On a recent Friday night, a dozen slatternly hipsters smoke cigarettes and drink Two-Buck Chuck outside San Francisco's Bindlestiff Studios, a warehouse and gallery run by a cabal of Filipino-American artists, musicians, and thespians. Wedged in an alley that bookends the city's SOMA and Mission districts, Bindlestiff is right around the corner from larger, more glamorous locales, but these artsy kids wear baggy jeans and sneakers instead of spaghetti straps and impossibly high heels; they often roll up with Sector 9 skateboards instead of flashy new Beamers.
Inside, patrons clump together on a black riser stage slapped in the center of the room, next to a table piled high with two-liter soda bottles, sliced pineapple, potato chips, beer, and a Filipino eggroll dish called lumpia. There's a gauzy curtain hung around the stage, the kind of make-believe garrison a child would build by stringing bedsheets over a couple chairs. Behind it, Oakland-based rock diva Golda Supernova shuffles by, wearing a green camouflage skirt and Hot Topic-style wrist garb -- she looks like a feisty Filipino B-girl who somehow learned how to slither like a cabaret singer. Golda is towing a mic stand and two babies: her three-year-old son, Micah (who had a Mohawk up until a couple months ago, and is begging his mother to dye his hair dark blue and buy him a pair of Bruce Lee glasses), and four-month-old daughter, Mahalya, who is snoozing in a portable car seat.
Golda Supernova makes the average hip mama look like a pansy. She once took the stage at West Berkeley's Pusod Gallery seven months pregnant, but refused to act the part: She arrived dressed, as always, like the head cheerleader for a ragtag softball team, and belted her songs with enough ferocity to rival Angelina Jolie's character in Girl, Interrupted. Tonight's Bindlestiff show isn't any different: Golda steps into the limelight wearing a baseball cap pulled so low you can't see any distinguishing facial features. Her constantly renamed three-piece band strikes up a loping, three-chord rock tune, and Golda slaps the mic stand a couple times just for being slappable. When she starts singing, her voice pitches from a nah-nah-nah playground warble to a self-immolating vibrato wail as her body careens in every direction. She isn't a singer who's trying to tell you something; she's all about spectacle.
Golda is genuinely pissed off that night, and plays it up with gusto. The singer says she gets "a teenage daughter angst" performing at Bindlestiff because of her "relationship to that space" -- it's a place she helped create, and then had to abandon. The members of the band -- drummer Ogie Gonzales, guitarist Brandon Bigelow, and bassist James Gonzalez -- come from an older generation of Filipino-American kids who helped build what has become a really vibrant Pinoy cultural scene in the Bay Area. So vibrant, in fact, that Golda likens it to "a real-life MySpace.com." But now that the scene is taking off, they're ready to move on.
"Success is the sweetest revenge, and revenge is something that I believe deeply in," Golda says via cell phone while punching numbers into an ATM, ordering espresso, and running into "derelict rock-star friends," as she puts it. "I'm political, but I'm tired of politics -- it's fucking pointless. I'm tired of all the PC people because really if you open them up and you look inside the core, there's all these fears and doubts. They don't know where they came from."
Golda has cultivated a small cult of stardom here by running the gamut of tsunami benefits and indie clubs, but she's ready to see real glamour, and actual paper returns. And frankly, she must be tired of dropping the kids backstage.
Golda Supernova started where all great things start: in the Smoke Room. This was the birthplace of ideas in the original Bindlestiff, a roomier warehouse on Sixth Street demolished in 2004 to make way for low-income housing. After shows, people would come downstairs to smoke cigarettes or blunts, jam on guitars, and talk way into the night. Ogie says the spoken-word troupe Eighth Wonder took shape in the smoke room, which was how Golda -- formerly an actress and bedroom hip-hop and soul singer -- came up. In the late '90s, she sang spoken-word poems backed by Brandon on guitar. They recruited James in 2001 (along with a different drummer Ogie replaced in 2003), and cycled through several different names, including Golda Supanova and the Supafrenz, and Golda Supernova and the Comic Book Heroes (unfortunately, there's already a Comic Book Heroes on the East Coast). They also established a floundering indie label ("kind of a make-believe label," she admits) called Full Blown Soul, with the help of a bunch of Bindlestiff friends who volunteered their time, mostly to hang around and wait to be discovered.
But the vibe at Bindlestiff changed, and Golda's crew is hightailing from what Ogie perceives to be a new, by-the-book nonprofit culture. After failing to escape the clutches of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, the organization relocated to its current home on Natoma Street in 2004 and became a bona fide 501 (c) (3) organization, with all the accompanying paperwork and bureaucracy. The Smoke Room was replaced with an office; now the prime ways to kick it at Bindlestiff involve restacking the paperweights or chitchatting by the water cooler. "The idea of the old Bindlestiff was to produce shows to pay rent -- now we have to be more organized, and report to the mayor as a nonprofit," Ogie says, adding that the redevelopment agency "promised we'd get our old theater back if we raised a million dollars." He scoffs: "If I had a million dollars, I'd buy my own space. Then I wouldn't have to report nothing to nobody."
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