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Is Skrillex the future of San Francisco?

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Skrillex and Fred Again at San Francisco City Hall

Skrillex and Fred Again at San Francisco City Hall. Photo by Jeremy Kuempel.


“I used to walk through this park on my way to the BART and today it’s filled with 25,000 beautiful people” Sonny Moore (better known by his stage name Skrillex) whispered into the microphone in front of City Hall, his soft voice amplified by a pair of speaker racks each over four stories tall. 

“I went to West Portal elementary…” he continued when Fred Again excitedly grabbed the mic, “My aunt still lives here! Everybody say hi to my aunt!”

Moments after waxing nostalgic, Skrillex gave the crowd what they came for—powerful bass drop after powerful bass drop, pure square waves of sound vibrating eardrums to the breaking point. Head banging, moshing, screaming and gnashing, the crowd turned out as if they could hardly believe their good fortune to be here in the beating heart of San Francisco on three days’ notice from a single tweet, writhing to two of of the best artists in the most competitive corner of the music business. 

Fred Again and Skrillex seem an unlikely duo, a Jekyll and Hyde of electronic music. Just as peanut butter and jelly appear an unlikely match on the surface, sandwiching the UK producer and the American dubstepper between two slices of towering speaker racks produces a combination so delicious it seems destined to go down in the ages as a staple of the modern musical diet. 

Skrillex and Fred Again at San Francisco City Hall

Skrillex and Fred Again at San Francisco City Hall. Photo by Jeremy Kuempel.

The pair of performers onstage weren’t the only unlikely duo that warm Saturday evening—the choice of venue itself raised more than an eyebrow from concert goers and journalists alike. Could a city with a reputation as tarnished as San Francisco still invite tens of thousands of revelers into its depths without some kind of calamity befalling them? If the Fox News pundits were right, wouldn’t there simply be a rash of smashed windows, picked pockets and other calamities befalling the guests one by one? A veritable lineup of the crooked preying upon the distinguished guests to this failed liberal experiment of a city? 

And yet, there was not a whimper of chaos as throngs of fans took public transit to the venue, orderly snaked through the gates into the event, and left peacefully as the plug was pulled promptly at 10pm in accordance with the city’s musical curfew. 

The crowd leaving the show at San Francisco Civic Center

The crowd leaving the show. Photo by Jeremy Kuempel.

But those thousands upon thousands of fans weren’t done yet. Skrillex and Fred Again, mighty as their show was, ended up being merely foreplay to a truly epic evening of nightlife and patronage of local businesses. The bars around the venue were slammed and nightlife city-wide came alive as people took that concert energy and channeled it into other entertainment.

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Even San Francisco Mayor Lond Breed caught the concert from front and center on the City Hall balcony, right behind the American flag. And why shouldn’t she participate in the fun? The Mayor has been very vocal about nightlife and entertainment playing a key role in rebuilding the economy of downtown after the pandemic and a permanent work-from-home culture emptied out its commercial buildings and decimated local business reliant on commuters for revenue. 

While the headlining concert on the front lawn of City Hall is certainly one of the most visible examples of her efforts in this arena, it is hardly the only one. She’s supported downtown events, from Let’s Glow SF, to Bhangra and Beats, to First Thursdays to now designating an entertainment zone on Front Street that allows open containers a la Bourbon Street in New Orleans or Sixth Street in Austin. 

It doesn’t take a political genius to see that the mayor who presided over a city going from one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas to dead last in post-COVID recovery will be facing an uphill battle when it comes time for re-election. And perhaps it’s for the best that she should be worried about re-election. Is it not the whole point of representative democracy to vote for leaders who serve our collective best interests?

Anderson Park at San Francisco City Hall.

Anderson .Paak at San Francisco City Hall. Photo by Jeremy Kuempel.

But as I moved my body to Fred Again’s hit new song “Places To Be”—recorded just weeks prior with California rapper Anderson .Paak—and caught a glimpse of our mayor looking out over the crowd, it occurred to me that our collective interests were so much more than the political word salad frequently spouted by career politicians and their handlers. Perhaps all the people wanted, perhaps all I really wanted, was a city alive with the sound of music. A city full of fans, restaurants, bars and galleries overflowing with people from the world over, united by a love of culture. And if London Breed was the woman to deliver it, then perhaps that promise of a better future could make amends for her missteps in the past.

Her plan is working, after all. What may have seemed initially like a half-hearted Hail Mary to appeal to voters in a last ditch effort is starting to show more as a savvy estimation of the city’s strengths. Nightlife is returning, conversations are shifting, and slowly but surely people are moving back. People who loudly left for Austin and Miami are now quietly returning. The tech industry is bouncing back, powered by exuberance over the potential of AI and bolstered by industry leaders such as YCombinator imploring founders to move to San Francisco or be left behind in the race. 

All I ask is that she learn from the mistakes of her predecessor Ed Lee, may he rest in peace. While Mayor Lee shepherded in a period of unprecedented growth, hopefully with only the best of intentions, that growth sadly left many locals out of sharing in its spoils. Artists left the city in staggering numbers, squeezed out by even more staggering increases in rent, and our city bled the culture that made it special. 

While the mayor can take pride in her city selling out a 25,000 person concert in minutes on 3 days notice, she should take notice of the scores of locals left standing outside of the gates looking to catch leftover sound waves like scraps from a dinner table. While affordability was certainly an issue where the tickets cost almost $100 with fees, access was another huge issue. Many of my friends who live and vote here in San Francisco were forced to resort to Stubhub to buy tickets at an eye watering markup. 

If our city government intends for entertainment to lift our economy up, then our people will want to be lifted up as well. London Breed would do well to consider a mandated ticket program, designed to give locals in need access to the entertainment she is welcoming with open arms. I worry about what our city might look like in absence of this kind of ticket access program—are we to become just another playground for the rich all over again?

But whatever I do, I won’t call it a comeback. San Francisco has always been a great place to go out. While we could have had any artist play on the steps of City Hall for the first and biggest show in recent memory, our city chose Skrillex, a producer who can trace his own steps back to that very park, with a style that seems to both defy the mainstream sound while also being defined by every hallmark of mainstream success. As his set came to a close and he professed his deepest thank you to the crowd and the city, I found myself asking “Is Skrillex the future of San Francisco?” Maybe not the man himself but events like this one seem to be a key ingredient of our days to come. 

Skrillex and Fred Again at San Francisco City Hall.

Skrillex and Fred Again at San Francisco City Hall. Photo by Jeremy Kuempel.

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