San Diego is not the next Seattle. Never has been.
In fact, in the Internet age, the next Seattle, the next New York, the next Detroit—those proclamations aren't really valid anymore. Yet it seems that for as long as anyone in the music scene cares to remember, San Diego has been continuously stuck on the precipice of something bigger—never wholly ignored but also never reaching the national attention we all believe it deserves.
Started last year as a South by Southwest-style festival, this year's North Park Music Thing (run largely by CityBeat publisher Kevin Hellman) is the largest single showcase of local acts. But since this time last year, a lot has happened that has garnered our scene more attention. Three of San Diego's most revered bands—Three Mile Pilot, No Knife and blink-182—reunited for the first time in years. The 20th anniversary of The Casbah in January came amid the rise of several new music venues, such as Soda Bar, Radio Room, Bar Pink and The Loft @ UCSD. And a crop of exciting new bands like Crocodiles, Wavves, Beaters, The Soft Pack and The Dum Dum Girls have been buzzed about on a national level, prompting Rolling Stone to proclaim San Diego the “hot” music scene.
“San Diego has always been hot,” says deejay and music promoter Tim Pyles. “It's just taken some time for the rest of the world to realize it. Per capita, we've got some of the best unsigned bands in the country. Now, I haven't experienced other local music scenes, but I can tell you what we have here is magical.”
“[I feel] pretty smug actually,” said Scott Pactor, writer of the blog Cat Dirt Sez “Crime Pay$,” in an e-mail interview. “I had kind of quit blogging, and then the next thing I know, I'm reading about the Crocodiles on the front page of The New York Times and then Rolling Stone, Spin, Nylon, Fader—all profiling bands and people I've been blogging about for three years. I feel vindicated re: my taste in music. It's like every day there's another post on Brooklyn Vegan, Pitchfork or Stereogum about someone I hang out with.”
So, while the scene is getting more attention, the paradigm has been changing. MTV no longer plays videos. Radio is largely run by a few multinational corporations that are more concerned with the bottom line than breaking the next big thing. Major record companies are like dinosaurs, clinging to outdated formats and methods of distribution that have rendered them all but passé in an age where any band's music is just a click away. And print media can no longer keep up with the rapid, real-time assault of music blogs and websites that are breaking hot acts months, sometimes years, before the rest of the media have caught up.
The fact that San Diego is geographically small makes for more intra-band mingling, which makes for a less cutthroat scene. That's not to say that San Diego bands don't try as hard to make it big; there's just not that level of competitiveness that you find in places like Nashville and New York. A common accolade among local musicians is how supportive bands are of each other. So, with support from peers and seemingly more venues and promoters than ever, it would seem there'd be more opportunities for local bands to gain fans and buzz.
“I think it is great that there is a lot going on,” says Chad Waldorf, who books bands at Belly Up Tavern and manages a few local acts. “There seems to be more promoters and art pushers doing more now than in the last few years. I also like the idea of more and more events outside the traditional bar-venue setting.”
But both Pyles and Pactor think this can be a curse as well as a blessing.
“With all these great bands, the only rub is that with all the new venues supporting new music in San Diego, the fan base has been spread pretty thin,” Pyles says. “The bands support the other bands—that's the way it's always been here, so on any given night, you have the scene being spread around and not in the hub, like the days when The Casbah was all we had.”
“We need less local music and more focus,” Pactor adds. “Bands need to work on having something to bring to the table before they go out and start booking four-band bills on a Tuesday night at a venue with no audience.”
So, could it be that the things we always wanted—more bands, more venues and more local support, which are the things that have always worked in the past to help break scenes and bands—are the things that are now holding us back? That San Diego is home to so many talented and diverse bands means that we'll never be nationally regarded or responsible for one particular genre of music. But that just might be a good thing. We may always believe that we deserve more attention than we get, but that doesn't mean that we don't get what we deserve.What do you think? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.