Jim Hopkins of the SF Disco Preservation Society curates a digital archive of mixes, sourced from old cassettes and reel-to-reels, from luminary ‘80s and ‘90s San Francisco dance club DJs.
Many of these mixes come from gay dance clubs which are no longer in operation.
“Somebody just came and dropped off this whole bag of cassettes,” Hopkins told SFist. “A lot of these guys are getting up in years, and this is stuff that shouldn’t be lost.”
Hopkins wants people who went to SF nightclubs like Pleasuredome, the I-Beam, and the EndUp back in the day to be able to hear some of these multi-hour mixes that they may only have the haziest memories of, and he wants to introduce a new generation of DJs and nightlife mavens to the talents of their forebears.
The online archive which is housed at hearthis.at contains a selection of ‘80s mixes. Dance mixes from the ‘90s can be found on a separate page here.
What’s really remarkable about these mixes are how deep many of the cuts go. There’s really so much worthwhile high-energy dance music which has been lost to the sands of time. Hopkins’ curation of these tapes will hopefully expose a lot of this music to new ears. This archive is your one-stop destination for programming your next workout or home dance party.
After the jump a selection of mixes from this amazing archive…
Jello Biafra, the sardonic front-man for the Dead Kennedys, both in his writing and live performances, was an expert at assuming villainous roles to reveal greater truths about society—whether it be as a serial murderer (as in the song “I Kill Children”) or as a military advisor (as in the song “Kill the Poor”) or as a stumping politician (as in his failed 1979 bid for Mayor of San Francisco).
In what might have been equal parts prank, publicity stunt, and actual desire to force social change, Biafra threw his hat into the mayoral ring in 1979, running against Dianne Feinstein, Quentin Copp, and David Scott, among others.
Dirk Dirksen hosted a “Biafra for Mayor” benefit on September 3, and raised the necessary $1,125 in filing fees. Consistent with the punk ethos, the volunteers who made up the campaign staff ran it as an entirely DIY affair. Dirk Dirksen, Brad Lapin, Ginger Coyote, Mickey Creep, Joe Target Rees, Klaus Flouride and plenty of others held meetings at Target Studios on South Van Ness to plot strategy.
The actual campaign events were few, but got plenty of media attention. A “whistle-stop tour,” for example, started with a rally at City Hall, followed by stops along the BART line down Market Street. Kathy “Chi Chi” Penick, Dead Kennedys’ new manager, carried a sign that said “If He Doesn’t Win, I’ll Kill Myself.” Other inspiring placard slogans included “Apocalypse Now,” and “What if He Wins?” Biafra, led the procession, “kissing hands and shaking babies.”
Using the slogan “There’s always room for Jello,” Biafra got onto the ballot In San Francisco. Any individual could legally run for mayor if a petition was signed by 1500 people or if $1500 was paid. Biafra paid $900 and got enough signatures to become a legal candidate, meaning his statements would be put in voters’ pamphlets and he would receive equal news coverage.
Original art for Biafra campaign buttons from Flickr user “Wackystuff”
This past Monday, Joe Rees of Target Video, the de facto documentarian of the San Francisco punk scene, uploaded an edit of eleven minutes worth of TV clips from this news coverage. Being somewhat of a Jellophile myself, I had previously seen a few of these clips which had been included on old Target Video VHS compilations back in the day, but some of this stuff is brand new to me—and I suspect also unseen by many of our readers. It’s a treat that Rees is still opening up his archives to the public like this.
It’s remarkable how serious young Biafra appears in some of these snippets, while at the same time completely mocking the political process. Pay particular attention to Biafra’s campaign platform, which is utterly absurd, but probably resonated with many 1979 San Francisco voters.
Biafra finished an incredible fourth out of a field of ten, receiving 3.79% of the vote (6,591 votes). His participation in the election caused a runoff between Dianne Feinstein and Quentin Kopp which resulted in Feinstein’s election.
Here it is. One of the great punk rock pranks of all time:
The Haight-Ashbury story that always resonated with me the most came from George Harrison, who had visited San Francisco in 1967 with his wife to visit her sister. At some point they decided to take some acid and visit hippie ground zero, expecting a scene of artists and beauty, but finding instead what Harrison later described as “just a lot of bums, many of them who were just very young kids.” Everyone was burnt out and impoverished, and while a crowd initially followed him adoringly, they quickly turned hostile at his lack of engagement. The whole thing was enough to put him off acid and send him to intensive meditation.
There is a widely held impression of deferred dreams or abandoned idealism to the subculture, as if the kids were initially utopian visionaries who just got caught up in drug culture, but honestly… if one is to go by the contemporary media reports, it seemed like the whole hippie scene just kind of sucked from the get-go. Take the alleged first use of the word “hippie” in the mainstream press. The article below (from 1965) was the first in a series for the San Francisco Examiner—the “new bohemians” of San Francisco represented an emerging wave of youth culture, though not one that sounds in any way appealing or groundbreaking (mostly they sound like boring, detached slackers). Later, the series made a point to distinguish between hippies and artists, the latter of which wanted nothing to do with the former, preferring to sell their wares to professionals who had both the money and the interest.
A New Paradise For Beatniks
by Michael Fallon
Five untroubled young “hippies,” scrawled on floor mattresses and slouched in an armchair retrieved from a debris box flipped cigarette ashes at a seashell in their Waller Street flat and pondered their next move.
It was 5 in the evening. Dinner was not yet on the stove; the makings for dinner were nowhere in sight.
No one appeared worried, though. Or even interested.
The same apathy controlled the discussion of their next pad, a move forced on them by a police marijuana and drinking party raid the week before. “Maybe we’ll move to the Fillmore,” said Jeff, 21, the oldest. The proposal drew loud snickers and seemed doomed.
In all likelihood the hippies will drift—together, separately, or in new combinations—to other quarters in the Haight-Ashbury district.
Haight-Ashbury is the city’s new bohemian quarter for serious writers, painters and musicians, civil rights workers, crusaders for all kinds of causes, homosexuals, lesbians, marijuana users, young working couples of artistic bent, in the outer fringe of the bohemian fringe — the “hippies,” the “heads,” the beatniks.
It is, in short, “West Beach.”
By and large, the Establishment of Haight-Ashbury—longtime residents and businessmen—are not in the least disturbed by all this. They are optimistic about the future of the district, welcome “new blood,” and point to commercial growth.
Haight-Ashbury indeed seems to be experiencing a renaissance that will make it a richer, better neighborhood in which to live.
There, too, are hundreds of San Francisco State College students, in flight from Parkmerced and in close contact with the hip world, and more aloof delegations from the University of California Medical Center and the University of San Francisco.
They fit into a mosaic of races and nationalities unique in the city—Negroes, Filipinos, some Japanese, Russians, Czechs, Scandinavians, Armenians, Greeks, Germans, and Irish.
Newcomers and old-timers both are attracted to Haight-Ashbury by the low rents. A high-ceilinged, six-room apartment worth $250 a month or more elsewhere in San Francisco may be found there for $150 or even for as low as $85.
The neighborhood is sprucing itself up. Dozens of splendid pre-earthquake Victorian homes have been refurbished and acquired fresh paint. New businesses are moving in to cater to the new bohemians. Older shops are enlarging.
Yet there are troubles. The threat of urban renewal projects in adjoining districts, or in Haight-Ashbury itself, raises slum fears. “Planning” is not a kindly received word, by and large, among the 30,000 people live east of Stanyan Street, south of Fulton, west of Divisadero and north of 17th Street, Upper Terrace and Buena Vista Park.
The neighborhood’s problems had little importance in the flat at 1446 Waller St., where a visitor was cautioned by a four-year-old Negro girl playing on the front steps: “Don’t go in there. That’s the wrong door. That’s the beatnik door.”
In the previous week’s marijuana raid, police had jailed eight tenants and rounded up 14 suburban juveniles, nearly all neat and well-behaved.
The five survivors in the third floor flat said that the gathering had been a “rent party,” advertised in the hip world to raise — as effortlessly as possible — $100 for another month’s rent.
Like many hippies, they defended marijuana. “It’s not habit-forming, you know,” they said. “To equate it with smack (heroin) is wrong.”
Marijuana sells for about one dollar a stick (cigaret) or $15 an say [sic] it is easily obtained and far healthier than a few shots of whiskey.
Would the five consider taking jobs to raise bail for comrades unfairly incarcerated?
“It would be a lot of work.”
“They wouldn’t expect it of us.”
If they weren’t worried about their friends, or the next pad, or anything else, then how about dinner? Where was that next meal coming from?
“A lot of us have ‘straight’ friends. They bring us food.”
Without lifting a finger, hippies share, too, in this age of affluence. On the menu that evening was lasagna
(Tomorrow: Coffee-housing in the MTA)
After the jump, George Harrison discusses the Haight…
“The week of Burning Man is the only week that the rest of us don’t have to hear about Burning Man. What if that week could last forever?” asks a spokesperson for Cultivated Wit.
The group has created a crowd-funding site asking for a mere 7.3 billion dollars to build a 300-mile wall, from from Point Reyes to Santa Cruz, around the Bay Area during the week of Burning Man to keep the Burners from returning.
We want to help Burning Man attendees continue their favorite week of the year, and allow them to keep experiencing the genuine community and deep connections they can only feel while at Burning Man. To do this, we will build a 300-mile wall around the entire Bay Area during Burning Man.
For the rest of us, what’s normally our favorite week of the year… lasts forever!
Their (yeah, bogus) crowdfunding site, MegaGoGo, also features projects like rerouting the Mississippi River to California to solve the drought, building a tunnel under the “boring” Midwest, and deploying a fleet of blimps in Los Angeles to alleviate traffic.
If such a project were actually gotten off the ground, it would certainly go a long way toward lowering some of the astronomical rent prices in the Bay Area. The team at Cultivated Wit seems to think it’s doable if everyone pitches in:
Building a 300-mile wall in one week will be difficult, but if we can get just 50% of the Bay Area population (minus Burning Man attendees) we’ll have about 3.5 million volunteer wall builders. That’s less than half a foot of wall per person!
So what do you say San Francisco? Are you up to the challenge? Just don’t tell the Burners what you’re up to.
You’ve got less than a month to put this thing together!
In March DM reported on activists in Germany who, seeking to discourage drunken revelers from urinating in public, had applied special liquid-repelling paint to certain walls which would have the effect of redirecting the stream back towards, say, the malefactor’s own pant legs.
Today the San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that the city of San Francisco is using the identical technique. Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru commented, “We are piloting it to see if we can discourage people from peeing at many of our hot spots. ... Nobody wants to smell urine. We are trying different things to try to make San Francisco smell nice and look beautiful.”
[Nuru] demonstrated a painted wall’s effectiveness at the 16th Street Bart Plaza Thursday. A sign reading, “Hold it! This wall is not a public restroom. Please respect San Francisco and seek relief in an appropriate place,” hung above it. It doesn’t explicitly state that the wall will fire back, so some surprises are in store.
“Watch your shoes over there, brother,” Nuru said, spraying water from a plastic bottle against the pee-proof wall. The liquid splashed right back, soaking the bottom of his pants. “The team that did the testing, they were excited because the liquid bounces back more than we thought it would. Anything we can do to deter people is a good thing.”
The experiment in Hamburg’s St. Pauli neighborhood captured the attention of San Francisco officials. “Based on Hamburg, we know this pilot program is going to work,” Nuru said. “It will reduce the number of people using the walls. I really think it will deter them.”
The paint was applied in “nine urine-repellent walls in the Tenderloin, the Mission and South of Market,” with more to come. We can’t tell you where in San Francisco you are safe from the splattery technique, so we advise taking your binge drinking habits to Oakland for the time being.
Here’s a video from San Francisco Public Works demonstrating the paint:
There’s nothing more irritating than the evasive non-answers politicians mete out for the press and public. Education, budget, jobs—the words get thrown around a lot (and always in positive terms), but candidates are cagey and it’s nearly impossible to cut through their bullshit. If the voters want to know who these people really are, we have to ask the tough questions. Questions like…
The Wave: Reaction time is a factor in this, so please pay attention. Now, answer as quickly as you can.
It’s your birthday. Someone gives you a calfskin wallet. How do you react?
Gavin Newsom: I don’t have anything to put in it. I would thank them and move on.
TW: You’ve got a little boy. He shows you his butterfly collection plus the killing jar. What do you do?
GN: I would tell him to… You know what? I wouldn’t know how to respond. How’s that for an answer? Is this a psychological test? I’m worried…
TW: They’re just questions, Gavin. In answer to your query, they’re written down for me. It’s a test, designed to provoke an emotional response.
GN: Oh, I got you.
TW: Shall we continue?
TW: You’re watching television. Suddenly you realize there’s a wasp crawling on your arm. How would you react?
GN: I would quietly sit and wait for the wasp to move to the next victim.
TW: You’re in a desert walking along in the sand when all of the sudden you look down, and you see a tortoise, Gavin, it’s crawling toward you. You reach down, you flip the tortoise over on its back, Gavin. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can’t, not without your help. But you’re not helping. Why is that, Gavin?
GN: [Immediately] Not a chance. I would never flip the tortoise over in the first place.
TW: Describe in single words, only the good things that come into your mind. About your mother.
GN: Ethics. Commitment. Sacrifice.
CONCLUSION: Almost too close to call. Almost. Newsom displays a defensiveness when his empathy is questioned. He’s aware that he’s being probed for emotional responses, and even expresses concern about this. However, this concern is alleviated a little too easily by our crafty V-K interviewer. Newsom is definitely a replicant. Probably a Nexus 5.
My fellow Americans, that was the test for Gavin Newsom, who not only won that election, but ran and was elected for a second term in 2007, and now serves as Lieutenant Governor of the state of California. Forget about creeping sharia or David Icke’s lizard people—the replicant threat is real!
San Francisco has changed both rapidly and radically over recent years. As it’s become more appealing both for cosmopolitan urbanites and the exploding tech sector, gentrification has blessed The City by the Bay with the most expensive one-bedroom apartment in America, even surpassing New York. Many mourn the loss of an earlier San Francisco and its formerly affordable counterculture and queer subculture, while San Francisco documentary photographer and filmmaker James Hosking manages to actually catch some of the twilight.
For his series, Beautiful by Night, Hosking documents the lives of three senior drag queens Donna Personna, Collette LeGrande and Olivia Hart, performers at aunt Charlie’s Lounge, the very last gay bar in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. The notoriously seedy Tenderloin has managed to mostly resist gentrification on the merits of its reputation and a concerted effort by inhabitants. Still, without the surrounding culture of a former San Francisco to sustain it, the once vibrant queer scene has faded.
Hosking’s photographs are intimate and unflinching, but the mini-documentary is also an amazing portrait of three drag foremothers. Their reflections and reminiscing are complex but disarmingly at peace, and their performances and beauty rituals are (as expected) hypnotic.
If there’s any one artist who represents everything that was revolutionary about disco music, it was Sylvester. It doesn’t matter how many Bee Gees, Ethel Mermans, Rod Stewarts, Boney Ms et al you can throw at the genre as a reason to hate it, the fact is that if it wasn’t for disco there is no way that a linebacker-sized, black, openly gay, outrageous, gender-bending performer like him could have reached the top of the world’s charts.
Sylvester broke every taboo going. In fact he didn’t just break them: he tore them up, threw them on the floor and stamped on them with uproarious glee, all while dragging you out to dance with his irresistable energy. He didn’t have to shout about any of his social or political inclinations because he was already living them, out in the open, for everyone to see.
Sylvester didn’t make “political music” because he didn’t have to: Sylvester’s very existence was inherently political.
That to me is the rub when it comes down to “disco” versus “punk”, and all that bullshit snobbery and scorn rock fans heaped on disco. Contrast Sylvester with any one of the gangs of middle class, straight, angry-at-whatever white boys that were supposedly turning the world upside down in the name of “punk” and it becomes clear who was really pushing social boundaries.
The fact that the music was instantaneous and accessible only deepens the subversive effect. It’s unfortunate that “disco” has become an easy way to dismiss that which genuinely does not fit the rock cannon’s hardened mould, be it for reasons of race, gender or sexuality, but the music itself never died away. It reverberates still with an incredible, universal power. Sylvester was a supremely talented vocalist and performer, and I just couldn’t take seriously any music aficionado who claimed not to be moved by “(You Make Me Feel) Mighty Real” (not to mention “I Who Have Nothing,” “I Need You,” “Do You Wanna Funk,” “I Need Somebody To Love Tonight,” etc, etc.)
And besides, if I had a choice between a bunch of white punk boys or black drag queens, I know who I’d rather party with.
Unsung is a series produced by TV One profiling some of the more over-looked, yet supremely talented, names in black music from the 70s and 80s. There’s much to enjoy here if soul, funk and R&B are your thing. Other artists covered include Teddy Pendergrass, Zapp, Rose Royce, the Spinners and many more.
But for now let’s just enjoy the uplifting, touching and ultimately tragic story of the real queen of disco music:
Father, Son, Holy Ghost is the new album by San Francisco indie boys, um, Girls. Their debut album, called simply Album, made waves on its release in 2009 and this follow up is even better (if you ask me). There are sounds here reminiscent of early 90s grunge and shoegazing, but more than that Father, Son, Holy Ghost just drips mid-70s FM radio rock vibes. In a good way. Whereas some bands can really over egg their puddings using the kitchen sink-formula (choir! organ! strings! fuzzy guitar! bland mush!) Girls have got it just right, tempering their mix with the right balance of romance and melancholy. Check out this sweet car-fetish video for the single “Vomit”, which is available as a free download from the band’s Facebook page:
Girls - “Vomit”
Don’t worry - despite the title there’s nothing sick or NSFW in there, even though I detect shades of both Dazed And Confused and Cronenberg’s Crash. Father, Son, Holy Ghost is out now on Fantasy Trashcan/Matador records - there’s more info, including tour dates, on this page. If you like “Vomit” you can listen to the whole album right here:
The Units were one of the first “rock” bands in America to ditch guitars completely and focus their set-up on drums, vocals and synthesisers. Leaders of San Francisco’s post-punk synth-led music scene (a lot of which is now resurfacing with the current interest in “Minimal Wave”) the comparisons with Devo are clear, but still don’t detract from The Units’ cracking tunes and tangible influence on the new wave generation. Tracks like “High Pressure Days” and “I-Night” are still sought after by record collectors and forward thinking DJs alike, mainly because they still rock.
During live shows, The Units would perform to a video accompaniment of re-edited instructional shorts and found footage called the “Units Training Films”. Some of these films have been recreated and uploaded to Vimeo by founder member Scott Ryser. While still being very much of their time, they are excellent and definitely rank alongside similar efforts by the likes of Church of The Subgenius. Ryser has this to say about them:
The “Unit Training Film #1”, produced by Scott Ryser and Rachel Webber in 1980, was compiled from films that the band projected during their live performances. The films were satirical, instructional films critical of conformity and consumerism, compiled from found footage, home movies, and obsolete instructional shorts. In 1979 and 1980, Rick Prelinger was a frequent contributor and occasional projectionist at the bands live performances in San Francisco. The film was also shown sans band in movie theaters around the San Francisco Bay Area including the Roxie Cinema, Cinematheque, Intersection Theater and the Mill Valley Film Festival .
There was never a set length or definitive “finished version” of the original Unit Training Film. Just the current version. The film varied in length from about 10 to 45 minutes, depending on how long the Units set was on any particular night. Clips were constantly being added and others were deleted and discarded once their condition became too poor to project any longer. The film was constantly breaking, and the projectionists always kept a roll of Scotch Tape nearby for timely repairs.
This 5 minute version, compiled by Scott Ryser, includes some clips of the band playing along with a brief interview by a very young Fred Willard during the period 1980 - 1982.
Who’d have thought Fred Willard was a fan?!
Here is “Unit Training Film 1: Warm Moving Bodies”
After the jump, “Units Training FIlm 2: Cannibals” plus some more classics by The Units…
In the spring of 1963, San Francisco poet, documentarian, and media activist Richard Moore accompanied and filmed author James Baldwin and Youth For Service Executive Director Orville Luster on a tour through the black-majority Bayview/Hunter’s Point and Fillmore districts of San Francisco. They sought to portray the real experience of African-Americans in what was considered America’s most liberal city.
That outing would result in Take This Hammer, and the footage of it was shot at a crucial time in Baldwin’s life. After 15 years in exile in Paris, the Harlem-born writer was back in the States at the peak of his renown and with political fire in his eyes. His turbulent novels from the ‘50s—especially Go Tell It on the Mountain and Another Country—had stunned the literary world with their exposure of racism and deeply developed queer characters.
During the same spring in which Take This Hammer was shot, Baldwin published the rather incredible essay Down at the Cross, and ended up on the cover of Time. That summer, he’d end his tour of the American South at the March on Washington with a quarter-million of his fellow Americans, with many other celebrities.
Baldwin’s observations certainly set The City’s white lib establishment into fits: “There is no moral distance ... between the facts of life in San Francisco and the facts of life in Birmingham. Someone’s got to tell it like it is. And that’s where it’s at.” Unfortunately, as seen in documents like Kevin Epps’s 2001 doc Straight Outta Hunter’s Point, not much has changed in SF over the generations…
Anthony Stern’s San Francisco is a seminal work of British experimental and avant-garde cinema and one of the few art films to actually capture a little bit of the vibe of the hippie era. Stern describes the inspiration behind the film:
San Francisco was a response to hearing “Interstellar Overdrive” by Pink Floyd. It was my desire to make permanent the Pink Floyd lightshows created at the UFO club by Peter Wynne Wilson. The LSD-triggered psychedelic experience found its ultimate expression in this fusion of sight and sound, which achieved a visceral effect on the audience. San Francisco is ‘painting with light’ as well as a saturated archive of day to day life in the 1960’s. New rhythms were created in the language of film, in using single-frame exposures and freeze-frame techniques.”
Stern developed a friendship with Syd Barret while both were living in Cambridge, England. It was a relationship that would prove artistically productive, later evolving into a collaboration with Peter Whitehead on sixties pop culture documentary Tonite, Let’s All Make Love In London.
Here for your viewing and listening pleasure is Anthony Stern’s mindbending San Francisco:
San Francisco disco diva Sylvester James’s appearance at a dance party in a subterranean SF Muni station in the Castro district in 1979 couldn’t have been more fraught. The neighborhood had just been shaken to the core the previous fall with the shooting death of Harvey Milk, SF’s first openly gay supervisor. Ahead lay the AIDS epidemic, which would eventually take Sylvester himself 22 years ago this week at age 41.
But on that night, Sylvester was at the peak of his success. He was just about to release his 5th album, Stars, the follow-up to 1978’s Step II, which had hit #7 on the American R&B charts and included one of gay America’s legendary anthems, “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).” After his first taste of mainstream success, and after nine years of the official Gay Pride parade in San Francisco, after coming this far, perhaps it seemed fitting for the community to get back to its roots and and take the party underground again.
Thanks to Erica Green for bringing this to my attention…
If you’re like me, your atheism has been challenged by the sheer force of certain metaphysically oriented artforms. One of those forms for me is African-American gospel music. One of the greats of that genre, the Grammy-winning Rev. Walter Hawkins, died yesterday of pancreatic cancer. Hawkins had plenty of Billboard chart success leading his Love Center Choir. Significantly, he’ll also be remembered as head of an Oakland, CA church that wholly embraced and was supported by folks like disco singer, drag queen and gay icon Sylvester.
Hawkins’ initial success came as part of his brother’s group the Edwin Hawkins Singers, which had a crossover hit with 1967’s “Oh Happy Day.” According to Joshua Gamson’s The Fabulous Sylvester, the Legend, the Music, the Seventies in San Francisco:
Hawkins was one of those who left church, but as he grew older he started looking for a way to bring together “all those young people who I knew could not survive in a traditional church setting.”
One of those was the young Sylvester James, who was a well-known child gospel singer in his LA hometown before running away and eventually moving to San Francisco. By the time he’d arrived at Hawkins’ Bible study group-turned-church the Love Center, Sylvester had already done a short stint with local psychedelic drag performance group The Cockettes and performed with the then-unknown Pointer Sisters. When he tells the anecdote about Love Center members’ jaded acceptance of a prostitute into their ranks, Gamson notes: “They took the same attitude to Sylvester. His strangeness, when it was even noticed, was beloved.” In fact, the Love Center Choir would appear on numerous mid-‘80s Sylvester tunes, including “Call Me” and his cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City.”
When Sylvester died of complications from AIDS in 1988 at age 41, his memorial service was held at the Love Center. According to J. Matthew Cobb of Prayzehymm Online, the gospel industry and the black church in general has a lot of work to do with regards to its gay membership.