The Joy Formidable

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DNA Lounge: Wherein live music continues to vex us, and I name names about it.

We have a lot of great DJ dance nights here, and they are all fun, popular, and even award-winning parties. I actually enjoy all of our regular Friday and Saturday events. This is a big change from the first five-or-so years after I opened this place, when our Fri/Sat parties were just to pay the bills, and I actually intensely hated most them. These days, we have a set of dance parties that are both profitable and personally enjoyable, and that's amazing!

But dance parties are only half of the business that I wanted to be in.

Live music is what I love most, and we rarely have any real concerts here. We spent a fortune building a fantastic room for live music, and pretty much the only way we can actually gets bands on our stage is with events like those Battle of the Bands shows, which are basically pay-to-play for (the parents of) high school metal bands. Unsurprisingly, I don't feel like that's really fulfilling the mandate.

So... the Noise Pop Festival's 2012 line-up is out, and guess how many of those shows are at DNA Lounge? Zero! Did you guess right? I'll bet you guessed right. At this point it's not even remotely surprising. Noise Pop puts on shows around the city in dozens of different venues, from large rooms to tiny hole-in-the-wall bars, but DNA Lounge is never a part of that rotation, and we can't understand why. Most of the time when I go to Noise Pop shows, I look around and think, "Ok, why isn't this at DNA?"

Barry has been writing and/or calling the folks who put on Noise Pop every few months since 2008, when we went all ages. (Actually some time before that, but that's when he started trying in earnest.) Every year, that conversation has gone:

  • "Oh, really? You're available? Wow, we should totally do some of our shows at DNA! But we already have the schedule done for this year, call me again in six months."
  • Three, five, six, and then seven months later: "Oh, yeah, we'd love to! I'll get back to you."
  • Two months after that: "Oh, I guess we didn't really have any bands that were 'appropriate', but maybe next year."
  • The next year: "Oh, really? You're available? Wow, we should totally do some of our shows at DNA!"

...and, repeat. Seriously, this conversation has been happening for half a decade.

I mention this not to pick on them in particular (well, that too) but because it seems to be an endemic problem. There seems to be nothing we can do to get live music in here. We just get no respect for it. We have a great stage, a great sound system, but nobody wants to do live shows here. I don't know who we're expected to blow to make this happen. Here's another example, from just a few weeks ago:

There's this band from New Zealand that I really enjoy, The Naked and Famous. I saw on their Facebook that they were doing a few Southern California dates but nothing up here, so we mailed their agent and said, "Hey, how about an SF show? We have Dec 18 open." The agent wrote back and said, "No thanks, they're not up for it." Ok, fair enough. Except that six days later I saw a Naked and Famous gig show up on The Independent's calendar... on Dec 18, the very date we suggested. We wrote back saying basically, "Hey, WTF!" and the agent said, "Well, I've done a lot of business with those guys before, so of course I'm going to give them all of my shows." Which was surprisingly straightforward, I guess.

I did not reply with,

"Thank you for your honesty. I guess I should read this as, I shouldn't bother contacting your agency about booking your artists, because you're always going to choose our competition first without even allowing us to bid."

though I really should have. Certainly there's no point in our ever trying to work with The Windish Agency again; they've made that clear. Even if I was willing to to pay way more for the show than what it was worth, they don't even give us a chance to make an offer!

Normally we don't even get an answer as straightforward as that. The much more common way for that conversation to go is,

    Jamie:   Hey, this band So-and-So is great! We should book them!
    Barry: Dear booking agent, I'm writing to inquire about So-and-So. Are they touring any time soon? We'd love the opportunity to bid on the show.
    Agent: Sorry, So-and-So aren't touring right now.
    Barry: Ok, thank you. Please let us know when they are.
    Agent: [ 50/50 chance of getting "Ok", or just complete silence. ]
    ...time passes...
    Jamie: Hey Barry, did you see that So-and-So are playing at Not-DNA next month?

I go see live music a lot, at other venues. I'd say that during the busier months, I see two or three live shows a week, sometimes more. But never at DNA, because we just don't get to do that here. In particular, I see a lot of shows at Popscene. I think Aaron and Omar book some fantastic acts. I am very much on the same page with their taste in music -- and I'm also a big believer in the format they use for Popscene, a dance party with a single band in the middle. That's what we did for our own Pop Roxx parties, and that's not a coincidence.

So we've been trying to convince Popscene to move to DNA since, again, 2008 when we went all ages. We started nagging them when they were still at 330 Ritch, which is a great little bar, but too small for them, and has a terrible stage for live music, and a terrible sound system. "Oh no, we're totally happy here, we'd never move", they told us, right up until the day that they moved to Rickshaw Stop. Which is a great dance club but, again, too small for them, and has a terrible stage for live music. Aaron and Omar have put on shows here at DNA on occasion (such as the fantastic, but barely-attended, Chromatics show in September), but my impression is that it's only as a last resort, because, I guess, there's just something about this place that they hate? I don't know. The last time we made a concerted effort to recruit them, back in late 2009, we actually offered them such a sweet deal that I would have had to pay out of my own pocket every night that they were here. In a moment of weakness, I was willing to do that just to get their bands on our stage, and still they said no. (Where by "no" I mean "they wouldn't even return our phone calls".)

In fact, Barry says:

Starting in 2009:

  • I called Aaron and Omar nearly weekly;
  • I confronted them when they were DJing at DNA;
  • I confronted them when I would go to Popscene as an attendee;
  • I booked them at Pop Roxx not only because they play good music, but because I knew that since I was the one paying them, they couldn't dodge me when I tried to confront them about this;
  • I went to Popscene with the sole purpose of cornering them;
  • If I saw either DJing at a show I was attending I would confront them;
  • If I saw they were DJing a show that I was not planning on attending, I would go for the sole purpose of confronting them!

So, even the hard sell didn't work.

Perhaps this comes off as sounding whiny, but it's not like we've been just sitting on our asses doing nothing and complaining: we've tried every damned thing we can think of! Here are only three very recent examples of people we could have worked with, and have tried repeatedly to work with to make live music happen here, and still it goes nowhere.

To be clear, I have nothing against these other venues who get all these shows. You can't blame them for out-competing us 100% of the time. I just don't have any fucking idea what I can do about it.

So that all kind of sucks.