Sneak a peak at the California Cereals factory — a gray, boxy concrete sprawl looming over an otherwise peaceful West Oakland neighborhood lined with wood frame houses and a sugary spray of Victorians — and you immediately expect that mulchy aroma of processed wheat products to assault the senses. So why do you detect ... barbecuing oysters? But that's the overriding scent du jour — and the improvisatory, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-fun nature of the Cereal Factory, one of many unpermitted party outposts where the city's rock, improv, noise, and punk scenes have survived and even thrived in the Bay Area despite fin de siècle real estate insanity, party-killing neighbors, and ticket-threatening cops.
Scruffy, T-shirted kids lounge on the front steps of Jason Smith's two-story home, dubbed the Cereal Factory for the genuine, sugar-coated article churning out Fruity Pebbles and generic raisin bran across the street. Down a side path, in the small backyard, music scenesters, fans, punks, indie rockers, and cool dudes mingle on the grass and down the canned beer and grillables they've brought as CF housemate Daniel Martins of Battleship throws more oysters on the barbie. Double back, and in the basement you find a dark, humid, tiki-embellished crash pad, not uncomfortably crammed with bodies shaking to Italian punk-noise band Dada Swing. Or you catch Bananas, Mika Miko, or Chow Nasty killing the rest of the early evening for gas money.
"My whole thing is to make it free, make it so that people can go to it," the extremely good-natured Smith says much later. "If there's a touring band, I always run around with a hat and kind of strong-arm people into coughing up some change or a couple bucks to give them some gas, but otherwise the bands all play here for free. I just provide the coals, and I buy two cases of beer for the bands." As for the oysters, he adds, "shit like that happens! People are just, like, 'I caught this huge fish — let's smoke it.'”
Smith is one of the proud, brave, and reckless few who have turned their homes into unofficial party headquarters, underground live music venues. San Francisco and Oakland are riddled with such weekly, biweekly, and even more sporadic venues — some named and some known by nothing more than an address. But oh, what names: Pubis Noir, 5lowershop, an Undisclosed Location, Club Hot, Noodle Factory, Ptomaine Temple, and the Hazmat House. Some, like the Cereal Factory, are only active during the summer barbecue season; others, like LoBot Gallery, host shows and art exhibits year-round. Why go through the headache of opening your home up to a bunch of hard-partying strangers, music lovers, and the occasional psycho who trashes your bathroom? Some, such as Oakland's French Fry Factory, have bitten the dust after being busted for allegedly selling beer at shows. Others, such as 40th Street Warehouse and Grandma's House, have bowed to pressures external (neighbors, landlords) and internal (warehousemates), respectively. Why do we care?
CULTIVATING NEW AND UNDERSERVED SCENES
The Clit Stop can take credit for being one of the first venues in San Francisco to dream up the now-familiar cocktail of noise, indie rock, jazz, and improv. Ex-Crack: We Are Rock and Big Techno Werewolves mastermind Eric Bauer and Bran Pos brain Jake Rodriguez began booking shows in 1998 in Bauer's 58 Tehama space, once dubbed Gallery Oh Boy. Shows began on time at 8 or 9 p.m. so that East Bay listeners could BART back before midnight, and as a result Bauer and Rodriguez would often open, under assorted monikers. A May 2000 lineup at the Clit Stop (named after Bauer's band Planet Size: Clit by Caroliner's Grux) combined scree-kabukists Rubber O Cement with improv rockers Gang Wizard, indies Minmae, and Bauer's dada-noise Aerobics King; another bill matched the angsty indie-electronica of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone with the noise-guitar-funk of Open City and the jazz sax of Tony Bevan.