Thursday, July 30, 2009

San Francisco Bay-Area's many groundbreaking bands

Hey there Dig. Just wanted to say how much I love earache's output over the years and never failing in over all quality and in earache's search for forward thinking bands.

I was curious of what you thought about the bay area (northern California) scene.

Just curious to see which bands were of note to you back then (i guess besides the heavy hitters like Metallica, Testament, Death Angel, Neurosis, etc.)and if any are noteworthy now. It always seems like the bay area is always on the verge of breaking through but usually just caves in on itself every 4-5 years. Would love to hear your thoughts man. Cheers.

Answer: Well as you say, the San Francisco Bay-Area of California has thrown up way more than its fair share of groundbreaking bands.I've only visited the place once, which is kind of ridiculous given its importance in the history of music, I say music, because there is a lot more to the Bay-Area than Exodus/Metallica and the birthplace of Thrash Metal.

The city is certainly one of the strangest in America, as its geographically a peninsula, connected to the mainland by the Golden Gate bridge.I think it's this feature which led to the place becoming a hot-bed of the intelligensia and the reason for the extremely liberal views which permeate the town.To a Brit like me, its the nearest thing to a UK type town, it seemed packed with universities everywhere and every bar or club was heaving with students.I might be wrong but I don't think the place even has a mall.The traditional, blue-collar America is a mere 4 miles away across the water, but it might as well be another planet.Its much like Liverpool is here.

Likewise, San Francisco bands are quirky, many are politicised in some way, and all seek to fashion their own unique sound, they somehow seem immune from following any trends sweeping the rest of America.In the 60's the Hippy movement originated on the streets of SF-The Grateful Dead becoming the scene's most visible band.Aging hippies still congregate on the corner of Haight-Asbury to this day amongst the head-shops and tacky merchandise stalls set up for tourists.

Personally, the scene which got me aware of SF and its bands was the highly political Hardcore punk scene. One of the greatest SF bands ever was Dead Kennedys- allied to the Maximum Rock N Roll magazine crew, originating out of Berkeley, these were the guys who- quite literally- formed my musical education. I used to write scene reports for MRR,so would regularly trade records with Jello Biafra, Tim Yohannon and Jeff Bale - these guys knew their stuff about US punk, and were gracious enough to pass on their wisdom to me.But when I started to send them UK DIY metallised punk 45's in return, they suddenly stopped writing back.Oops, I guess it offended their punk credentials.

Another of the greatest SF bands ever is Faith No More- again, their quirky take on alternative/ metal and refusal to compromise was their calling card.This allied to Mike Patton's stellar voice led to them becoming world-famous. Faith No More - especially Mike, Jim and Billy- were all fans of the Earache extreme bands, and the guys would often drop by our office when playing Nottingham's Rock City club to pick up the latest Godflesh or Napalm Death disc for listening on the road.Other well known bands originating from the Bay include Green Day, Deftones and Machine Head.

Pioneering SF Bands which deserve honourable mentions are early 80's HC/Crossover act Attitude Adjustment and from the thrash-era - Possessed.This Thrash band arguably created the Death Metal genre (along with Chuck Schuldiner's Death) by adding extra deathy vocals and excessive speed and deadly subject matter to the genre.The Possessed song "Burning in Hell" was an early blueprint for the entire Death Metal genre which followed, in my opinion, as well as the song called simply "Death Metal".Bad luck dogged the band so they never got the accolades they deserve.

Not many people know that Black Metal in USA has its origins and roots in SF. The reason for my visit in the late 90s was to meet up with a fellow Brit named Paul Thind, who had emigrated there as a kid. His parents had left UK to run a traditional English 'fish and chip' shop in the Bay area.His label Necropolis was the very first to release Norwegian and US black metal bands in America.The guy was simply a fan who could'nt handle the business side of things when the popularity of the scene exploded,so the label folded. Looking back, his output now looks like a whos-who of prime Norwegian and US Black Metal, and Necropolis' part in the folklore and history of USBM is sealed.

As for current bands- I have no clue- maybe the blogonauts who are reading this can give me some tips of current bands who are spearheading the SF scene in 2009?

Heres POSSESSED back in 87


Joaquim said...

Dig, check out this interesting instrumental metal band, "The Fucking Champs", from SF.

They have confessed being influenced by extreme metal (yours Confessor has been mentioned in interviews) but the idea is to make some experimental instrumental traditional metal. Quite good.

Invisible Oranges said...

San Francisco definitely has malls. It is not hippie-land anymore, though traces of that remain. Now it is a mix of right, left, rich, poor, and everything else. The dotcom boom and bust changed the city a lot. It is still a very interesting place, but it is tough to paint it with stereotypes now.

The Bay Area has a thriving underground metal scene. I reference some of its bands here:

Its black metal history also includes Weakling, Leviathan, Crebain, etc. There is a bit of deathcore in the area (Animosity, All Shall Perish) as well as technical death metal in Santa Cruz (a little south of the city), with many bands on Willowtip and Unique Leader.

Digby said...

Thanks Cosmo and Joaquim for enlightening us with some new great SF bands.Ludicra are worth watching, definately.

You also mention how the dotcom boom and bust has changed the city.I remember how one of the early programmers and shareholders of the very first web-browser company- Netscape- Jamie W Zawinski, was pictured in photos at the time with long hair, and wearing a Ministry shirt.So unlike the nerdy programmer stereotype.

Within a few years AOL had bought Netscape and he became one of the first dotcom millionares.

Being a music nut he invested in music, buying a disused space in SF which was turned into a full-spec state of the art club DNA lounge .The club hosts some live music mostly of the industrial/dance variety and various club nights.