Documentary film ‘San Francisco’s Dying Music Scene’ depicts just how passionate musicians are about the city

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Grade: 3.0/5.0

The 1960s revolutionized the once small, less populated city of San Francisco. Young people flooded in, marking major cultural and social differences within the city. As a result of this youth migration to San Francisco, real estate prices began to incrementally increase, making it very difficult for lower middle class and low-income residents to continue to live in the Bay. Ever since, assisted by the growing tech industry taking over this region, gentrification continued to spread throughout the Bay Area.

And while the growth of high-class life was happening at the time, the 1960s San Francisco saw a different type of community as well. This community of young and diverse people whisked Bakersfield sound, psychedelic rock and R&B into the cauldron that is, even today, San Francisco’s incredibly diverse, unique music scene. Media platform POPeye Media’s recent short documentary, “San Francisco’s Dying Music Scene,” sheds light on this very community, talking to some of its members about what the city and its music mean to them.

As these new groups of people brought a new music scene to San Francisco, a number of charming venues popped up within the city to encourage new musicians to perform. Two-member recording artists Sunny and The Black Pack cited Brainwash Cafe as an example; 2017 saw the shutdown of this 30-year-old restaurant and laundromat that held within its walls a cafe and a stage for live music. Brainwash Cafe was known for hosting a large number of up-and-coming musicians and bands on its stage. Other famous venues discussed in the documentary included the Warfield Theatre on Market Street and Neck of the Woods in the Richmond District, but Sunny and The Black Pack made it clear that venues as eclectic and welcoming as these are becoming fewer and fewer.

It was clear that San Francisco-based musicians were inspired by their city, as suggested by the songs they wrote. Disk jockey Booker D, interviewed in the documentary, speaks specifically about hip-hop musicians, such as RBL Posse, Soul Clap and Z-Man — musicians that told stories of San Francisco through their music. According to Booker D, San Francisco is easy to navigate and carries within its depths neighborhoods that settle into their own rhythm. “I love San Francisco,” he confesses in the documentary. “I love it.”

Musicians in the city agree that the city is, in a sense, wonderfully weird. Recording artist Underbelly credits this characteristic as the reason why the experimental beat music genre started and continues to come out of San Francisco. This was music that was wonky and probably, according to him, a result of weed and acid consumption. At the same time, Underbelly also thinks that it is impossible to live in San Francisco if one is not a part of the technology industry; the only reason he lived here, he laughs, was because his parents were part of it.

Recording artist Basi Vibe holds the opinion that creating in San Francisco is expensive. High prices create incredibly tough living situations, forcing many artists into places further away from the city, such as Sacramento. As of the end of 2018, despite price cuts and increased inventory, the median price of a house in the Bay Area rose to almost 4 percent from September of last year and about 9 percent from the year before. Living in San Francisco, especially as an emerging artist, isn’t getting any easier.

At the same time, all the musicians interviewed in the documentary agree that, despite everything, San Francisco is home. Creating art in social instability and in the revolution that the city continues to be known for brings to it a form of pain and emotion that not many other cities could guarantee. San Francisco has allowed them to create music that is about hard-hitting, powerful reality — “Music about heart.”

Contact Anoushka Agrawal at [email protected].