San Francisco's local music scene dealt blow with Elbo Room, Hemlock Tavern closures

- If anything, Matt Shapiro's mission in booking shows at Elbo Room has been to keep it "dark, weird, extreme and wrong." 

He's been curating nightlife at the San Francisco music scene staple since 2004. He considers stamping out mediocrity as part of his strategy, but this week we found out his bar, which he co-owns with Erik Cantu, is being stamped out. The bar, which was granted legacy status by the city last year, will come to an end January 1, 2019 after 27 years.

Shapiro wrote on Facebook Monday that the building, located at a prime spot on Valencia Street in the Mission, is on the market. It is reported to be for sale for $4.2 million

"There is less interest in seeing live bands," Shapiro said. He's been a part of the local underground music scene having played in many outfits himself like; Nigel Pepper Cock, Pig Iron, Cops, Three Weeks Clea and currently plays in Murder Murder. Extreme and wrong, indeed. 

"I moved here in the '90s when I was 24. It was cheap. It's hard to do now," Shapiro said. "People who work in the service industry don’t live here anymore. They used to live here and would go to shows in Hayes Valley or the Mission. Now they see bands in Oakland." Presumably because that's where they live now. 

This latest music venue closure comes as yet another devastating blow for the local music scene. Polk Street's Hemlock Tavern shutters for good this Saturday on its 17th anniversary. The Hemlock will be razed to make way for condos. The prevailing theory is that the Elbo Room will suffer the same fate. 

What does it all mean for a city that has traditionally had a thriving local music scene? 

"People will start getting creative," Shapiro said. "Booking has not been hard. I get so many emails a day. SF isn't dead." 

But he does touch on shifting demographics and perhaps less interest in an expensive city to see live underground music. And what about those who do? "People want shows to end earlier. They have to catch BART [so they don't get curfewed and make it home]. To me, it's counterintuitive for a night club to have a show start at 7 p.m. 8 o'clock is pushing it for me." 

"The demographics might change, but if we are smart, we can make sure that means San Francisco is home to more nightlife, not less and a more diverse arts scene," said Sonja Trauss, a pro-development and housing candidate for District 6 supervisor seeking to succeed Sup. Jane Kim in a hotly contested race this November.

In 2014 she founded the YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard)- affiliated Bay Area Renters Federation. Her website points to what she saw as an "anti-growth, anti-newcomer mindset" in the Bay Area. But her pledge of commitment to ensure SF has successful bars and music venues of all sizes includes a guarantee; one that may be hard to keep. Trauss said the Office of Economic Workforce and Development told her displaced establishments having guaranteed space in new development is feasible. 

For now, Shapiro and Cantu will be able to give the recently opened Elbo Room- Jack London Square Oakland the full attention it deserves. "I'm excited. It's a small room. A smaller room is fun to be in a show when it's packed." 

For your fix of EBM (Electronic Body Music) metal, death rock, noise, industrial and punk; you have until early next year at Elbo Room SF, after that you can head over to Oakland. 

 

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