Illustration of Kyp Malone, Joanna Newsom, and Devendra Banhart by Matt Furie and Aiyana Udesen
Picture '06, the aughties about half over. Alissa Anderson, cellist of the sweet and elegant Bay Area country-folk ensemble Vetiver, was positively boiling.
"I think if you ask anyone who gets labeled as freak folk, they'll basically tell you they think of it as f-cking garbage and insulting. It's not accurate, and it's just a cop-out."
Anderson -- the DIY fashion impresario of Mittenmaker and the rock photog who went on to publish a tome via Chronicle Books -- was no wilting violet, no shy refugee from a well-behaved string quartet. She only resembled a curly-maned Mucha poster girl crossed with Maria Schneider. In the halcyon days of '06, she was royally pissed about the way her band led by then-domestic partner Andy Cabic, musically and "spiritually" supported by Devendra Banhart had been tagged as flaming freaks. This after Vetiver was plopped above the fold like overseeing avatars in a flashy New York Times photo collage illustrating a big, fat feature on the out-folk, "New Weird America," altogether-psychedelic movement. Booty-danced by Lindsay Lohan and wooed by Karl Lagerfeld? For Banhart and Vetiver's crew it was just part of the hallucinatory passing parade of hairy fairies, gentle noise visionaries, and elegant acid explorers.
And it was just another Saturday night as the San Francisco Bay Area's teeming subcultures, multitudinous lifestyles, and micro-tribes met in the evening shade. At SF's last-call witching hour of 1:45 a.m., in the thick of the transformative and transfigurative '00s, Anderson was in the car, looking for the night's next after-hours warehouse party, and I was in search of a way to encapsulate the Bay scene, somehow, in print.
I followed Anderson from dusty gravel parking lot to her DJ friend Muffin's soiree. The Dogpatch warehouse he shared with other musicians, artists, and the odd Web jockey was surrounded by heavy industry trucking and transporting companies, old cement factories and sat smack atop an auto repair garage known to emanate noxious fumes.
But what a great space for a raging party. Anderson grabbed and hugged pals as we climbed the skinny, swerving stairs to a large, rectangular space overlooking a street populated by hipster insomniacs. The difference between this and other clubs? Everyone was dancing to the rock-hard, grimy techno. I spied Anderson as she disappeared behind a massive piece of furniture into another room, while the evening's live band, the Sixteens, prepped for a set of sharp, shattered art-punk that wouldn't be out of line on a late-1970s Mudd Club bill.
Welcome to the Bay Area music scene, underground, overground, and increasingly known throughout the country during the '00s for the hard-partying, house-rocking, artistically (and, at brief moments, commercially) ambitious ways that it swings. Chalk it up to the Summer of Love and its legacy of acid tests, its rotating doors of psychedelic perception, and taste for bold experimentation. Or to Sly Stone and his Owsley-fried knack for hybridizing funk and pop. Or to Too Short and 2pac and their street-level rap touched by heroic dealers and neighborhood Panthers. Or to an anthemic Green Day and its politicized Gilman Street punk, and a garage-days-to-arena-stages Metallica and its thrash nation.