Across the Board Culture Music

“The Swan Song of the Bay Area”: A beacon of hope for struggling San Francisco artists

Leading with a steady funk beat and accompanying soulful riff, a raw performance from Sunny & the Black Pack introduces the first of six artists interviewed in POPeye Media’s recent short film titled “The Swan Song of the Bay Area.” Directed by Jeffrey Wu, the film documents the shift in the Bay Area music scene from the 1960s until today. By interviewing a variety of artists located in San Francisco, Palo Alto, San Jose, and Pleasant Hill, Wu provides us a modern perspective on a changing social, physical, and economic landscape as the Bay Area transformed into the hub of tech capital that we see today. The Silicon Valley is often recognized for its ambitious startup culture and lucrative software companies, sustaining thousands of working people at Apple, Google, Facebook, and countless others. Although its current economy relies hugely on software, San Francisco has a rich history in music. Following the 60s, the cultural revolution brought about a number of fresh young minds hoping to make a home out of the city, producing some of the country’s greatest artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, or Janis Joplin. By capturing beautiful shots of the Bay as well as raw performances by local artists, Wu gives us an insight into life as an upcoming musician in San Francisco. 

Sunny & the Black Pack performing a live show in San Francisco

Although the Bay Area is still home to artists who perform or record music in the city’s various venues, the culture around music has changed drastically from what it once was. Sunny & the Black Pack, a jazz-funk band that performs local shows throughout San Francisco, recalls a recently closed but beloved venue called Brainwash Cafe, which was uniquely part laundromat and part music stage. Hip hop artists such as Chow Mane also describe a changing music industry in the Bay. Although he remains passionate about producing music, he discusses the modern artist’s struggle with exposure and “getting your name out there.” Singers Jayne Rio and Basi Vibes also bring up rising real estate costs in the Bay Area, which have caused many fellow artists to lose motivation in their craft or simply move to a more affordable area such as Sacramento or Southern California. Another recording artist called Underbelly, based in Palo Alto, paints a vivid picture of “bougie” suburban life in the Bay as filled with Teslas, iPhones, and Sushirritos, truly “a rich man’s fairy tale.” When asked about the origin of Northern California’s experimental beat music, he laughs and responds frankly: “[A] lot of weed and acid.” 

An aerial shot of Palo Alto captured by the POPeye team

 Despite these recent changes, artists such as Booker D have found pockets of space where music still thrives. Situated comfortably in his favorite record shop, he professes, “It’s like church man, it’s a spiritual place.” Although it may be difficult to find their place in today’s music scene, there is still reason for musicians to remain in the Bay. These artists have chosen to stay rooted in the Bay Area and continue to retain strong connections to their hometowns. With the right people to support them, artists feel as if they still have a place in the music community, coming together through this uniquely difficult moment in San Francisco culture. As Chow Mane explains, “A lot of good art is made especially in times when there is social instability. . . When people are out there writing songs about it, there’s a certain level of pain, a certain level of reality in it that people can kinda feel because that stuff’s coming from the heart.”

“A lot of good art is made especially in times when there is social instability.”

Chow Mane, San Jose based hip-hop artist

By carefully choosing a variety of artists to interview as well as capturing immersive footage and audio that showcases the talent of these artists, POPeye allows us to experience the Bay Area music scene. While the film is produced by young creators about young artists, it manages to instill a sense of nostalgia for what San Francisco once was, countered only by the uplifting optimism of these six artists. It offers encouragement to a community that refuses to die, that will thrive despite the obstacles that threaten to hinder its growth. In the face of a rapidly changing environment, this generation of artists proves their ability to adjust to the effects of commodification and gentrification, creating remarkably inspired music that reveals an insight to the place that they all call home. 

Watch or learn more about the film here:

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