Plus: The West Coast re-emergence of Aa, local label love at the B.A.R.F.
"The name 'The Independent' came up through some discussions with music industry friends," Scott told SF Weekly at the time of the club's opening. "The whole idea of the Wal-Marting of America applies to the music industry as well. We wanted to stand alone: independent thinking, independent music. We're an independent company. Of course, it was also an elbow in the side of the corporate giant out there." (Perloff had just parted ways with Clear Channel under less-than-friendly circumstances.)
A decade later, of course, APE runs a couple of the biggest festivals in Northern California, and functions as the exclusive promoter for Berkeley's Greek Theatre, Oakland's Fox Theater, and the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, among others. And Scott's now the vice president of APE. But The Independent, now the smallest APE operation, is still his baby.
"We wanted a utilitarian room that had great sound, great lights, and perfect sight lines," he says. "And because it's a box, the sight lines there really are perfect — no matter where you're standing in the room, you can make eye contact with the performers and vice-versa. I think it's the best-sounding room in the city. And I'd say it has the best lights of any venue underneath the size of the Fillmore."
Nicki Bluhm is among the local artists who now regularly pack larger venues (see: her sold-out Fillmore show Jan. 25) but maintain a soft spot for the Independent. "[The club] treats their artists with so much respect," she says, adding that the atmosphere there has led to some of her band's most memorable shows. Also memorable, says Scott: Obama's first presidential win, when the club held a free results-viewing party with live music. "When he won, the place erupted, and everyone spilled out into the streets...so there was a band playing inside and people just raging outside," he recalls. "Very San Francisco."
What does a quintessentially Brooklyn-loft-party-post-punk band sound like when two of its principal members relocate to LA? Judging by VoyAager, the lush, layered, immersively and epically spacey new album from experimental stalwarts Aa ("big A, little a"), it sounds like someone sent an assortment of synthesizers, samplers, and drum sets into the future, and the future is an industrial cityscape full of curiously advanced life forms who don't communicate in a narrative sense, but they sure have lots of energy, and they like writing melodies (though not the kind you'll likely hear on the radio anytime soon). Life sounds rough around the edges on this planet, but you kinda don't ever want to leave. (Give the first track a listen at the end of this story.)
John Atkinson, the drummer-heavy band's main vocalist and one of said members who relocated to the West Coast about three years ago, said the album — the band's first in seven years — is actually the culmination of nearly seven years of recording. "We all work on songs together even when we're not in the same place," explains Atkinson, who lived (and recorded some of his parts) in France in the mid-aughts. Though Aa's lineup and instrumentation seem to be constantly in flux (at this point, says Atkinson, there's something of an East Coast lineup and a West Coast one), the band's sound is distinctly more cohesive and melodic than on its 2007 debut, gAame.