Balance, "what's going on in the bay is bigger than this whole hyphy thing. You got Zion-I, Goapele, Keyshia Cole, Blackalicious, Federation." He says that anything that brings attention to the bay helps, adding, "It's more than just thizz or that." Eric K. Arnold
In the '60s, newspapers nationwide trumpeted the arrival of the psychedelic San Francisco sound, singing the praises of artists like the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin and the city that housed them. In 2006, the Bay Area continues to be a magnet for creative musical visionaries, but the press' fickle focus has obviously shifted numerous times over the years. With the national spotlight currently warming on the Bay Area's '60s-looking freak-folk acts and hip-hop groups gone hyphy, your typical alternative rock act is left without a hype platform to call its own. Although that may be about to change.
"San Francisco is exploding again," says Aaron Alexsen, program director at alt-rock central, Live 105. "The last year has given us the strongest local talent I've seen in a decade." Alexsen cites the folksy quality of Two Gallants, the quirky pop of Persephone's Bees, and dancy-rock bands Every Move a Picture and Scissors for Lefty as reflective of the city's brightest exports. "Scissors for Lefty sent me a good demo and I was impressed with their live set. They have an artistic edge, a lot of esoteric flavors, and a Brian-Ferry-meets-Jarvis-Cocker vibe," Axelson says. "Every Move is another hardworking band. I played their demo on the air about 400 times, even though they're not a big name. When I got them into the Shoreline for B.F.D., they opened for 20,000 people and blew me away. The great thing about the current scene is that the bands cooperate. They work together marketing themselves and sell out local clubs without a record deal."
Although they come from different positions in the alt-rock spectrum, Scissors for Lefty and Every Move a Picture find themselves in the peculiar position of being stars in Europe while remaining relatively unknown outside of their fan base in San Francisco. A closer look at their tiptoed steps toward success may hold some hints, though, about the future of two promising local buzz bands.
"I almost feel sorry for the [major labels]," says Brent Messenger, singer/guitarist for Every Move a Picture. "With the Internet and digital recording, you can build an audience with hard work and luck."
The World Wide Web may be great and all, but getting a demo into the right hands the old-fashioned way definitely can't hurt. In 2003, only months after Every Move's first live show, drummer Dan Aquino went to the premiere of Mayor of the Sunset Strip, the biopic about KRQR DJ Rodney Bingenheimer. "Dan handed Rodney a demo with a Sharpie scribble on it," Messenger recalls. "Suddenly, the director of Virgin's A&R department sends me an e-mail. He'd heard us on Rodney's program." Labels were soon lined up outside the band's rehearsal space, which Messenger found amusing. "If one A&R guy likes it, everybody likes it. They're like lemmings, afraid they're going to miss something," he says. Alexsen also gave the tracks heavy airplay on Live 105. The buzz started, driven by the band's incendiary live shows and marked by Messenger's passionate vocals, which carry a histrionic drama found in many of his popular contemporaries like the Killers, the Bravery, and the Editors. "I'd never sung before, even in front of my girlfriend, but since everyone in the band is on the same wavelength, it took away my self-consciousness," he admits.
With slabs of energetic guitar noise that echo the Edge's work with U2 in the '80s married to a serious post-punk intensity and a kicky dance rock pacing Every Move created an irresistibly mainstream-ready groove. But the group didn't just lean on its laurels; it gigged often enough for its demo to continue getting attention beyond the A&R pass-alongs. "We sold 1,000 CDs at shows, then [local label] DIY Or Else pressed a couple of thousand and they sold out," says Messenger.