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The new Fox Theater, the arty Red Poppy, and the hustlin' Demolition Men 

The Bay is looking up in 2008

Wednesday, Jan 2 2008
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After a month of looking backward, it's time we started moving forward. This week we offer a survey of organizations that will help inspire the local music landscape in 2008; not the bands, studios, club staples, or labels, but rather the support network that surrounds them. What venues are coming back to town (Oakland's Fox Theater) or have recently set up shop (Yoshi's San Francisco)? What existing free-form operations deserve a bigger nudge into popular consciousness (Recombinant Media Labs; the bus shows) or are getting a lift from local arts organizations (The Red Poppy Art House)? And what music entrepreneurs are the go-to guys for getting hip-hop heard (mixtape kings Demolition Men)? Finally, we offer sidebars on where you can further keep up on the various strains of Bay Area sound, with a list of eclectic Web sites and streaming radio to feed your ears and eyes. The forecast for the future is vibrant indeed. — Jennifer Maerz

The Demolition Men:

The Bay Area's most incendiary DJs

In the DJ world, timing is everything, so it's probably no coincidence that Bay Area rap started to blow up right around the time the Demolition Men burst onto the scene five years ago. "Everything came together at the exact same moment," explains DJ Devro, who along with DJ Impereal makes up the self-proclaimed Bay Area mixtape kings.

Mixtapes have long been an integral part of regional scenes from Atlanta to Houston to New York. Yet the practice never really caught on in the Bay Area. "When we first started doing this mixtape shit, no one was really pushing it hard," Devro says. "No other DJs were really supporting local artists."

He elaborates: "You see a lot of cats out here hustling and grinding, putting out quality music, but not having the avenues to get their music heard." Still, Impereal says, "There's too much talent out here not to be recognized."

Instead of complaining, the DJs saw an opportunity to get in where they fit in. The two Southern California transplants loaded up their backpacks with mix CDs spotlighting Bay Area rap artists, selling their product anywhere they could — at clubs, outside the Coliseum at Raiders games, on BART. In the process, they created a burgeoning cottage industry and developed important networking contacts with local emcees.

"Damn near every rapper in the bay has seen us in the streets" hustling CDs, Devro says. People started asking for Demolition Men mixes in retail stores (which had initially refused to carry mixtapes on consignment). As word spread, artists started showing up unannounced at Impereal and Devro's studio, eager to record exclusive verses or leak unreleased tracks to the streets.

"We definitely have our signature style," says Impereal, noting that the Men's raucous mixes — frequently punctuated by gunshots, tire squeals, or sirens — have been honed considerably since their first mix CD, 2002's Build and Destroy.

To date, the Demolition Men have put out more than 60 CDs, moving an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 copies — the majority straight outta their backpacks. In the process, they've become some of the Yay Area's most effective tastemakers, representing "the middlemen between the streets and the industry," says Impereal. Their turf-ready mixes — hosted by such local luminaries as Balance, Husalah, the Jacka, Zion-I, Gorilla Pits, the Team, J. Stalin, Mak & AK, Dem Hoodstarz, and Big Rich — have helped satisfy the growing demand for Bay Area artists while allowing them more street-level exposure, regardless of radio and club support.

The Demolition Men's emergence initially paralleled the rise of the hyphy movement. But while hyphy's momentum has slowed, Impereal and Devro are just getting started. Their popular all-Bay series Nuthin But Slap is currently on volume four, and they've also dabbled in reggaeton, R&B, old-school hip-hop, and Southern crunk. They've spread their hustle outside the Bay — their recent release Welcome to Killafornia highlights artists from both ends of the state — and have been well received on East Coast mixtape Web sites. They've also branched out into the street documentary market with DVDs featuring exclusive freestyles, interviews, and performance footage, and even hired a manager to assist with the business side. That's helped them streamline their creative process, except for one thing: The two pump out mixes so fast, "our management can't keep up," Impereal says.

The Demolition Men's success hasn't come without considerable effort — "We started out with nothing," Impereal points out — yet their engaging personalities and unwavering support for local music are probably just as responsible for their comeuppance. After all, when Impereal and Devro win, so does the Bay Area. — Eric K. Arnold

Mixing mediums and multiculti families: The Mission's Red Poppy Art House

Last month in a cozy storefront at 23rd and Folsom streets, a quartet of accordion, upright bass, violin, and cello launched from a ragtime piano tune to a modern classical piece by Gonzales, producer for pop star Feist. Wall-size canvases painted with shadowy figures towered above the overflow crowd, which laughed along with the musicians when the perfectly timed pop of a wine cork became part of the music.

It was an unusual show by the Golden Melody Band, a local eclectic avant-chamber group, but the Red Poppy Art House, a street-level performance space and art gallery, is an unusual place. "It's always been our intention that this was a space where art was created and not just presented," says Meklit Hadero, director and resident artist of the Red Poppy, over coffee the next afternoon. Started in 2003 by visual artist Todd Brown with a partner, the Red Poppy began as an art gallery and studio and introduced live music later that year, with tango lessons and live jazz sharing space alongside the canvases and painters' tarps that cluttered the floor. Along the way, it became a hub for an eclectic array of world music, jazz, chamber groups and more than a few who fall somewhere in between.

"It really evolved organically," says Brown, who started the space after quitting his job to become a full-time artist. "I've come to realize through the process that it's evolved very much the way an art project or a painting would."

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Eric K. Arnold

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Ezra Gale

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Jennifer Maerz

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David Downs

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John Graham

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J. Pace

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