Down by the Bay

December 19, 2012


By Jasper Patterson

Underground performance is not just a fringe phenomenon. History has shown that it can develop into one of the prime movers of western culture. With the invention of modern communication technology, the separation between the underground and the mainstream is all but evaporating.

Inevitably, what is considered underground will grow to overtake the art of popular culture. The subculture of Avant Guarde European Cabaret developed into modernism, the dominant art movement of the last century. In the 1920s American Burlesque became the naughty experimental cousin to the pop culture phenomenon of Vaudeville. The British Rock explosion of the early 60’s became the sound of an entire generation, and counter culture once again changed the face of western society. Club culture of the 90s changed the music and performance of an entire generation. The pattern repeats itself through time; the underground art of one subculture surfaces into public notice, initially seeming strange, but then exploding. In modern times, communication technology has increased this pattern tenfold. Underground art can be created, exposed popularized and integrated into the mainstream in a matter of days rather than years.

New forms of media allow new kinds of artistic experiences, and new kinds of performance are being developed accordingly. Web services like the Pacific Wheel Vaudeville circuit and allow a new level of interaction between artist and audience that creates expanded possibilities for increasing and deepening communities. As the pace of culture continues to increase, we may find that this pattern of innovation and integration will reach its own singularity, and that new kinds of performance will be simultaneously created, exposed, and used to sway the course of community and culture at large, creating a new era of power for artists.

The Bay Area has long been an innovator of underground culture and performance as well as technology. In the last decade a new artform has been developing, with several groups and companies acting as laboratories where styles of performance that used to be specific to one subculture are now being remixed, refitted and mashed up to create something entirely new. Companies like Tourettes without Regrets, Vau de Vire Society, and City Circus have blended elements of hip hop, burlesque, circus, vaudeville, rock shows, raves, marching and balkan bands, to create something entirely new and unique. I invite you to join me as I spotlight these bay area innovators.

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