Rocker Studios, a home-away-from-home for San Francisco bands for 15 years, closed its doors this month. The Dogpatch building had 30 practice rooms where bands could make noise and store their equipment. In a city as dense and expensive as San Francisco, that kind of space was a rarity.
Practice spaces are havens for bands. They're labyrinthine warehouses, usually loud, filthy and dark, reeking of stale beer and smoke. They wouldn't seem alluring, but they are. There's no one there to watch or critique a band; the only people around are other musicians. And if a band is in the same room for long enough, the room starts to take on the band's personality. Not just empty beer bottles, but ephemera and strange trash: flyers from shows, set lists and notes with lyrics or chord progressions, costumes, and broken -- or novelty -- instruments.
John Rocker, owner of Rocker Studios, said he opened the space when he was looking for a place for his own band to practice. He couldn't find a space suitable for one band, but did find the building on the corner of Third Street and 26th Street in -- at the time -- a mostly industrial neighborhood. Rocker never owned the building. That end of Third Street has changed in the past fifteen years, and when his lease ended this month the landlord didn't offer him the option to renew it. Though there have been rumors that the building will be replaced by condos, Rocker isn't sure what the landlords plan to do with it. Bands were given two weeks to clear out of their rooms.
On the last day, people emptied their rooms and packed up equipment to stuff into their apartments around the city. Some bands took the opportunity to celebrate and say goodbye. Utrillo Kushner, of the band Comets on Fire, invited a few bands to play and threw a party in his room on the last night.
"I was in that disgusting place for so many hours," he said the week following his eviction. "I recorded a couple records in there, and I remember rehearsing there for my first U.S. tour and my first European tour, and rehearsing before recording albums. I felt bad, and thought, I have to have something fun there."
There are other practice spaces in San Francisco. Rocker owns one in SoMa, and he's looking for a new building to house Rocker Studios. But he says it's getting harder to find good buildings. Rocker suspects most practice spaces will move to Oakland, where there's more space and rent is cheaper.
Now, as the displaced bands look for new places to practice and hang out, the building that housed Rocker Studios looks abandoned. Kushner said he is curious about what will happen to it, though.
"When I move out of apartments, I don't usually go back and check them out. But if I have free time, I might cruise by Third Street and see what's going on there in the next few months."