Devin Satterfield's Culture of Chaos 

This underground art maven and city culture commissioner embodies all his scene's contradictions.

Page 4 of 6

Late one night in February or early March, Monk and a friend were setting up a show when one of the building's main circuit-breakers blew. The two went to the breaker room and found it locked. Rather than wait until morning for PG&E, they broke in and fixed the problem themselves. When the landlord's maintenance guy showed up a few hours later, some tools that had been stored in the room were missing. "So the police came, they filed a report, and I don't think they talked to any of us," Devin recalled. "They just talked to the property manager, and she insinuated that it was our fault in the police report. But we never spoke to the police." Devin said police involvement never went any further than that. Property manager Irene Howald and landlord Seth Jacobson declined to discuss the incident.

Monk said he offered to fix the door, but that his suggestion that Jacobson's insurance pay for the missing tools was met with derision. And a few days later, the Liminal residents received a three-day notice to quit the property. "The only time you can serve a three-day notice is if the rent wasn't paid," Devin said. "And then we found out that the guys down the hall, Other World, had also gotten a three-day notice to quit because they were withholding rent, and had documented it and everything, on the grounds that they couldn't get a meeting with the landlord for over half a year." Devin implied that he believed the two collectives were being targeted for eviction because they were the building's only tenants not on a month-to-month lease, which might stand in the way of a quick sale of the property should Jacobson receive a tempting offer. But everyone knows that artists taking over a blighted urban area is the first step in the cycle of gentrification, that rhythm of money-in, poor-folks-out that even West Oakland's artists see as inevitable. As rumors swirled through the building and the larger scene of building code violations, evictions, and the like, Liminal residents got themselves a lawyer and nervously dug their heels in for a fight.

"We had a meeting with our lawyer, and after the meeting, after the lawyer had asked us a whole bunch of questions and kind of soothed our anxieties and had said that we had a good case, he left," recalled artist Emma Spertus, who lived at Liminal for a year and a half. "Devin was like, 'Well, I've got a show on Saturday with the Extra Action Marching Band, and I have to do it.' Everyone looked at him, like, 'What?!' We needed to be on our best behavior, and having five hundred people in our house isn't exactly best behavior."

The Extra Action show went on at a nearby warehouse space, not at Liminal. But as the legal fight wore on, residents began moving out. Monk was one thing -- he'd been talking about moving to Philly for months -- but when Spertus returned from a weekend away, she found that everyone else but Devin had given notice.

The landlord's people offered a settlement, asking the tenants to pay $1,500 for damage and stolen tools, and formally apologize in writing, as Devin put it, "for violating his property and his trust, or some crap like that." The other major condition was that Liminal never again serve as a retail or gallery space. Liminal's lawyers offered an amended version, without the no-events clause. And then they waited.

With folks jumping ship and no settlement forthcoming, Devin eventually decided to do what he now did best -- throw yet another party. He joined forces with a neighboring live/work space to bring in a grab bag of psychedelic and hard-rocking talent: two DJs plus the bands Crack: We Are Rock; the Flying Luttenbachers; USA Is a Monster; Triangle; Hale Zukas; the Wives; US Out of Our Uterus; and Soft, from Japan. It would be billed as Liminal's last show ever, and it would be a scene to end all scenes.

One week before the April 16 party, the landlord put the kibosh on the show. Devin moved the event to the Noodle Factory, a neighboring warehouse whose reputation was built on raves and other DJ-oriented events. With doors supposedly opening at 9:00 p.m. and live music starting at 10:00, 8:26 found Devin on his cell phone outside the Noodle Factory, trying to get one of the evening's DJs, Ezra from the electronic band CatFive, a ride from San Francisco. Of the evening's ten performers, Devin estimated that 60 to 75 percent were in the vicinity at 8:30 p.m., as Crack: We Are Rock soundchecked inside. Devin was still trying to get speakers and an amp for one performer when Megan Fenske from Oakland Artists arrived to staff the donation-only bar for the first shift. She and Devin ran down the bar's contents, price list, and what remained to be done.

Though neither the door guy nor DJ Ezra arrived until around 9:30, the doors did open at 9:00, and the first band started at 10:10, just ten minutes late. Devin became hard to follow around for a while, but he slowed down occasionally for cigarette breaks. "Everything's as smooth as possible, considering the nature of the event," he said. "Now it's just making sure the guest list is cool, adding some names, getting the money to people, hobnobbing, making sure the bands are at ease and happy. ... The stress part of it is just in making that a reality as far as financing and things go. The real reason I do any of this shit is to make sure that people can express themselves, and other people can come check it out."

Sadly, the financing part did not work out that night. By 11:30, the party was swinging, people were dancing downstairs to funk and hip-hop, and rocking out upstairs with their arms crossed and their eyes closed. But Devin was not happy. Told that partygoers were congregating in the "$700 Room," a curtained-off space downstairs that the Noodle Factory had said would cost an additional $700 to use that night, Devin was succinct about his feelings.


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