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12 Galaxies set to close this month 

Wednesday, Aug 13 2008
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The Mission District will lose its biggest live music venue when 12 Galaxies shuts its doors at the end of this month. Although rumors have been floating around this summer that the Mission Street club was in trouble, owner Robert Levy gave the specific D-Day last week (SF Weekly broke the story of the closure on our All Shook Down blog Aug.7). Levy said local rock band Big Light will play 12 Galaxies' last show on Aug. 28.

Five years after he opened 12 Galaxies, Levy claims the finances were just too shaky to continue booking acts that ranged from noisy punk to indie-pop, including Black Dice, the Black Lips, Jay Reatard, Lightning Bolt, and Kelley Stoltz, all of whom played memorable gigs at the club. Unfortunately, a string of packed shows doesn't pay all the bills, and 12 Galaxies slipped behind on rent payments this year.

"I think the recession has a lot to do with it," Levy says. "When gas is $4.50 a gallon, people have less money to go out and do stuff. I think a one-man show, mom-and-pop business in the city has a lot to go up against, and it's a very competitive market to book shows."

Levy claims that 2008's festival-heavy landscape added to the blows, as it siphoned off popular tours hitting San Francisco. "Between Treasure Island and Outside Lands, there's at least 60 bands that can't play in the city outside of those festivals," he says. "While it seems like a boom for the city to get a festival like that, it can also hurt a small independently owned club."

Levy's struggles went deeper than big concerts, though. He also lost his business partner, who moved on to other projects. "It became increasingly difficult for one guy to run this club on his own," Levy says. "The overhead just got to be too great."

For the rock-leaning crowd, 12 Galaxies held a special position in the live music scene. Although clubs like Slim's, Bottom of the Hill, Café du Nord, the Independent, and Great American Music Hall all go after breaking, midsized acts, 12 Galaxies booked underground talent in a neighborhood where so many fans of those acts live.

"I think when it first opened there was a lot of hype and buzz about [12 Galaxies]," says Shawn Magee, who owns Amnesia, another popular (albeit much smaller) Mission favorite for live music. "Everyone was excited that there was going to be a music venue of that size in the Mission District, because there's such a music scene here." Although the Outer Mission has popular dives like the Knockout and El Rio with live bands, 12 Galaxies' 500-person capacity and central location added to its potential. It became especially pertinent in the wake of the Make-Out Room's curtailment of live shows, which happen now only on weekends from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. The only other Mission venue with regularly touring national acts is the Elbo Room, although its showroom is much smaller than 12 Galaxies'.

Whereas 12 Galaxies stood alone in the Mission, though, it was one of a number of small-to-midlevel clubs in the general San Francisco landscape – none of which sound particularly hard hit right now. I spoke to bookers and owners from the Independent, the Hemlock, and Bottom of the Hill, all of whom claim business is pretty much steady. Guy Carson from Café du Nord even noted that he senses people are going to shows more often this year because they're less able to go on vacations out of town.

Other local clubs are still facing some serious issues, however. Tony Bedard from the Hemlock says gas prices are cutting down the number of underground touring bands, increasing pressure on clubs to book bigger local acts. When the same San Francisco bands play too many venues, there's a risk of saturation and a drop-off in overall attendance. Other challenges include providing health insurance under the Healthy San Francisco initiative, and an increase in alcohol prices because of the gas tank hikes. These add up to a difficult climate for clubs to weather, no matter their size.

As for 12 Galaxies, the club still has a couple big events left in August before it locks its doors for good. Yahoo group SF_Indie celebrates 10 years of lively e-mail music debates on the 21st, and Spiral Stairs (Scott Kannberg) of Pavement headlines on the 23rd. Levy says 12 Galaxies was booked through the end of the year with shows, and he's scrambling to find them new homes (the September Mononix date, for example, is now at the Hemlock). There's also chance the club will stay a live music venue under different ownership. Amnesia's Magee looked at the space once before, and says he's considering it again. "I'm interested enough to pursue the reasons why it's closing," he says.

Levy says there are a number of people talking about his space, "but there's nothing [specific] to speak of. I'm going to close and I'm not sure what's next." In the meantime, he says he knows 12 Galaxies will be missed. "We were doing something good," he adds, "just not something that was making any money."

About The Author

Jennifer Maerz

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