“The chorus of this song is emblazoned on the wall, so sing along,” says Dan Shaw, playing guitar in the hastily assembled Telegraph Beach All Stars, a five-piece band composed of every resident at the two-story Oakland residence known as Telegraph Beach. Around 50 people cram into the shoebox living room, which is strewn in tinfoil, while others watch on a VHS monitor installed rather craftily in a bedroom. And at the cue of a careening riff and a battery of percussion, everyone shouts the phrase spray-painted on a banner behind the band: F--k you / Terry / Landlord / Badlord.
It’s crass, but perfectly calibrated for the occasion: Telegraph Beach is getting evicted.
For 10 years, the house -- situated on Telegraph Ave. between 31st and 32nd Streets, in Oakland’s newly dubbed Koreatown Northgate District -- afforded residents something precious. In one of the nation’s most expensive rental markets, Telegraph Beach tenants paid less than $500 a month. They worked part-time, if that. For leaseholder Courtney Crusher, yard sales often sufficed. In the living room, they rehearsed, recorded, and performed, which yielded some of Oakland’s most celebrated rock releases in recent years. Come Feb. 1, however, the house's owner -- who moved into the granny unit, thereby eluding the city’s Just Cause ordinance -- told Crusher that he intends to renovate and sell, then move to Oregon.
Telegraph Beach was part of a shadowy constellation in Oakland, a network of homes with cryptic names and reputations for consistently hosting gigs but avoiding official publicity. In recent years, similar venues for house shows nearby have burned down, burned out, and elicited police attention following complaints from incoming neighbors. Property insurers have even been known to scour social media for mentions of residences as venues and then contact the owners. And though Oakland's punk houses have appeared and disappeared cyclically for decades -- with Phoenix Ironworks in the 1980s and Pill Hill Zoo Haus in the 1990s, for instance -- disappearances vastly outnumber appearances today.
In other words, Telegraph Beach's dissolution is a microcosm of Oakland's affordability crisis, and a case study in how housing issues impact small corners of the arts. As frenzied development alters the sites where underground music has historically thrived -- derelict commercial space, structures with absentee landlords -- critics contend the City of Oakland hasn’t striven to retain artists (or lower-income people of color). Oakland lacks even the rent protections and arts infrastructure in place in San Francisco, which many activists consider insufficient, palliative measures, anyway.
Carlos Bermudez says he started Telegraph Beach in 2006, though the name came later, as a “budget-rock space,” using a term for garage rock associated with 1990s revivalists such as The Mummies. He recalls that, in the mid-2000s, underground venues such as 40th St. Warehouse and Grandma’s House (which George Chen recently chronicled for SFMOMA) were shuttering, but homespun spaces such as Telegraph Beach proliferated.
“We had a $50 PA that I bought from a Berkeley co-op and two mics, one with a stand and one duct-taped to a table lamp,” he says, describing a setup not unlike the one on display 10 years later. “We moved in with the express intent of practicing and having shows.”
Garage groups Personal & the Pizzas and Nobunny performed several times, as did Ty Segall’s early outfit The Traditional Fools. The latter opened an especially well-remembered show for an ascendant Black Lips. Bermudez says, “It was convenient because when we were too broke to see shows, we’d just ask bands to play our house.”
Creative and personal lives tangled. Residents invited friends from other cities to sublet while they were on tour; tours turned into permanent vacations and guests into long-term residents. Matthew Melton, frontman of garage outfit Bare Wires, arrived from San Francisco in 2008. At Telegraph Beach, he recorded the first Shannon & the Clams album, I Wanna Go Home, and the music to “Teardrops on My Telephone,” to which Seth Bogart added vocals and issued as a Hunx & His Punx single. Hether Fortune, Melton’s then-bandmate in Bare Wires, joined an early incarnation of Hunx & His Punx, which rehearsed in the living room. And in her bedroom, Fortune sharpened a songwriting voice of her own and demoed “All Too Human,” which became her first single as Wax Idols.
Arcana abound: Weasel Walter, a storied underground figure, lived in the granny unit, as did Adam Stonehouse, of cult lo-fi outfit Hospitals. And when residents clashed with the neighbors, it had more to do with subcultural allegiances than conscientiousness: Telegraph Beach was known in scene shorthand as the “rocker house,” as opposed to the “noise house” next door. The feud involved flinging eggs, but it ultimately fizzled: at the final show, both camps cursed the landlord in unison.
“I consider Telegraph Beach to be part of a long history of bohemian crash pads in Oakland,” says Andy Jordan, who recorded solo material as Andy Human and a full-length with Lenz while residing at Telegraph Beach. “A low-rent dump with an indifferent landlord, it helped free up leisure time for creative lunatics like Max Nordile.”
Indeed, Nordile is especially emblematic of the madcap potential artists tap in neglected residences. One of the Telegraph Beach All Stars, he recorded at least four albums with the mercurial post-punk outfit Uzi Rash and several albums with the amorphous improv ensemble Nothing Band, plus myriad side projects. And Nordile emphasizes that Telegraph Beach, embattled as it’s been, was always steeped in struggle.
“Sheer willpower created opportunity... We had no money, so we rented a cheap house with lots of people," he says. "We had no practice space, so we used our living room. We had no venue, so we used our new practice space. We had no living room -- but whatever.”
Full disclosure: The author of this article has played music with Matthew Melton and Andy Jordan.