It's been three weeks since the last update, because this one was very hard to write. Or rather, it was very easy to write: I wrote it at least three times, and some of those were a lot longer than this version. What was hard was deleting it over and over again. Because when you're publishing something like this, it's really hard to resist the impulse to just pretend everything's fine, pretend everything's going great and you really like how it's all turning out. It's really hard to resist the impulse to censor yourself to avoid saying things that might upset someone, somewhere, somehow. That gets even harder when, as is often the case with my writings here, you know for a fact that the things you say are going to make your employees' jobs harder. By not hiding my opinions, I'm going to upset some of our business partners, because most people live in a world where you aren't supposed to say what you actually think.
Days like today call into question the reason for me writing these things in the first place. I write them because I have to write to get this stuff off my chest. I then publish them because my friends, and a lot of other people too, find them entertaining. I sure don't publish them because it's good for the company; in all likelihood it's not. But who cares what's good for the company? I'm more interested in doing interesting and honest things than in shoveling green leafy money into the mouth of some corporate behemoth. I've been there, done that, and gotten the t-shirt. It's not terribly rewarding.
So I'm going to continue the by-now-time-honored tradition of saying what I think, and screw the consequences. If there's one benefit to being the guy who owns the company, that has to be it: nobody's going to fire me for insubordination or for not being a team player.
So let me start off by saying that there's very likely something in here that will piss you off. If you're not already someone a lot like me, I would appreciate it if you just stop reading right now. Come back next month, maybe I'll be in a better mood then.
Really. Just reach up there and click the "Back" button now, ok?
Right then. Once more into the breach.
Further updates on the death of San Francisco's live music scene:
- Paradise Lounge is in the process of being sold. While it will remain a club, the new owners intend to take out the main stage and convert it to a dance floor: no more live music there...
- Maritime Hall is closing its doors, due to increased rent prices. I must say, I have decidedly mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I've always hated that place: seeing a show there was like seeing a show in a high school gym (upstairs) or a high school cafeteria (downstairs), both with decor and acoustics to match. But on the other hand, Maritime closing still means that there's now not only one less live venue, but one less all ages venue. And that's not a good thing no matter how you look at it.
We've got some live shows coming up soon here, though (this Sunday we have a free show with Swarm, Storm Inc., and Deadweight!), and Alexis is working on more. This is a good thing, since doing live music was the primary impetus for me buying this club in the first place. We spent so much time and money redesigning this place to make it be a great live venue, and so far we've used our live sound system, like, twice. (Unless you consider it "live" when there's someone on stage with a laptop. I don't. I love electronic music, but face it, that's a dj, not a band.)
Last weekend was pretty much a disaster. Where shall I begin...
Saturday Night: Wailing Disco Divas and Retro Faux Jazz:
We were open for around 13 consecutive hours on saturday night and sunday morning, which in itself was a challenge: we hadn't done that before. First we had the regular monthly OM party, which went until around 4:15AM; then from 5AM to 11AM, we had Aftershock, which ended just as the Folsom Street Fair was beginning.
One of my friends whom I hadn't seen in a few months had just gotten back into town, so we got together at the DNA to hang out. After all, I drink for free there (using that more rare sense of the word "free" that means "massively in debt".) So we went to OM, and staked out a booth.
I have a confession to make. I hate house music. I just fucking can't stand it.
I thought that maybe eventually I'd get used to it, maybe even be able to appreciate it on its own merits, but no: it's only getting worse. The more I hear it, the more I despise it. I hate it so much that even though I hadn't seen my friend in months, I couldn't make myself stay. I had to go, because the recycled disco I was being subjected made me want to hurt someone. The wailing divas were like nails on a chalkboard.
House equals disco: it's everything that punk was a reaction to.
But the kids just love it. It fills the club, because house is very mainstream these days. Which means that the crowds are very, shall we say, danger-averse. They are just not much of a security or liability problem at all, but they're also very suburban and boring. (And complete fashion disasters: white tube-tops and open-toed shoes, shirts with puffy glitter writing that say "Bunny" or "USA." Euuuuggggh....)
This is just amazingly depressing: that after spending pretty much every waking hour for two years building this place, we've made a club that, most nights, I don't even want to go to. The idea all along was that saturdays would be the pay-the-bills night, and we wouldn't worry about them being cool. But that would be ok, because there would be five other events a week that fucking rocked, or were at least interesting. That's what would make it worthwhile to use one night a week to play music I hate for people who repulse me. We would happily take their money, and use it to fund our more interesting activities on other nights of the week. But it's not really working out that way yet: we're still barely covering expenses and debts with the weekends, and so don't have a surplus to dip into to fund cooler week-night events. And our naïvety at dealing with contractors left us so far over budget that it's going to take a long time before we've gotten there.
But on to the story...
Sunday Morning: Whereas Staying Awake For Three Days Is Bad For You:
So after the OM party, up next was Aftershock. Aftershock is what is referred to as a "circuit party," meaning pretty much all of the attendees are extremely muscular shirtless gay men. When they go out to clubs, they do not mess around: they walk in the door, and head for the dance floor. No standing around chit-chatting for these guys. These guys spend all of their time at the gym; they are buff like anatomy drawings, like cartoons.
Anyway, we found out long after we had booked this party that it was the third consecutive party in a series by the same promoter. So presumably some portion of this group of guys had been dancing at clubs since friday night, and were wrapping up their triathalon at the DNA Lounge, just before they walked down the street to spend the rest of sunday baking in the sun amid the crowds at the Folsom Street Fair.
We'd done one of these parties before, and there weren't any problems: the guys were friendly and well behaved. But this time around, we had a couple of unfortunate incidents. Basically, there were two guys, on separate occasions, who had gotten themselves fucked up on who-knows-what. One of them had only been in the club for a little while before security saw him acting kind of wobbly, and took him outside. We had an EMT on staff who went out and talked to the guy for a while, and decided he was getting better. But in the meantime, one of the Folsom Street Fair staff decided to do us a "favor" by calling 911, wasting city resources and getting a police report filed for something that was already being well handled by a professional. Gee, thanks.
Then later, there was some guy in the club who started freaking out and screaming; the security guys and the medic took him outside, and after talking to him for a while, they decided to take him to the hospital. But again, before we could handle it, one of the Fair people called the cops.
So because of this, the first two police incidents we've had since we opened -- because of having had two irresponsible idiots among the twenty thousand or so people who have passed through our doors in the last three months -- Barry and I are getting called into the principal's office: we get to go have a meeting with the police chief to "discuss" matters.
How many police reports do you think the baseball stadium gets for each of their events? Do you think they get the same kind of attention we do?
I would gladly spend the rest of my life going toe-to-toe with the SFPD in order to stand up for my rights, the rights of my customers, and the rights of all other club owners to provide a place for people to exercise their First Amendment right to peaceable assembly. But it's really hard for me to work up the enthusiasm for this fight, given the kind of events we've been having lately: I want to have that fight over something other than disco.
People keep saying "but you've only been open for three months! Don't get so frustrated yet!" That's a good point, but it's hard for me to see it that way: from my point of view, I've been fighting this battle for two years, not three months.
Friday Night: Keep Music Evil:
Things took a dramatic turn for the better on friday, when we finally had exactly the event that I had meant our CODE fridays to be all along. Our headliner was DJ Philth, from Download, and he brought in a pretty diverse crowd, including both goths and ravers. The music was very eclectic: it wandered between industrial, psytrance, electro, and breakbeat while being consistently dark and noisy the whole time, and most notably, keeping the dance floor full. Along with a ton of great music I didn't recognize, I heard Autechre, Ministry, Underworld, and Cabaret Voltaire all within the course of a few hours. And it all flowed beautifully, none of them killed the dance floor or made anyone make a "what the hell?" face.
If we can keep that kind of mixture going on when we move CODE to thursdays, I'll be really happy. It might even make sell-out saturdays seem worthwhile again.
Oh, did I mention that CODE is moving from fridays to thursdays starting in November? The Planet B.E.N. show on Oct 19 will be our last friday; the Kode IV show on Nov 1 will be our first thursday. The reason for this is the money thing again: while CODE has been just about breaking even, we have bills to pay, so we have to start booking events on fridays that will actually turn a profit instead of merely not losing money. So I'm getting kicked out of my own night! Well, at least it will take the pressure off: since we'll be making money on two nights a week instead of just one, we won't have to worry as much about how much CODE is making. We'll be able to charge less at the door on thursdays, and won't have to be as concerned about how many people show up, so we can experiment more.
Your Love Gives Me Such a Thrill, But Your Love Don't Pay My Bills:
A few weeks ago, I hacked the messages on our ATM: there are a bunch of places where you can change the messages it prints at the top of the screen, and the text it scrolls through while you're waiting for it to dispense its money. We've gotten complaints already!
|Some Guy:||What's up with the Unamerican shit on the ATM?|
|Some Guy:||Yeah, it says "SURPRISE SURPRISE, THE GOVERNMENT LIES!"|
|Devin:||Uh... they do.|
|Some Guy:||Yeah, but you're not supposed to say things like that! Especially not now!|
|Devin:||Isn't that kind of the point of this country? That you're allowed to say whatever you believe?|
So now I made some random chump actually think about it. My work here is done.
We got another complaint about the ATM as well: this other guy seemed very confused. "The ATM says `DESTROY CAPITALISM' -- but then it charged me a service fee!" Irony is hard, let's go shopping!
Television, Drug of the Nation:
We're gonna be on a couple of TV shows soon. The first is a local show called "Inside City Limits" where there will be a couple of minutes on the DNA Lounge. I'm sure I sounded like a complete idiot when they filmed me, since I had no idea that I was going to be giving an interview, and I haven't done one in months. I walked in to the club, and Barry said, "oh, you're here. Good, these people want to interview someone." Then they asked me really simple questions like, "so, tell us about the place." That's roughly the equivalent of being asked "so, why should we hire you?" on a job interview.
Anyway, I have no idea when that's going to be on, or even what channel. The program doesn't seem to have a web page, as far as I can tell.
The second TV spot will be on the AudioFile show on TechTV on Thursday, Oct 11 at 9PM Eastern. They're doing a piece on wired nightclubs, so they talked to me and Dan Seoane from GrooveFactory (who provide our RealVideo distribution.) It was a really short bit, so I didn't get to really say much; it wasn't really an interview at all, since they had written the script before they met with us. I suspect there won't be much more than "we stream everything, and there are kiosks." We didn't get to talk about the really interesting part, which is that our hands are basically completely tied when it comes to doing anything truly innovative, since pretty much anything that would be interesting or interactive is illegal, thanks to the RIAA having pretty effectively legislated all progress out of existence. (I didn't even get to plug Linux or bash Microsoft!)
I Miss My Lung, Bob:
Tobacco addicts are funny. It seems that most of them think that my coming up to them and saying "no smoking" means "please hold your cigarette behind your back while I'm standing here." So I say "no smoking," and they say "oh, ok" and make a show of hiding it. Then I stare at them, and they stare back, and a little while later I say "that actually means: put it out now, please."
For the record, even if the anti-smoking law ever gets repealed, there still won't be any smoking in my club. Get your own damned club.
On friday, there was a group of people smoking right by the main bar, and one of the security guys went and had a nice polite conversation with them about it (as if there's anything to discuss! but some of these bozos seem to think that there's a chance they will win an argument about this with security.) So he gets them to put their cigarettes out, and as soon as he turns his back, one of them lights up again. One of the other security folks saw this, and immediately showed that person to the door. "No, see, if you're going to disrespect us like that, then we don't need you here. Goodbye."
I love that!
No Name, No Slogan:
That's right! DNA Lounge t-shirts are now on sale at coat-check every night for $15; they come in black or white, in tee, tank, and baby-tee styles. There will be pictures on the web site as soon as we round up some supermodels, and we'll do online sales once we get around to it.
If you just can't wait for that, snail-mail us a check for $15 plus $2.95 shipping and handling, and specify the size, color, and style you want. Include your phone number in case we have questions.
I added a Merchandise page, and put up pictures and international shipping rates for our t-shirts there. Have at it! Still no online ordering yet, because I haven't gotten around to figuring out what the least painful way to accomplish that is.
In other geek news, you can now have a summary of the DNA Lounge calendar appear on your Slashdot top-level page: here's a preview of what the DNA Slashbox looks like. This is done through the fully buzzword compliant wonders of RSS, RDF, and XML: basically, there's this simple textual format for providing summaries/headlines that a lot of sites know how to parse and display, so if those sites are instructed to point at the RSS summary of the DNA Calendar, then they can include DNA info on the pages they serve you. (I seem to recall that this sort of thing was supposed to revolutionize the web by the end of 1998 or so.)
Last sunday we had a live show, and it was great! I took pictures. Though I guess it wasn't technically the first time we'd had a band on stage since we opened to the public, it was the first time guitars were involved, so it felt like the first "real" show. We had Swarm, Storm Inc., and Deadweight, all being filmed for Locals Only, a live-performance TV show. I'm not sure when the episode will air, but when I know, you'll know...
It was incredible, and everyone had a lot of fun, and even though we had almost 300 people show up, we still lost money. Locals Only and Miller took care of paying the bands; and they also paid us rent, to make up for the fact that it was a free show, so there was no money from the door. But when you factor in all the other expenses -- security, utilities, needing to have two audio engineers there during the day for sound check as well as during the show, etc. -- we still ended up losing a few hundred bucks.
It's a sad fact that it's really hard to make money doing live shows. There are just so many more expenses on top of what it takes to put on a dj/dance club event. And it's very hard to cut corners on it! We can't skimp on staff or security, so the only option is to cut sound checks shorter, or only have one sound guy; and these are things that don't save a huge amount of money, but that do run the risk of screwing up the whole event by making the sound suck.
I really want to do a lot of live music here. As I've said, it's one of the primary reasons I got into this business. But it's going to be really difficult. The reality is that most of our live shows are going to end up being charity affairs, where we go into it knowing that we're going to lose money on that night. We have to fund these with the money we make on weekend dance nights, to hopefully end up with positive cash-flow overall, even though our live events are going to be a drain.
But of course, we're also going to hemorrhage money on it. Even if we get a sizable turnout, we'll be lucky to break even on it, and if you factor in the fact that we could otherwise be having a dance club that night, where we would have made money, it hurts even more.
But we gotta do this show. That's why we're here.
Our bit on AudioFile aired last week; it was brief. Thankfully, through the magic of editing, all my "ums" and "uhs" disappeared. The TechTV folks were here again last week. They're doing a show on dance music and MIDI, and they came to DNA to film some of the transitional segments: you know, the part that goes, "Thanks for that report! We're here at the DNA Lounge. Up next:" I really enjoy watching TV people work; I always find it fascinating to see behind the curtains like that (and I guess you must as well, or you wouldn't be reading all this crap I write!)
Barry and I met with the new police captain today, Capt. Parra. They wanted to talk to us about things in general, and about the incidents on Folsom Street Fair weekend specifically. The meeting went as well as could be expected. They were friendly about it, acknowledged that we haven't really had any problems here other than that one time, and just wanted to know what went wrong. They are familiar with the promoters of that party, and said that they have a good reputation, so they didn't have any complaints on that front either.
Apparently word of my rant last week about disco has finally reached the house music community, so various people have been wasting Alexis's time on the phone about it. Like I said, I knew that publishing that was gonna make his job harder, but it had to be done. I guess most people who own clubs don't give a shit about music one way or another. Me, I'm just chock full of opinions. And now Alexis has to spend his day apologizing for them. Alas.
I should have mentioned, about the Pigface show, that we wouldn't have been able to put that together without the cooperation of the Red Melon folks: they have a monthly saturday here, and Dec 8 would have been their day. But they kindly agreed to give up their night for us so we could do this show instead. They had to re-schedule some djs they had already booked and everything, so that was very nice of them. (Pigface tickets are on sale now, by the way. And Sunshine Blind has been added to the bill, too.)
A funny thing happened on Saturday night, though I wasn't there to see it. Near the end of the evening, the OM promoters were sitting in the back talking, and (for the benefit of the DNA folks who were in the room) loudly said, "don't you just love this House music?" "Yes! And the fashions! The fashions are just fabulous!" So that's cool, that they have a sense of humor about it.
But in worse news, I had to take down one of our archived sets early, because one of our promoters really fucked up. Apparently the Red Square folks neglected to mention to one of the DJs they had brought in that we webcast everything here, despite this being a condition of our contract with them. When this DJ found out, his manager's first reaction was to have their lawyer send Red Square a "Cease and Desist" letter. This sucks all around, not only because I had to take one of the archived sets down, violating for the first time one of the cardinal rules of our operation here, but also because the DJ feels he got shafted, since he hadn't agreed to have his set webcast, and the promoters didn't tell him.
We're gonna have to be more of a pain in the ass to the promoters from now on, and demand that they get signatures from all the DJs before we let them spin. Not because we think the DJs might back out without a signature, but because without a signature we (apparently) can't trust that they're even aware of how things work here.
The problem is that the whole club business is just so damned flaky. Everybody seems to do everything in this business verbally, and half the time, you don't even get to talk directly to the person you're booking: you end up talking to his agent, or some guy who's friends with his agent, or something silly like that, and it's unclear what has been communicated when. Getting something signed and faxed back to you in any kind of reasonable amount of time is like pulling teeth with most performers. Often the first time you get to speak to the actual artist is when he walk in the door. I tell you, it's amazing any events happen at all...
Our big Halloween bash is tomorrow, don't miss it!