Riff Raff

It's Official: This scene sucks!

Street Hassles Most musicians — or even music fans — don't read the Wall Street Journal regularly, but perhaps they should. The March 2 edition of the paper featured a front-page story on the San Francisco music scene that concluded, in essence, that San Francisco has no music scene whatsoever. Using swear words like “dot-com,” “'80s,” and “Palo Alto North,” the piece argued that San Francisco clubs have been hijacked by be-khaki'd techies who only want to hear cover bands. “[W]hile Silicon Valley's burgeoning Web set evangelizes about tomorrow,” the story says, “its denizens party to the music of the past, celebrating and re-celebrating the giddy pop tunes of their not-too-distant adolescence.”

Granted, the fact that the Transmission Theater's space was recently leased to an Internet company, while increasing rents are forcing club owners to think more about the bottom line and less about booking new bands, can get a local music fan depressed. And there's little question that the Journal, being one of the best and most fastidiously accurate daily newspapers in the country, has a point. San Francisco isn't a happy-go-lucky musical bohemia any longer, and since clubs are (like it or not) businesses, they're obliged to make room for proven moneymakers like Tainted Love, Superbooty, and the Cheeseballs before they can think about making room for bands with original songs.

A few days after the Journal story came out, the Noise Pop Festival hosted an afternoon of panel discussions about the music industry and the state of the local music scene (I was a participant on one of them). There, Claudia Gonson of the Magnetic Fields spoke briefly about the supportive and vibrant San Francisco music community she experienced, and a cadre of attendees immediately piped in to inform her that such a scene no longer exists. “That was 10 years ago!” one shouted. “It all moved to Portland!” said another. And lastly: “Silicon Valley took over!”

Later, one attendee suggested that, since the dot-coms have so much money to throw around, perhaps they could buy a local club. In a sense, that's already happened — Jamie Zawinski, the new co-owner of the DNA Lounge, was an early employee of Netscape, and the Hotel Utah's new owner, the Journal reported, runs a Web-based computer game reseller.

The results of these ownership changes have yet to be seen, but meanwhile, clubland still appears to be shrinking. On Feb. 23, the Maritime Hall received a “Notice of Administrative Action on Permit” from the San Francisco Police Department. In other words, the SFPD wishes to formally suspend three of the venue's licenses — place of entertainment, dance hall keeper-after hours, and cabaret — for 180 days, making it the latest SOMA nightclub whose permits are under threat of being either altered or completely revoked. The club will plead its case before the SFPD on April 15.

The Maritime argues it is being singled out because of its bookings — it's the only midsize venue in the city that regularly showcases hip hop, reggae, punk, and dance music, all of which have reps, unfounded or not, for creating security issues. Manager Boots Hughston says this is the club's “first skirmish” with a threat of permit suspension, and believes it's the “parting shot” of Southern Station Capt. Dennis Martel, who was recently transferred to SFO jurisdiction. Martel has been routinely fingered as the authority responsible for the increased — some say draconian — pressure on SOMA nightclubs. Capt. Sylvia Harper became Martel's replacement Feb. 19.

The SFPD complaint served to the Maritime says, in part, that “the negligent management of this nightclub is a threat to the health, safety, and welfare of the community; a repeated disruption to the neighborhood; a strain on police services.” The complaint cites approximately 20 SFPD incident reports filed in the past five years of the club's history, mainly regarding matters of fights, with additional violations regarding loitering, over-occupancy, and marijuana use. The complaint also cites letters to Southern Station from neighbors complaining about noise and crowds at both the Maritime and neighboring Sound Factory, and quotes internal SFPD memoranda noting similar problems. Hughston argues that, given the Maritime's 500 to 600 shows in its five-year history, 20 police incidents in a SOMA neighborhood is not an excuse for having the place's permits yanked. “There's been no violent activity, no drug dealing, no nothing,” says Hughston.

Recent history seems to bear out Hughston's claims. According to SFPD spokesperson Dewayne Tully, since last December there have been 11 calls for police service at the Maritime's address of 450 Harrison; no arrests were made and no incident reports were filed for any of those calls, which include one case of shots fired in the vicinity of the club, a couple of fights, and more mundane goings-on like car accidents and suspicious persons. “There's nothing really major here,” says Tully. “I don't see anything particularly noteworthy.”

Before the Maritime's hearing, clubgoers and SOMA residents will have an opportunity to talk over the SFPD's nightclub approach. Tonight at 7:30, Capt. Sylvia Harper will speak and answer questions at the Arc, 1500 Howard, at a gathering hosted by the South of Market Residents' Association and the San Francisco Late Night Coalition. The event is free and open to the public.

Send Bay Area music news, band stories, or petty gripes to Mark.Athitakis@sfweekly.com, or mail them to Riff Raff, c/o SF Weekly.

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