Saturday, December 29, 2007

The San Francisco Zoo: Run by Satan's Zookeepers?

As usual, I headed to Nebraska for the holidays, and when I got to my parents' house, one of the first things they asked me was if I'd heard about the tiger that killed somebody in San Francisco. Er, what? Well, all I had to do to find out about it was turn on the TV, since the story dominated newscasts all through the holiday, until the assassination of Benazir Bhutto knocked it off the screens. While the thought of being attacked and killed by an escaped tiger at your local zoo is horrifying enough, the way the zoo handled things makes me wonder if the place is being run by a satan-worshipping cabal of sadistic freaks, secretly presided over by Dick Cheney, who's writing all their public statements.

First of all, check this out: zoo employees initially told police that the reports of an escaped tiger that had come in to the 911 center were the "ravings of a mentally unstable person" according to the Chronicle. When fire crews and police arrived, the zoo was on "emergency lockdown" and employees prevented them from going inside. Now, wouldn't you think that police and fire crews would be exempt from an emergency lockdown, and that in fact, you might actually want them to get involved with the emergency? Zoo officials apparently panicked during the crisis, telling police that up to four tigers had escaped, until somebody thought to count the ones still in the cages.

In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, of course, everyone is demanding to know how a tiger could have escaped, and zoo officials are insisting the tiger's enclosure is surrounded by a 20-foot-wide moat and 20-foot-high walls; accusations that the victims "taunted" the tiger or that foul play was involved started to hit the press. Word leaked of a shoe and/or blood found inside the tiger's enclosure, like that was proof the victims were somehow responsible. Then came this quote from zoo director Manuel Mollinedo that absolutely blew my mind:
"Somebody created a situation that really agitated her and gave her some sort of a method to break out," Mollinedo said. "There is no possible way the cat could have made it out of there in a single leap. I would surmise that there was help. "A couple of feet dangling over the edge could possibly have done it." Sources said pinecones and sticks that were found in the moat might have been thrown at the animal. Those items could not have landed in the grotto naturally, they said.

Let me get this straight: you're saying the victims lifted themselves up over the wall, dangled their feet towards the tiger, who then was able to jump up and grab those legs, since the wall had been perfectly calibrated as being only a foot or two beyond the reach of the animal's leap; then, using superhuman strength, the victims were able to pull the leg-dangling taunter and the attached tiger back over the wall, so the tiger could run free? Is this guy for real? And yeah, sticks and pinecones, there is no way those could ever be found in a zoo exhibit. Besides, don't you know tigers use those sticks to build exit ramps from their cages?

Well, if it did build a ramp, it didn't have far to go: now we have reports that the tiger enclosure's wall was only a little over 12 feet high, which is below national standards. Whoops. Police chief Heather Fong says that no shoe or blood was found inside the enclosure. Oh, sorry. An employee of a photo booth at the zoo said he couldn't believe anyone would taunt the tigers, saying "It's pitch black around here by 5 p.m... I would have been scared to be anywhere near that cage the way they're describing it."

Anyone who knows San Francisco knows that the area of town by the zoo is kind of a "land of the lost." It's perennially fog-bound and cold, and salty air from the nearby ocean seems to have sucked the color and life out of the surrounding buildings. It's where the last, supremely creepy Doggie Diner was, and the ever-present eucalyptus trees give the air a sickly sweet, moldy smell. Smack dab in the middle of this area is the zoo, and I've never been there: it gives off a vibe of being the black hole of misery in the center of this galaxy that time forgot. The dysfunction--and, really, sheer evil--of zoo officials in this situation seems to confirm all these images, like the employees are calcified zombies, barely aware of how to deal with the outside world. Zoos in general are kind of fucked up, and putting a bunch of tropical animals in the middle of this freezing, miserable, gray area seems completely insane, an idea straight out of the 1800s, when animals were treated like objects for our amusement.

Ultimately, whether or not there was any "taunting" of an animal at the zoo is completely beside the point: animals shouldn't be able to escape. Teenage rowdiness does not condemn you to a horrible death at the hands of a tiger. Zoo officials' response and statements implying otherwise are shameful.

I'll say it: shut down the San Francisco Zoo.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Video from the Gettin' Euros Tour: Liege, Belgium

DJ Klax, a lovely young lady I met in Liege (who was kind enough to interview me after interviewing DJ Zebra for a local radio station, even though my French was terrible and it was pretty clear Zebra was the star) has posted some cool videos of Zebra's and my sets at Soundstation, and while I have to say it's kind of boring to watch me since I'm just, you know, playing CDs, you can kind of get an idea of stuff I was playing, and hey, look at that, some people in the crowd seem to like it (remember it was 3am when i was on). Most awesomely, she made a crazy intro screen using my "Gettin' Euros" logo and a giant euro sign, which by the way Nako is threatening to have T-shirts made of.

Party Ben at Soundstation Li├Ęge (Belgium) 03

Do people get the semi-ironic way in which I'm playing "Pump It Up"? Actually I've lost track of whether anything I do is ironic or not any more...

Also, if you watch Video #1, you can hear a point where my goofy mix of "Jump Around" with Queen and GHP's Queen/AC/DC mix suddenly ramps up about 5% in speed, and as you can see I'm not touching the right CD player, it just did it by itself, I swear. This is the kind of hardship I was dealing with all over Europe people! But thankfully there was a 3rd CDJ so I just abandoned that one.

More Pics from the Gettin' Euros Tour: Poland

DJ Spox sends over some lovely b/w shots of the gig in Warsaw, although a couple of them look kind of weird since the red light makes everything red look white, like say, the red & white Polska scarves. Go here to see them all, and here's a couple good ones:

Party Ben and a couple fans post-set:

Duze Pe, Spox and myself, celebrating Poland's qualification for the Euro 2008 championships with scarves:

Dancing peeps:

Monday, December 17, 2007

United Airlines Operating New Time Machine 747s

As a frequent (and frequently frustrated) flyer on United Airlines, I'm a subscriber to their "E-fares" e-mails, which let you know about last-minute cheap fares. Usually it's pretty slim pickings, with $200 flights to Boise or Wichita, but tonight I got the e-mail and clicked over to see where they were offering inexpensive tickets, and got a bit of a surprise: some e-fares allow you to travel back in time three or four days.

That's right: "Depart anytime Saturday December 22nd, return anytime Monday December 17th or Tuesday, December 18th." Also, E-fares entitle you to change your velocity without a force acting upon you, take actions without equal and opposite reactions, and know both the position and velocity of quantum-scale particles. Buy now!

Good Times at French Kiss

Although I didn't play the Lil' Louis track of the same name and I totally should have done that. Anyway, French Kiss is a new Sunday night electro/b-more/indie/retro/mashup club over at the lovely Club Pink on the not-so-lovely stretch of 16th between Mission & S Van Ness, although it's gotten slightly lovelier with the addition of Bar Bambino, which looks incredibly inviting but I'm afraid I'm not that big a fan of Italian food. Too much cheese. Actually I would have tried it anyway but it closed at 10pm on Sundays and I wasn't over there in time.

So, at French Kiss, Mykill and Forever 21, the promoters and resident DJs, kindly allowed me to do a guest set there last night and it was tons of fun: I got to fully indulge my Baltimore/bassline house/freestyle/Herve/Sinden addiction and also played a bunch of my own more electro-leaning mashups including some new items. I think my playlist went something like this:

Party Ben - "Callin' Up the Pieces" (Baltimore Remix)
Party Ben - "Rocky Done Gun" (MIA vs. a bunch of stuff)
Diplo - "Shake it Out"
Amy Winehouse - "Valerie" (Sinden & Count of Monte Cristal remix)
Larry Tee ft. Princess Superstar - "Licky" (Herve Goes Low Remix)
Shannon - "Let the Music Play"
TEPR - "Minuit Jacuzzi" (Data remix)
Party Ben - "Pump Up the Beat" (Simian Mobile Disco vs. Technotronic)
Party Ben - "D.A.N.C.E. (Like a Record)" (Justice vs. Dead or Alive)
Party Ben - "Busy (Like a Hurricane)" (Crystal Method vs. Scorpions)
Bart B-More - "Killing It"
Switch - "Brick n Lace"
Herve - "Cheap Thrills"
Pimp Daddy Supreme - "Thrillershake" (Michael Jackson vs. Yin Yang Twins)
Payroll - "Daft Prayer" (Daft Punk vs. Bon Jovi)

There were a bunch of things I wanted to play but didn't get to, alas, like I can't believe I forgot to play the new "Beeper" mix. But anyway, for a Sunday night there was a really great crowd and I ran into like 4 people I knew completely randomly, i.e. they didn't know I was going to be there or vice versa. Mykill and Forever 21 are really good DJs and it's cool to meet people on the same musical tip as myself: obsessed with crazy new sounds but with a soft spot for the cheesy oldies. Although Mykill told me it was okay to play my Scorpions mix and it kind of cleared the floor. But the "Thriller" megamix at the end, boy do people love "Thriller."

Anyway, it's a great time, check it out if you're antsy on a Sunday night, and thanks to the guys and fellow guest DJ Shaun Slaughter who kicked off his set with the super duper "All Through the Night" by Escort, whose muppet-tastic video still gives me the giddy giggles. Let's watch it again, please can we?

I Just Figured Out

...that the title of Radiohead's album, In Rainbows, is most likely a reference to the title of the Boards of Canada song "Roygbiv," (as in, "Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo Violet") whose bassline and general spaciness they appropriated for "All I Need."

Am I just slow? Did everybody else already know this?

Boards of Canada - "Roygbiv" (fan video)

Radiohead - "All I Need" (fan video)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

SF: I've Got to Admit It's Getting Better… But Is It Enough?

The always-smart John King has an article in today's SF Chronicle about the changes taking place in Golden Gate Park, with new, challenging architecture and a revamped landscape, and he rightfully lauds the architects and planners for creating an "innovative" public space:
The Music Concourse district also demonstrates what San Francisco should be - a city open to new ideas even as it protects what's of value from our past.

The de Young Museum is a near-masterpiece of a building that's both surprising and oddly site-appropriate, and the new Academy promises to be a fascinating interpretation of "green" architecture. It's an inspiring spot, and it got me thinking: San Francisco has had more than a few of these good things come to fruition in the past couple of years. Octavia Boulevard, despite its flaws (why did we need the elevated freeway to go all the way to Market street?) has allowed a neighborhood previously strangled by on-ramps to flower, and it will only get better as (hopefully) interesting architecture fills the newly created vacant lots. SOMA is exploding with high-rises, and again, while most are part of block-wide mega-projects and decidedly out of touch with the mottled, Jane Jacobsian approach that creates truly livable neighborhoods, it's a damn sight better than parking lots, and the Rincon Hill plans that include a newly two-way Folsom Street look fantastic. New architecture is breaking with SF's usual aesthetic conservatism, especially in SOMA, with examples like the crazy new Federal Building and the more subtle but perhaps more successful Plaza Apartments filling in the blank spaces in the neighborhood. Don't forget changes from the last few years like BART to the airport and the new neighborhood sprouting up around the ballpark. These are all great moves, executed well (if not exactly perfectly), but is it all enough?

I hate to be a Euro-snob, but having just returned from a trip across the continent where I saw all different cities and their approaches to urban planning, transit, and architecture, it's hard not to get the feeling that San Francisco can never be as truly livable as even 3rd-tier European hubs like Warsaw or Munich. Take Warsaw for example. With barely a rudimentary knowledge of the language and a vague sense of the city's layout, I was able to buy a week-long tourist pass and figure out the transit system in a snap. Trams go in pretty straight lines, they're fast and plentiful, the routes are clearly marked and not shared with cars, it's all on the honor system, lots of trams even have cool LED sign thingies (see photo at left) that show you the upcoming stops. Contrast this with our recent experience with DJ Moule and DJ Zebra when they came over to DJ. They stayed with me and on their free day we wandered around the city; at one point we were downtown at the cable car turnaround on Powell and Moule wanted to go to Amoeba in the Haight. Easy: the N-Judah goes right there. We go down into the Powell Street station, I go up to a machine to get change for the Muni, and when I turn around I see Moule and Zebra, wide-eyed, wrestling with a BART ticket machine, trying to put their money in the ticket slot. And these are guys who are familiar with complex public transit systems! But think about the complexity of what we were about to do: use the BART machine to get $1.50 in quarters, but don't actually get on BART, go to the Muni entrance (if you can tell the difference), put the quarters in the turnstile, but then don't forget to take your ticket when it pops out since the damn trains become "proof of payment" after they leave the subway, then go down into the station and go to the far 20% of the platform that will actually be in front of a tiny 2-car tram, and then wait for an "N" to show up, which you can hopefully squeeze onto. It will glide happily through the tunnel until it lurches and stops, and then inches cautiously up out of the tunnel on a goofy ramp, then the driver hops out at Church Street and who knows, gets a coffee or something, and after he comes back and starts it back up, you rumble along at about 3 miles an hour, as cars dart out in front. It's like this was planned by a sadistic madman, it takes 20 or 30 minutes, and we were basically going to places almost adjacent to the line.

Now that the truncated and basically useless Central Subway plan looks like a go, one shudders to see the ways Muni will fuck this up: one potential plan (picture at right) has a northbound line running under 3rd Street and a southbound line under 4th Street, both of them featuring more awesome ramps to the surface around Townsend that you know will run about the same speed as the one behind Safeway. Another plan has the trains making a 90-degree turn from 3rd to Market and then a 135-degree turn to head up Stockton. Again, why build the damn thing if you're going to strangle it with poor planning? Even in the best case, it will only go from mid-Chinatown to the ballpark.

Further down the road (and probably less likely at all) is the California high-speed rail plan, with a fancy new station planned for the currently hellish Transbay Terminal bus depot at 1st & Mission. Even if this gets built, and even if they do spend the zillions of dollars to tunnel from the current Caltrain station to this new position, it's a full-size SOMA block to Market street! It doesn't even connect directly with BART or Muni!!! Did anybody think, "Hey, if we're going to spend 100 bil on this thing maybe we could tunnel the extra block to make the damn thing actually usable?"

The video is pretty cool though:

I have theories about why San Francisco has so many built-in flaws in its urban structure, and continues to make the same mistakes: the dominance of the Democratic party machine has created a corrupt one-party system, for instance, without a credible opposition to spur real action. That's just an idea. But either way, even when San Francisco dreams big, like with the new rail station, it dreams wrong, and in denial about the massive flaws in the plans, that, like the clusterfuck at Church and Duboce, will crush the souls of hapless commuters for years to come. Will San Francisco ever see itself with enough clarity to make the changes necessary to become a truly world-class city, or will its problems (traffic, lack of housing, etc) ever become so grindingly awful that they force a wake-up call? It's hard to see it happening in my lifetime.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Au Revoir, Paris

And bye Europe... for now.

Below: Me and DJ Zebra hamming it up on top of the Arc du Triomphe

My two all-to-brief days of respite in Paris have almost come to an end, and while I'm sad to be leaving the EU, I do have to say I'm ready to see my apartment again and go get a nice burrito (and of course some f***ing antibiotics). It's been a wild ride across Europe and there's already talk of some sort of summer reprise of the tour, where I could possibly hit some of the locales I missed this time (hello, Berlin, London, Dublin, and, er, Switzerland), but for now, the Gettin' Euros Tour has been a great success as far as I'm concerned. Thanks to everybody who helped out, including Duze Pe, DJ Spox, El Barto & Liam B and the crew at Forma, Prozak and Balsam in Poland, Ashley in Prague, the Soundstation crew in Liege, Bootox, Frank, Schmolli, Morgoth and Comar in Munich (and Comar just in general), and of course Zebra and Moule in France as well as the crews at 4 Sans, Le Kleo, Elysee Montmartre and Grand Mix and the kind folks at Radical Productions. And of course thanks to everybody who came out and said "hi." We now return you to your regularly scheduled website.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Gettin' Euros 2007 By the Numbers

Flights and inter-city trains taken including r/t SFO-Frankfurt: 18

Estimated # of people who saw me DJ: maybe 3500?

# of "I Saw Party Ben on the Gettin' Euros Tour 2007 and All I Got Was This Lousy CD" CDs I threw out to the crowds: 97 (I have 3 left)

Items lost:
- One (1) pair black gloves, in a cab in Warsaw
- One (1) stocking cap, somewhere in Prague
- One (1) scarf, somewhere in Cologne
- One (1) brown Jedi robe, Elysee Montmartre, Paris
- One (1) CD, "Johnny Greenwood is the Controller," that I gave the sound guy to play after the doors opened at Elysee Montmartre and then forgot to get back

Number of times I visited H&M to replace lost or soiled items: 4

Number of times I laundered the single pair of jeans I wore the entire trip: 1 (thanks Zebra and your washing machine)

More Pictures: Paris

Cidric Rivet, the official photographer for the Paris event, has some nice shots posted up on his site here, and here are a couple highlights:

Pictures: Paris

Pictures from the Paris gig are starting to roll in... Thanks to Licette for forwarding these, she's got about 30 posted up over here, and here's a couple highlights:

Video: Party Ben Kenobi vs. Emperor Zebra

Found on YouTube already!

Elysee Montmartre, Friday, November 30

Part 2, apparently:

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Quick Post-Tourcoing Wrapup

Left: Line out front of Grand Mix in Tourcoing

Well it was the last gig of the Gettin' Euros tour and it went pretty well, although again, Europeans splitting surprisingly early. There was a big line down the street when we came back to the club from dinner at 9pm, and we traversed the crowd to get back inside. Zebra and I had a fun back-and-forth set to kick it off, Moule did an amazing job as always, Zebra had a kickass set with some local musician guests, and then I did a kooky set with an extended Baltimore-style mix towards the end. Unfortunately the crowd had thinned somewhat even during Zebra's set, we learned later that the local metro closes at 12:30 and with recent police crackdowns on drunk driving people are reluctant to drive home after gigs, I guess. So, definitely less people than the Paris event but still an enthusiastic crowd, and after playing Snow Police I thought I'd let the last song on the tour be one by my buds Adrian & Mysterious D, so I popped on their "Don't Stop Believin' in Planet Rock" and waved goodbye.

Thanks Europe, for the euros and everything else... more pics and stuff coming soon.

Video from Bootie Munich

Yes that's me speaking German. And I'm using the word "speaking" loosely here, but what I'm saying is basically "Good day Munich, I am Party Ben Kenobi. I come from a faraway galaxy... with the name San Francisco." But tonight the force is with Munich, yada yada, you get the idea, Star Wars, yeah I'm really running this thing into the ground aren't I.

Thanks to FM24 for the vid.

More Paris Pictures

Stormtroopers in my dressing room

Zebra's big show

Me and DJ Electrosound in front of the venue after the show

On the Place Pigalle walking back to the hotel after the show

Paris: The City of Love

Left: the crowd immediately after my set at Elysee Montmartre, technically Moule had started DJing at this point but I'd ended like 30 seconds before and they're totally holding their hands up because I'm taking the picture

Okay France, you're back on my good side, although I could still use some antibiotics. After some disappointing gigs (and, honestly, disappointing performances on my part) in Toulouse and Bordeaux Wednesday and Thursday, we got into Paris at around 4pm Friday and I went right to the dressing room to rework my set. I made some new versions of a couple things on my laptop and got a few new ideas on how to structure things. Zebra's band started to arrive along with the guest singers and five storm troopers (!!) for the Star Wars intro. It was an early event, 6:30-10:30 (with another event starting at midnight so the times were totally set); doors opened at 6:30 and when I headed up to the stage at 6:45 the place was already about 2/3 full. I started off pretty slow with some classics and stuff, and people were into it but just hanging around really, i mean I would be at 7pm too. It was basically full by around 7:15 or so, and I started to speed it up, then went over to the microphone and said "Je sais que c'est un peu tot, mais nous pouvons nous amuser, oui?" (I know it's a little early, but we can have fun, right?" The crowd erupted into cheers, and the volume level of the cheers took me back a little bit. This place is as big as the Fillmore, bigger perhaps, and from what I understood they oversold it, and I think at the peak attendance was in the 1600 range. So just a little cheer is pretty loud. Things went really well and I got a big cheer for the Wiseguys/Grease combo I hadn't really even planned on playing, and then at the end during the big Dr. Who On Holiday finale, I went up to the front of the stage to hand out some of the CDs I made to give away, and this roar comes up from the crowd that's kind of terrifying. People bush to the front like I'm handing out, I dunno, euros or something. I throw some CDs out but can't really reach people so I say "fuck it" and jump across the gap onto the hands of the crowd, just about falling back into the security pit at first but finally making it over for a quick crowd surf, before running back up on stage and taking that picure. Paris, you're awesome.

Moule went on and proceeded to do another great set, but my part wasn't over: I was reprising my role as Party Ben Kenobi in a battle with Emperor Zebra at the beginning of Zebra's set, and I was supposed to do the thing we did at Bootie in October where I interrupted MC and French radio personality Laurent Lavige, with a whole dramatic thing of "i sense a great disturbance in the force," all of which I had to memorize in French and try to deliver with my horribly stuffed up nose. Thankfully I know Mr. Lavige from doing an interview with him back in 2005 so he was very helpful with making it all go off without a hitch, and I know there's about 200 videos of this around so when I find some I'll link them here.

Actually hold on lemme look on YouTube.

Okay nothing yet, but I know there are videos out there so, really, just wait til you see this.

Zebra's show was really outstanding, a true achievement, but more about that later as I have to run and grab a train to Tourcoing.