I Was Talking With a Ghost

What’s it like hunting for spirits in a 134-year-old Victorian house.

OK Whatever

It’s almost 10 p.m. on a Saturday night and I’m sitting in pitch-black darkness inside a Victorian house in East Oakland. There’re about 15 other people here — each of whom paid the $50-$75 ticket price for tonight’s five-hour event — and we’re all sitting on the floor, waiting with bated breath as our guide, a flaxen-haired medium from Colorado named Chris Moon, makes his first attempt of the night to communicate with the dead.

“We’re not here to disrespect you in any way,” Moon says aloud, in a calm, even voice. “We’d like to speak to you, not speak at you. The reason we are here is to learn more about you, to help you in any way, and to have a conversation with you. Would you like to speak us tonight?”

“Yes.”

The voice that answers Moon is thick and raspy, and it doesn’t belong to any of the people in the room.

(Click here to read more)

I Got a Yoni Massage For Journalism

The tantric healing modality is supposed to release tension through your vagina. But it was more like getting finger-banged by a stranger.

OK Whatever

It was the middle of the day on a Monday and I was lying on my bed topless, wearing only black undies.

A man who was not my boyfriend, whom I had met for the first time a mere hour ago, was seated between my legs. Save for a pair of boxer briefs, he, too, was practically naked. I closed my eyes and took deep breaths while his coconut oil-coated hands fluttered down the length of my body, from my breasts to my abdomen to my crotch. He flirted with my panty line, inserting his fingers ever so slightly underneath the elastic, kneading the space where my thighs and groin meet.

It was a pleasurable feeling, albeit a foreign one. Though I’ve had massages in the past, I’d never had one like this. Except for during sex or at the gynecologist’s office, I’d never felt another person’s hands wander so intimately around my vagina — or as they say in tantra, my “yoni.”

(Click here to read more)

The Rise and Fall of Snortable Chocolate

Coco Loko was poised to become the next fad, but then the FDA intervened and it’s since disappeared from the internet.

OK Whatever

When Legal Lean started selling a snortable chocolate called Coco Loko in 2017, it made sense.

The three-year-old Orlando, Fla., company was already turning a profit selling a fake version of one illicit substance: lean, a cough-syrup-soda-mixture popular in the hip-hop world and prized for its calming and relaxing abilities. So why not add another?

It wouldn’t be hard to do.

Legal Lean founder Nick Anderson knew he could use the same distributors he was already working with and target the same consumers if he put out a new product. What’s more, Coco Loko could help the company expand by appealing to a new demographic that liked taking uppers and ingesting things through their nose.

(Click here to read more)

Would You Do It In a Truck?

Because you can, thanks to this Californian art project on wheels.

OK Whatever

Back in my younger, wilder days, when I still lived with my parents, hooking up was a challenge. Since I couldn’t invite members of the opposite sex over to my house, I had to get creative, which meant doing it in my car. Anyone who has ever tried this knows that it’s not only cramped and squishy, but risky, too. Finding a place where you can park and bone is no easy task, and there’s always the chance that you’ll get caught. Fortunately, the worst that ever happened to me was when a resident of the Hollywood Hills neighborhood I was parked in knocked on my window and sternly told me and my partner to “leave and never come back.” If only there had been a Hook-Up Truck for us to use back then!

(Click here to read more)

How To Find Out If Someone Died In Your House

That information is not always disclosed to buyers and renters. Fortunately, there’s a website that can give you answers.

OK Whatever

In Los Angeles, there’s a 3-bedroom, 3-bath single-family home at the end of a cul-de-sac that’s currently empty and waiting to be rented. It’s got hardwood floors, exposed beams on the ceiling, a brick patio, and a hillside view of the city below. It can be yours for only $9,595 a month.

But there’s a catch: In September someone died in the house. That’s why it’s currently on the market.

The person who breathed their last breath there was the 26-year-old rapper Mac Miller, who had been renting the property before overdosing on Sept. 7.

(Click here to read more)

Going to a Witch Dance on Halloween

How a sect of politically active, feminist neopagans try to make the world a better place, one night a year.

OK Whatever

The setting was incongruous.

They were in a midcentury auditorium in Richmond, California, with wooden flip-up seats and the faded lines of an old basketball court still visible on the floor. Over the last six decades, thousands of students had walked across the auditorium’s stage to retrieve diplomas. Eulogies memorializing slain cops had been delivered at its podium, and countless teeth and plenty of bets had been lost during boxing matches held there.

But on that night, there was something different going on in that room. On that night — three days before Halloween in 2017 — a sect of witches known as Reclaimers were throwing a party. They were celebrating Samhain, the witches’ New Year.

(Click here to read more)

Feeding S.F.’s “Heart-Smart,” Low-Sodium Foodies

Planning daily meals for hundreds of seniors is no easy task.

SF Weekly

feature-foodIt’s lunchtime at Rhoda Goldman Plaza, an assisted living community in Pacific Heights, and the 45-table dining room is in full swing. Uniformed and name-tagged waiters zig-zag around the L-shaped space, dodging the clientele’s walkers and delivering steaming plates of vegetarian moussaka, slices of baklava, tiny dishes of ice cream, and bowls of “heart smart” broccoli soup. Diners at one table loudly discuss the “state of Judaism today” a few feet away from a couple who are quietly reading the day’s San Francisco Chronicle.

Corey Weiner, the food and beverage director, is a face that everyone at Rhoda Goldman Plaza knows. For the last 17 years, she and chef Kelly Dame — both graduates of the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena — have planned and cooked all the meals for the dining room, and residents know that if they’ve got an issue with the food, these two are the ones to talk to. So it’s no surprise when that is exactly what happens as Weiner trudges through the carpeted dining area on this particular afternoon.

“They didn’t mix it with anything,” a gray-haired man says as Weiner passes his table. He’s eating the smoked whitefish plate with cucumbers, onions, and crackers, which is one of the two main courses on the day’s lunch menu. “I like it this way. Was that an accident?”

Weiner, who by now is used to these off-hand critiques and compliments, patiently explains to the man that no, the way the smoked whitefish was prepared today was “not an accident,” but she’s happy to hear he likes it. (Click here to read more)

Throwback on Wheels

There’s just something about riding in a vintage Volkswagen van that makes taking a tour of San Francisco so appealing.

SF Weekly

feature-vwbusA 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)

California Girl

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.

SF Weekly

summerguide-bikinisOn 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)

I Rubbed Snail Goo on My Face and It Obliterated My Acne

Pop Sugar

Credit_Hadrian_ShutterstockSome partners call their lovers “bae” or “boo.” But my boyfriend? He calls me “Snail Face.”

Technically, he’s correct. Twice a day, every day, I rub a tablespoon of snail mucin — also called snail secretion filtrate — over my face and neck. Even though it tastes bitter — my boyfriend learned this first-hand by trying to kiss me on the cheek — it’s the only thing that has worked to clear up my adult-onset acne.

I wasn’t a pimply teenager and never had problems with it until I hit my early 20s. Suddenly, I was forming blackheads seemingly overnight, and I had a particularly difficult time battling zits on my cheeks. I had every kind of pimple you could imagine: stubborn whiteheads, deeply embedded pustules, pus volcanos, and fiery-red bumps.

Though I’d been using a Cetaphil face wash for years with positive results, it obviously was no longer working. I turned to other tactics, and over the course of the next five years, I tried a number of zany and not-so-zany treatments. I used Proactive, which worked relatively well, except for the fact that it dried my skin out. I saw multiple dermatologists who recommended myriad ointments, like Differin and Tazorac, as well as prescription antibiotics, all of which I dutifully used, to no avail. Facials became a monthly ritual, and I tried everything from intense extractions to LED Blue light treatments and glycolic-retinol masks. (Click here to read more)

Nasty Dad

U.K. grime producer Mr. Mitch tackles the subject of fatherhood, and tries his hand at singing.

SF Weekly

music2-mrmitchIn the early 2000s, while Americans obsessed over Justin Timberlake’s solo debut and all things Britney Spears, a new branch of electronic music called grime was bubbling up in London. In the beginning, it had multiple names — nu shape, sublow, and eskibeat — but it became known for its pairing of industrial and occasionally discordant sounds with lightning-fast raps. An aggressive and energetic subgenre, grime got its start in underground parties and on local pirate stations like Rinse FM and Deja Vu FM, and The Guardian recently hailed it as the “most significant aural rebellion since punk.” Early grime champions, like Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, and Lethal Bizzle penned wordy albums about gang violence, street life, and being different, and the adjective “nasty” is now a commonly used term within the musical style.

But though grime has reached critical mass in the U.K. — albums by grime artists have received Mercury Prizes, and tracks have been adopted as anthems by political groups — it’s only now spreading to the U.S. In fact, it wasn’t until this year that Skepta and Stormzy, two of the biggest grime stars, made their Coachella debuts. But that’s progress, at least to British producer Mr. Mitch, who hopes grime continues to expand in both scope and reach.

“I want it to be as broad as house,” he says. “I don’t want people to think of grime as just one thing.”

Mr. Mitch was a pre-teen when grime’s progenitors were dropping their debut albums at the turn of the century, and his music was greatly influenced by it from the get-go. Around the time most of his peers were graduating from university, Mr. Mitch — who had dropped out of a media-studies program to pursue music and host a grime club night called Boxed — was forming his own label, Gobstopper Records. In addition to a string of his own EPs, Gobstopper releases records from fellow experimental and electronic artists whom Mr. Mitch believes “wouldn’t get any attention otherwise and just needed to be heard.” Well-known avant garde musicians have since taken notice of the label: Bjork played a Gobstopper song during a set in New York, and Aphex Twin included a Gobstopper track in a festival playlist he later shared on Reddit. (Click here to read more)

The Music Industry Hates Trump

A look at the myriad of songs that have been released since the Commander-in-Chief entered the picture.

SF Weekly

feature1Los 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)

Groovy Fungi

Chicago DJ Mark Farina brought ‘mushroom jazz’ to S.F. in the early ’90s. Now, he’s taken it to Dallas.

SF Weekly

music2-1On 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)

Cash Rules Every Song Around Me

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.

SF Weekly

music1-1We’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)

Oddisee Has All The Answers

The D.C. rapper has perfected the art of speaking his mind without sounding moralizing.

SF Weekly

music2Fans 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)

Doug Hream Blunt’s Funk Revival

Three decades after its release, the 67-year old San Francisco musician’s debut album finally enters the limelight.

SF Weekly (Cover Story)

Screen_Shot_2017-05-03_at_5.59.09_PMDoug 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)

Crusaders of the Strange

Husband-and-wife duo Vantana Row combines rapping, screaming, and bassy electronic production into inventive, off kilter tunes.

SF Weekly

music2-2It’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)

Grooving With Rockin’ Jim

For more than four decades, the KPOO DJ has been spinning ’50s and ’60s tunes on nighttime radio.

SF Weekly

music2-1It’s a little before 8:30 p.m. on a Monday night, and Jim Rigsbee is sitting in the studio at public radio station KPOO, shuffling through a stack of CDs and 7-inch records. For more than 40 years, Rigsbee — better known to listeners as Rockin’ Jim — has been hosting Grinders Grooveyard, a late-night program consisting of pop and rock hits from the 1950s and ’60s.

Rigsbee inherited the show in 1976 from its original hosts, who created the program when KPOO was founded in 1971. A retired customer-service agent and “jack-of-all-trades” for the San Francisco Chronicle, the 69-year-old has long grown accustomed to the show’s nocturnal hours, which are currently 8:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. on Mondays, but in the past have continued as late as 2 a.m.

Rigsbee — wearing a crewneck sweatshirt, Manchester United sweatpants, and oval wire glasses nestled halfway down his nose — is an S.F. native who currently resides in the Outer Mission. He remembers listening to Elvis Presley on the radio at the age of 8 and can recall seeing shows at iconic (and now-defunct) turn-of-the-century concert venues, like the Fillmore West and Avalon Ballroom. (Click here to read more)

Dank Digits

Incorporating weed into nail art is the new way to show your love for the plant.

SF Weekly

feature-nailsWalk into any nail salon and chances are you’ll be greeted with the smells of rubbing alcohol and acetone. But a new trend is sweeping the nail-art world that might introduce another scent into the mix: marijuana.

Dubbed “weed nails,” the style incorporates cannabis products — such as the leaf itself, ground-up bud, or hash oil — into acrylic nails, and using them to create designs. Like flower pressings, weed can be sprinkled into the clear bedrock of the acrylic, color-blocked into a pattern, blended into an ombre, or bedazzled with rhinestones and glitter.

Louisiana “Louie” Pham, owner of the Orchid Nail Lounge in Santa Clara, has even used ash from a blunt and slivers of rolling papers to create decorations on her clients’ nails. On a Wednesday afternoon in February when I visit Pham at her store, she’s in the process of snipping out the “100” from a fake $100 bill to glue into the center of a weed-flecked acrylic nail. For almost four years, Pham has been doing weed nails, and it all started thanks to the customer whose nails she’s currently working on. (Click here to read more)

A Primer on Skepta and U.K. Grime

SF Weekly

hearthis-skeptaIt 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)

Pop’s Wild Horse

Bishop Briggs has made a name for herself as a moody, melancholic singer, but there’s more than one side to her.

SF Weekly

music1-1Sometimes, 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)