There’s just something about riding in a vintage Volkswagen van that makes taking a tour of San Francisco so appealing.
A vintage Volkswagen van covered in psychedelic, S.F.-centric paintings idles on the corner of Jefferson and Hyde streets, its doors wide open with Redbone’s 1974 hit single “Come and Get Your Love” blaring through its speakers. With cobalt-blue seats, orange shag rug flooring, and plastic beaded curtains, the van looks like a perfectly preserved time capsule from the Summer of Love, replete with a license plate that reads “P4PEACE” and a pair of blue-lensed “John Lennon” sunglasses hanging from the rearview mirror. It’s part of a fleet of four vans — each with their own names, like “American Pie” and “Liquid Dreams” — owned by San Francisco Love Tours, a sightseeing company that adds a hippie twist to the regular tourist experience.
Started in January 2015, San Francisco Love Tours is the brainchild of Allan and Roberto Graves, two brothers with a passion for VW buses who learned their trade from their father, a longtime tour guide in Costa Rica. Though their buses visit many of the hotspots you’d expect for a tourist-geared business — think Lombard Street, North Beach, the Castro — the retro vans add a fun-loving flair to the experience, as well as a certain level of intimacy, since they can only sit six people at a time.
“We always wanted to create the feeling that we’re driving around our relatives and close friends that are visiting from out of town,” Allan says.
It’s 2 p.m. on a Friday when I arrive at the meeting spot near Fisherman’s Wharf, and I get assigned to a van named Sunshine, along with a family of four from Maryland who are all sipping iced drinks from Starbucks. (Click here to read more)
Zoe Magee of Zoe Bikini has been selling swimsuits in the Mission for a decade. And yes, you’ll find itsy-bitsy, teenie-weenie, polka dot bikinis.
On 18th St. in the Mission, tucked between a salon and a wine bar, is a swimsuit boutique called Zoe Bikini. The brainchild of Zoe Magee — who designs every piece herself — its front half is filled with tropical foliage, healthy, size-6 mannequins, and racks upon racks of brightly colored bikinis.
The back half of the store, behind the desk and dressing room that Magee and her father built, is where the work stations are. Beside a cutting table littered with heaps of half-finished suits, a sewing machine sits equipped with every color thread imaginable, and there’s an entire wall of shelves dedicated to tiny glass jars filled with beads, rings, and other gewgaws.
Zoe Bikini celebrated its 10th anniversary as a brick-and-mortar shop this February, and while that’s a feat for any small, independent business, it is especially so for this shop. San Francisco is not a warm city, and bikinis can be a hard sell because there are so few opportunities to wear them. For years, obtaining a Zoe Bikini wasn’t easy for out-of-towners, as Magee didn’t have an online shopping option on her website until last November. But perhaps the biggest accomplishment is the fact that Magee has been able to retain her location in the heart of the Mission District despite all of the changes that the neighborhood has seen in recent years.
When Magee moved into the mint-green-and-white painted space in 2007, there was a fish market on the corner and her neighbors were a tattoo parlor, a noodle factory, and a nail salon. It was also thriving from a retail standpoint. (Click here to read more)
A look at the myriad of songs that have been released since the Commander-in-Chief entered the picture.
Los Angeles rappers YG and Nipsey Hussle spearheaded the trend of anti-Trump songs when they released their boom-bap track “Fuck Donald Trump” in March 2016. Since then, a number of artists from a wide range of genres have followed suit, releasing their own resistance songs and proving just how widespread hatred for Trump is within the music industry.
Dave Eggers launched the musical project “1,000 Days, 1,000 Songs” (originally 30 Days, 30 Songs) last October, which consisted of songs from acts like Death Cab for Cutie and Local Natives that urged listeners not to vote for Trump. (After Trump was elected, the project changed its name and transitioned into a playlist featuring one motivational, inspirational song per day.)
About a month before the election, Eminem dropped the minimalist freestyle “Campaign Speech,” which includes a line intended to make Trump supporters think twice about their candidate of choice. “You say Trump don’t kiss ass like a puppet / ’Cause he runs his campaign with his own cash for the funding,” he raps. “And that’s what you wanted / A fuckin’ loose cannon who’s blunt with his hand on the button / Who doesn’t have to answer to no one? Great idea!” (Click here to read more)
Chicago DJ Mark Farina brought ‘mushroom jazz’ to S.F. in the early ’90s. Now, he’s taken it to Dallas.
On Twitter, musician and DJ Mark Farina recently posted a photo of two song waveforms. Over one that looked like a solid bar, Farina wrote, “I prefer this…” Above the other — a segmented line with uneven heights — he wrote, “…more than this.”
The first waveform is representative of music with an even tempo and steady instrumentals, a style of producing that Farina has championed and emulated since 1989. But it’s the second waveform that is most in line with today’s musical tastes. Most dance songs played on the radio or in clubs posses similar peak-valley-peak structures that denote buildups and drops — common ploys used by EDM acts like the Chainsmokers.
But Farina couldn’t care less. For close to three decades, he’s made a career pushing smooth, adroitly produced Chicago house and a blend of downtempo and hip-hop he calls “mushroom jazz.” He says he’d rather his tunes “have a groove that goes on,” than consist of erratic transitions or interruptions — even if doing so diminishes their chances of charting on Billboard.
“If what I do gets popular, so be it,” he says. “But I’m going to keep doing what I do whether or not it gets any more received beyond the underground.” (Click here to read more)
The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers recently sued nine venues around the country for playing members’ music without paying. The Grand Nightclub in San Francisco is one of them.
We’re living in a golden age for live music.
Seemingly every week, new festivals are sprouting up around the world, in far-flung places such as limestone quarries in Sweden or the middle of the desert in Arizona. Bands are also touring more, often looping around the country multiple times a year in the hopes of playing as many shows as possible. Even older acts like TLC, the Monkees, and Bush have reformed and started playing shows again.
As for why more musicians than ever before are performing live, the answer is simple: money. Ever since streaming sites like SoundCloud and Spotify entered the picture — in 2008 and 2011, respectively — the record industry has been in a state of flux. Sales are declining as listeners opt to stream rather than purchase their music, and in 2016, streaming reigned as the No. 1 way that people consume music, according to Nielsen Media Research.
A large number of artists, especially older acts and bands that have broken up, rely on royalties they earn from licensing their music to streaming services. The pay is paltry — streaming one song can pay anywhere between $0.0003 to $0.007, depending on the platform — but it’s better than nothing, especially for songwriters and producers who don’t have the option of touring or playing festivals. (Click here to read more)
The D.C. rapper has perfected the art of speaking his mind without sounding moralizing.
Fans who chat with Oddisee — a D.C. rapper who likes to sit at the merch table after finishing shows — often critique his set list or tell him about their favorite songs.
But instead of dispensing unsolicited advice, fans should be asking Oddisee for answers. Because he seems to have a lot of them.
For a decade, the 32-year-old has been making music, churning out two dozen albums, mixtapes, and EPs in that time. Though he started out living in his mother’s basement, he hasn’t had a nine-to-five job since 2004, and he’s been able to afford living in Brooklyn for the past seven years. His quick rhyming and acerbic observations of urban and Black life in 21st-century America have won him legions of fans beyond the DMV, and his instrumental-only albums — like 2016’s The Odd Tape — have earned him street credit as a beatmaker. He’s also married with a child on the way, and owns some real estate.
Oddisee clearly has his shit together, a blessing that he believes is possible because he “think[s] a lot more than [he] should.”
“I’m constantly observing and cataloguing and storing things in my brain,” he says. “If I really divulged my thoughts on everything, I think I’d make a lot of people feel uncomfortable and awkward.” (Click here to read more)
Three decades after its release, the 67-year old San Francisco musician’s debut album finally enters the limelight.
SF Weekly (Cover Story)
Doug Hream Blunt was watching TV in his first-floor, Visitacion Valley home when the phone rang. It was the middle of 2015, and the 67-year-old — who doesn’t own a computer and only recently upgraded from a flip-phone to a smartphone — had just returned from dropping his daughter Juanita off at middle school. Blunt wasn’t expecting any calls that day, least of all from a boutique record label in New York City.
“I looked for Doug online and called him up,” says Yale Evelev, president of Luaka Bop Records. “The conversation was along the lines of me saying we loved his music and we’d like to put it out, and him laughing and saying, ‘OK.’ ”
Unusually late in life for a musician, Blunt began recording his kaleidoscopic, guitar-forward music in 1985 at the age of 35, but he hadn’t released any new material for almost two decades. The label, formed by Talking Heads frontman David Byrne in 1988, had learned of Blunt through an obscure DJ mix that contained his late-’80s, fuzzy, psychedelic jam, “Gentle Persuasion.” The song’s hypnotic melodies and Blunt’s breathy, stream-of-consciousness lyrics impressed Luaka Bop, which had just finished a five-year record-release project with funk musician William Onyeabor.
“We found [Blunt’s music] really mind-blowing and interesting and weird and hard to explain,” says Eric Welles-Nystrom, Luaka Bop’s director of communications. “It sounded like it was from the ’70s, but at times, it had an ’80s and even ’90s sound.” (Click here to read more)
Husband-and-wife duo Vantana Row combines rapping, screaming, and bassy electronic production into inventive, off kilter tunes.
It’s hard to categorize East Bay duo Vantana Row’s sound.
While their music involves rapping, it also includes screaming. Though the band is guided by a punk ethos, its tunes lean more toward trap and hip-hop. There’s manic drumming, à la metal or hardcore, but also heavy doses of bassy, electronic production that sounds a lot like E.B.M. (electronic bass music). At times, you can even hear a bit of dance or pop, which, when combined with screamo vocals, would qualify as crunkcore.
Even Jamey and Volly Blaze, the husband-and-wife team behind Vantana Row, don’t know how to classify their music.
“I’m just doing this because I don’t have any music that I really feel inspired by,” says Volly, who has a face filled with freckles and what appears to be a backwards letter “F” tattooed between her eyebrows. “But it’s hard, because there is no genre like us. And we’ve really been trying to figure out what we are.” (Click here to read more)
U.K. producer Jax Jones is now more famous than the artist who helped launch his career.
Jax Jones’ parents really didn’t want him to pursue music.
“My parents are super-traditional,” says the British house producer, best-known for his 2016, island-inspired dance-pop single, “U Don’t Know Me.” “To them, any career in the arts — they just wouldn’t have it.”
With an Atari, Jones started making beats at the age of 14, but he says his dad still held out hope that he’d become a doctor, and that his mom always pushed for a career in investment banking.
“I could have done it,” the 29-year-old says. “I was pretty smart in school in terms of grades and stuff. I just got the bug to do music.”
Relations between Jones and his folks finally hit a boiling point when the musician tried to return home after graduating from college. Though his parents agreed to let him move back in, there was a stipulation: If Jones wanted to live there, he couldn’t come home later than 10 p.m.
As a burgeoning DJ trying to break into London’s nightlife scene, Jones knew that the ultimatum would be a death knell for his career. (Click here to read more)
Bishop Briggs has made a name for herself as a moody, melancholic singer, but there’s more than one side to her.
Sometimes, mixing business and family can be a terrible idea. Other times, it can be a boon for the whole clan. Fortunately, things worked out for indie-pop singer Bishop Briggs and her older sister Kate.
Kate is Bishop’s manager, handling the singer’s Instagram account and day-to-day activities, and sometimes even moonlighting as Briggs’ “part-time therapist.”
“It’s really nice working with my sister,” Bishop says. “There’s something about having a sibling that you know will always stick with you.”
As Bishop tells it, Kate has always stood up for her younger sister. The 24-year-old shares a story about a time in high school when Kate came to her defense after a guy Bishop was dating started making out in front of her with two girls at a party.
“He kept his eyes open when he was doing it,” Bishop recalls. “Like, who does that?”
Sobbing, she left the party and called Kate. And then Kate showed up.
“I don’t really know what happened,” Bishop says. “I’ve tried asking her, but she still hasn’t really told me exactly what happened.”
Whatever went down ended up working in her favor, and the boy became even more invested in Bishop than before. (Click here to read more)
It took the award-winning London rapper Skepta at least a decade to get on Coachella’s bill. Even though the 34-year-old — widely regarded as a leading figure in the U.K. grime scene — has reached Kendrick Lamar status overseas, it wasn’t until 2016 that his name appeared on the festival’s lineup. Due to visa issues, he ended up canceling that performance, but he was able to get a raincheck for this year, showing up on the Sahara stage on Day 3 of Coachella alongside a phone booth.
Americans are still discovering Skepta and learning to embrace the foreignness of grime — best described as breakbeat-heavy electronic music — but if Skepta’s dogged perseverance in Britain proved anything, all he needs to do it is hang around the U.S. long enough and he’ll start to blow up. Putting out albums also helps. Since 2007, Skepta has dropped four records and five mixtapes, and if you listen to them in succession, you’ll see how far he’s come. (Click here to read more)
On a recent Saturday night, upwards of a hundred millennials gathered in an Emeryville warehouse to gleefully chant “Got me feeling like a dad right now.”
Leading the chorus was a 6-foot-3 man with chest-length dreadlocks flecked with gold beads, dressed in an unassuming blue anorak and a solid yellow baseball cap. His name is Rexx Life Raj and he alternated between singing the chorus and rapping the verses to the song, called “Father Figure.” The warehouse gathering and the dad-declaring crowd was in celebration of Raj’s debut album — also called Father Figure — which came out June 23.
Raj, 26, writes all his own material, and occasionally mixes and produces his tracks as well. But what he really has a knack for is coining catchphrases and stick-in-your-head hooks.
Each song he performs has at least one line the audience belted out like an anthem, such as “I think I might have a mother-fucking problem / Crushing Adderall and marijuana!” or “Bitch, I’m a dad now!” (A “dad,” in Raj’s parlance, is someone who is “a boss,” not a literal father.)
Calls for “more!” and “again!” rang out when he finished “Shit N’ Floss,” what was supposed to be the last song of the night. Raj obliged, signaling the DJ to play the track one more time. Everything about this night had been a long time coming for him and he was willing to prolong it for as long as possible. (Click here to read more)