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Exit Music: Musicians Are Leaving San Francisco. Can the City's Legendary Scene Survive? 

Wednesday, Mar 12 2014
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Bedard: This second tech boom, it's not going anywhere. These companies are now the backbone of this global digital infrastructure.

Kowal: The last one was 500 little companies that were trying something in a new market in a new type of business. You had the Webvans, the Cosmos ... and all of them were like six-month to 18-month larks. Today, it's five or six big companies. They're going nowhere.

Matt Shapiro, talent buyer and co-owner, Elbo Room: This city is known for a bunch of people coming in and making a bunch of money and then leaving. How long is that going to last? How many apps do people really need? At some point, there's going to be a lot of empty businesses, a lot of empty condos.


Bedard: As the entertainment options in Oakland increase, I think Oakland residents don't feel the urgency or the necessity to come over here as much. It used to be that S.F. was the only game in town, there was nothing going on in Oakland, and so if you wanted to see the cool touring band or you wanted to go out and have fun on a weekend, you were almost forced just by circumstances to go to an S.F. show or party. That's different now.

Carson: Eventually we'll be Manhattan, and [the surrounding areas] will all be the boroughs, and we will all be forced out. I will be forced out. I have been fighting tooth and nail to stay in North Beach for 20 years. I've been evicted twice, and it's just a natural evolution of things. So eventually, unless we find a way to protect our artists, they will all be gone. You won't be able to live here, there'll be nothing but rich people.

Shapiro: Oakland is kind of kicking our asses right now as far as entertainment. They're doing a great job over there. That's the one thing I've noticed, is we do get less people from Oakland and the East Bay going to shows [at the Elbo Room].

Flowers: I can think of a bunch of bands that are still trying to make something happen and create a scene here, because nobody wants it to go away. You do your best in the face of oppression and just keep on keeping on, until you can't.

Bennett: I'm not interested in Oakland. Oakland is not my city. My heart is in San Francisco.

Vanderslice: We're going to get pushed out of here one day. This building [Tiny Telephone Studios in the Mission] is zoned for three levels. It's also zoned live/work. This building is now [worth] like $2.6 or $2.7 million, just for the land. So at some point it's going to be very difficult for them not to build three stories up and to do live/work spaces. If we leave here, we would take everything over to Oakland. Eventually it will happen. It's inevitable. But if Oakland wasn't there, it would be a sadder song. You ask anyone that moves over there, you will not find anyone that's sobbing.


Kowal: You can't tell me that it's not like a thousand-to-one ratio of people in the world that would live here if they could. That's an inescapable fact that has nothing to do with Google, Yahoo, etc.

Vanderslice: It's demand-side problems. People are not going to stop wanting to move to San Francisco. It's never going to happen. [It's] a city that's so geographically cursed and blessed — we're on a seven-by-seven peninsula. This is a fucking shocking place to live. I don't know that many cities even in Europe that are this interesting geographically and physically. I think it is doomed for sure.

Kowal: Rent control is the only thing mitigating any of this. If it wasn't for rent control, I don't think you or I would even be here. Even someone like me, someone that has worked really hard to build a business here in S.F. over the years — if anything ever happened with my housing, I'd be shit out of luck like everyone else. That would be the end of me and San Francisco.

Bedard: If it weren't for rent control, I wouldn't be sitting here right now, and I wouldn't be able to afford to do work at the Hemlock.

Bennett: I don't have a place to live because my house burned down. I'm stuck trying to find a place to live on an artist's fucking budget, and it's almost impossible. It's a fucking nightmare.

Brown: I could sell the [Different Fur Studios] building and walk away with a $4 million profit, never have to work again. You know, it sounds really good sometimes. But that's not why I bought the thing in the first place. If it was all about just cashing out, I would have done something else. It's the same way I've always looked at staying in San Francisco instead of going to L.A. or New York.

Shapiro: [The owners of the Elbo Room's building] are smart people, and they're not greedy, so they kind of see the big picture. Even say they started on [a condo development] and wanted to make it happen, it would take years to make it happen. I think we're fine for quite a while.

Flowers: I try not to be negative about it anymore, because it's just happening, and all we can do is stay positive and keep doing our thing. Every city goes through changes, everywhere goes through changes, San Francisco has gone through multiple changes. This is just like a harsh, strong one and we're right in the middle of it. It also serves as a good motivation ... it's something else to rally against, something else to fight against. If I was working at — name whatever company you want here — and making $100,000 a year, then I wouldn't have shit to fight for, I wouldn't have anything to spur my creativity.

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Ian S. Port

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