cities against culture – oakland’s secret music venues

The East Bay Express has an article about do it yourself (DIY) music spaces in Oakland. The issue is that all kinds of music scenes thrive when people can set up their own cheap music venues. Old warehouses, basements, garages – anything will work. The Express article describes how this is basically the only way that funky, weird music can survive because acquiring a cabaret license is prohibitive:

“It’s a bitch doing business here,” agreed Jason Herbers, co-owner of Eli’s Mile High Club. “For three years I tried to get this cabaret permit. It took me thousands of dollars. I had to put in new sound-proofing, I had to have a security plan. I had to deal with all this stuff to prove, hey, we’re responsible business owners.” (He says things have gotten better in the city since Arturo Sanchez, an assistant to Mayor Quan, was put in charge of cabaret licenses.)

Promoters and bookers say the amount of legal red tape necessary to open legit venues, along with having to navigate bureaucratic ineptitude, discourages more entertainment from flourishing in Oakland, while spurring the proliferation of underground spaces.

Not only are DIY spaces avoiding red tape, they are ideal for serving micro-cultures that support esoteric music genres. With little overhead, they can house small crowds at a low price and give more back to the bands.

I have personally experienced the stifling red tape. For a while I used to attend a music series in Bloomington that was hosted in old church whose congregation had left. The organizers got a great space – cheap. Even though it was on the edge of town, the city came down on the organizers and they found that they could not afford the city’s demands. Luckily, Bloomington is a great place for DIY music.

When I hear folks like Richard Florida praise wealthy artistic types as fuel for urban development, I feel like they leave out this part of the equation. People think about operas or high price jazz clubs. But they should also think about the grungy substrata of mico-scenes and think about how cities should be encouraged to lay off and let them grow.

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Written by fabiorojas

October 24, 2011 at 4:21 am

Posted in culture, fabio

3 Responses

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  1. The clandestinity is part of the charm.. ask the graffiti crowd.



    October 24, 2011 at 1:00 pm

  2. The Flats in Cleveland was where in the 1970s largely abandoned warehouses became the germinators to punk and other new music. American Composers Forum and Composers Datebook reminds you that all music was once new…”

    I was not aware that Richard Florida was fixated on opera and symphony. I read about his work when we lived in Albuquerque 2002-2003 and he was touted in The Alibi. According to Wikipedia: Florida’s theory asserts that metropolitan regions with high concentrations of technology workers, artists, musicians, lesbians and gay men, and a group he describes as “high bohemians”, exhibit a higher level of economic development. Florida refers to these groups collectively as the “creative class.” He posits that the creative class fosters an open, dynamic, personal and professional urban environment.

    That would, of course, apply to these ad hoc venues, as well larger events. Here in Austin, we have two huge music festivals, but we also just wrapped up a 3-day book fair. However, the test of a theory is not what it explains, but what challenges it. Salt Lake City and the state of North Dakota seem to falsify the assertions. Not that the “creatives” do not bring prosperity (or decay) but that they are not the only source of it.

    I look to Jane Jacobs who always advocated for multiple and broad social interactions, whether industries and businesses, homes and housing, or arts and leisure. You need them all.

    Also, seemingly, the pitch for “technology workers” is not the same thing as calling for entrepreneurs. New businesses may or may be technological and may not employ very many workers at all. What I fear is that the artsy folks want other people to slave in cubicles in order to be paid luxurious wages that they will spend on artsy folks, something like a grown-up version of Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy… or maybe just an allowance from Mom & Dad for practicing an hour a day…


    Michael Marotta

    October 24, 2011 at 8:29 pm

  3. […] cities against culture – oakland’s secret music venues « […]


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