Devin Satterfield's Culture of Chaos 

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

Page 6 of 6

Devin came away with only about half of the $4,000 he'd hoped to make at the Noodle Factory. He managed to get the space paid for, but had to pay some bands out of his own pocket, and didn't readily have it. A week or so later, he still hadn't paid Crack: We Are Rock or the Flying Luttenbachers, and Triangle graciously waived its fee. And though he'd impetuously pinned his frustrations on the Noodle Factory residents in the midst of the din, Devin did a good job of spinning it a few weeks later.

"I wasn't really as pissed at them, in the end, as I was at everything that was going wrong," he said. "I'd heard a lot of bad things about the Noodle Factory people, so when things started going wrong, when I started realizing that it wasn't going to be that big of an event, I wasn't really happy."

In addition to some problems with bands, Devin had to pay $100 for two people from the Noodle Factory to work security, but he feel they didn't do a very good job. And right around the time he started thinking about losing money, Devin also started thinking about having to be there the next day, cleaning up to get his security deposit back. But when he went back to pick up his deposit, he said, the Noodle Factory's residents were all ears and open minds. "I told them that I had some problems. And that's part of the reason why I'm not that mad now, because they really listened to why I had problems. There's no hard feelings."

Brendan Solem of the Noodle Factory concurs. "Whenever you make something really big happen, like a party, it's always going to cause a bunch of chaos," he said. "And it's just natural. Usually after parties, people will often get frustrated with each other, because things rarely work as planned. But everything works out. It's just parties."

Still, Devin is looking forward to the imminent arrival of competing art spaces and event facilities. One of the new places Devin has in mind is Adam Hatch's new place, LoBot, so named for "Lower Bottoms," the area of West Oakland around Peralta and West Grand where the warehouse sits. Hatch is a contractor by trade, and had built out and managed seven spaces (including a space in the Silver Lake district and the gallery at Oakland's Creamery) before moving into Liminal. He moved out before the landlord trouble began, and before he found his current space. Things were getting weird around there, he said: "There was a big struggle between people that wanted to live in apartments, and people that wanted to be artists, and people that are artists, and want to just do art. And then there were issues of people doing more work and less work, a lot of 'I did this and you haven't done this and this and this.' It just wasn't happening there." So Hatch stayed with his girlfriend until he found his current home -- a ten-thousand-square-foot warehouse that is slowly evolving into a live/work paradise. Back in May, when a nail-gun-wielding Hatch answered his door wearing a wife-beater T-shirt and a kilt, roughly half of its dozen bedrooms were done, and plans were moving forward for the print shop, metal shop, and recording studio. The gallery would be separate from the living space. There would be a pool table. And on August 26, they had their first big event, with approximately seven hundred people showing up to take in an art show and live music by two of New York's most mind-bending experimental rock bands, Black Dice and Animal Collective, plus Bay Area bands Comets on Fire and Axolotl.

What most people seem to want -- Devin, Hatch, Spannagle from Oakland Artists -- is to keep the wolf away from the door of West Oakland for as long as possible. None of them seems to think this will last forever. When the public profile of an area rises, the property values do, too, and the people who created the art scene have to leave it behind and create another one somewhere else, or just give up. Toward that end, Devin and some of his friends -- Nicole Neditch of Mama Buzz, artists Groff and Janay Growden Rose -- have quite an idealistic escape plan. They're in negotiations to buy the town of Belden, high in the Sierras and an hour away from Chico. There's an unfinished resort lodge up there, and they imagine an artists' getaway community with a focus on recycling (Devin would like it to be completely "green" in five to ten years), theme rooms like the Madonna Inn (where Growden Rose stayed as a child), and an elaborate sculpture garden like the DeCordova Sculpture Park Devin used to visit outside of Boston. Presumably, gentrification will take its time climbing those lonely roads.

In the meantime, Liminal is experiencing a slow rebirth. It has filled almost all of its vacancies, and in late May Devin and Rob signed a settlement with its landlord, without the no-events clause. They did, however, agree to pay the property owner the $1,500 in damages and provide a written apology. Devin said that about half the settlement has been paid back, but he has no idea whether anyone has penned an apology. In any case, the shows will go on -- albeit in a quieter, more hesitant fashion. They haven't yet thrown any big parties of their own, choosing instead to rent the space out to other groups, such as the local Boombox Collective record label, and the organizers of the ambitious electroclash "Fuck War" party. The events that Devin has organized for the space have been modest and mostly acoustic.

"I'm doing quite a few smaller things, where the art is already up and someone's playing," he said. "Just to generate some attention, to let people know we're doing events again. I don't want to fuck around with the next big Liminal show." Janay Growden Rose had an installation in the new dedicated gallery space, but the opening was a small affair. The budget just isn't there, and the group dynamics of Liminal's new crew are still jelling. "The state of Liminal is -- well, it's in a liminal state," Devin said.

The word Liminal comes from the Latin limin- or limen, meaning "threshold." It means "of or relating to a sensory threshold," or, alternately, "barely perceptible." Both definitions -- as well as its connotation as pertaining to rites of passage -- apply to the space at 19th and Myrtle, although one could argue that its presence in East Bay alt-culture is somewhat more than barely perceptible. But it's certainly been a rite of passage for Devin and his housemates. "It's a threshold kind of thing, teetering on the brink, which is exactly what we've always been and definitely what we always will be," he explained, and he may as well have been talking about underground art scenes everywhere. "And I embrace that. It's fucking cool. It's always changing; you never know what's going to happen next."


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