They call it 'Shit Alley,' and walking through it is the only way to get to the entrance of San Diego's only recording studio-turned-live venue, Black Box Recording Studios. The alley, one of hundreds that crisscross Golden Hill, reeks of a toilet on bad days and looks like the scene of a brown paintball game on its best. But the journey is worth it, if not to prove to yourself that homelessness is a major issue in San Diego, then for the music that spills from the gates at the other end.
Most evenings, musicians lug their instruments in and out of the studio's doors and into the alley, laughing loudly and looking forward to a meal at the Turf Club after a long night (or early morning) of rehearsing or recording. But I've come here to eavesdrop on the ones who are still here, to bear witness again to the sweating, pounding pulse of the fledgling music crowd that's formed around this little studio. This night, the boisterous laugh of Sleeping People guitarist Amber Coffman is emanating from the rehearsal space. A gangly 15-year-old is sauntering up to the gate after his mom dropped him off at the street. A foggy crowd of misfits is gathering around a man with a half-foot-long handlebar mustache and his mop-topped hipster friend.
Mustache man is Mike Pereira; mop-top is Mario Quintero. Together, they own and operate Black Box. A little more than a year ago, Pereira and Quintero put the final touches on Black Box's warm innards-a mix of light hardwood and lofty ceilings-but they were hosting shows months before that because 'it seemed like the right thing to do.' In the studio's cramped recording alcoves, bands play to a full house that tops out at around 50 people. It's so intimate that someone in the front row could easily reach out and strum a chord from the lead guitar or belt out a mic'd-up verse of their own. Sometimes they do.
The shows are on the down low-what, do you see a permit on the wall?-and the BYOB applies only to the loiterers in the parking lot, but crowds stream in anyway to see live shows from scenesters like The North Atlantic, Goblin Cock, Sirhan Sirhan, neonthief, Ilya or Hot Like A Robot. On a good night, you walk out deaf and satisfied through the front doors, past the handlebar mustache, beyond the ecstatic crowd of teens and into Shit Alley. And the music is usually so good, that you probably won't even notice the smell.
You can find Black Box Recording Studios at 2469 Broadway in Golden Hill, behind the 7-Eleven. Or find it online at www.black boxrecordingstudios.com.