Author Archives: sfcalbear

Background Information

924 Gilman Street is easily located at the corner of 8th Street and Gilman Street on the northwest side of Berkeley, CA. in a light-industrial and commercial area just a few blocks down from a quiet neighborhood and park. It shares a building with a canning shop. Across the street from the building is a Krav Maga dojo and a Whole Foods (a controversial addition due to the company’s role in gentrification). North of the venue are generic commercial buildings. Walking farther north reveals an entrance to a local creek which is a popular hangout spot for Gilman youth.
Inside, the stage occupies a corner of the building instead of an entire wall. The main entrance is on the building’s northern side. To the left of the entrance is Gilman’s concession stand (known as the “Stoar”), to the right is the office. The sound booth is located in the center of the building. Just right of the sound booth is the restroom area. Left of the booth is the side door which is manned by security during performances. The ceiling is convexed, moderately high, and provides decent acoustics.

(Early arrivals walk around before a show starts. Photo by Mark Hilton.)
(A piece of graffiti that accurately summarizes the Gilman mentality. Photo by Silas Jones.)

As one walks through the door and around the crowd control barrier, one will see a wide collection of art and graffiti spread across the walls of the venue. In the venue proper, one can see murals and spray paint art. Some is political, and some is purely artistic. The bathroom walls are also a canvas, covered in many layers of tags, some readable, others in the style that only other taggers will understand. Other examples show drawings and mini comics drawn in the local punk style, drawn in Sharpie and White-Out.

Walking around Gilman’s interior reveals it has been heavily used since it opened. The stage and furniture is heavily worn. There is a balcony on the wall near stage left, however, it is now mainly used for equipment storage. There are some oddities, such as a basketball hoop, and strings of Christmas lights on the sound booth. While the interior is covered in the aforementioned art and graffiti, the exterior is currently clean, as outside graffiti is forbidden. The exterior walls do not say “924 Gilman Street” or advertise its existence; it shares the building with a canning workshop (926 Gilman Street), which has its logo painted on the exterior. Gilman’s punk “vibe” is constrained to the inside only. The building was seismically retrofitted in 1995.

Virtual Volunteer Training

Gilman is “run by punks, for punks.” The venue is run by volunteers who show up every weekend to ensure shows run smoothly and the budget is kept in the black. Every position is on a volunteer basis. The exception is security, which is paid as per California law, which requires performance venues to have paid, trained security staff on hand. However, keeping with the volunteer experience, Gilman members take the job, rather than relying on professional security services

To show how volunteers do their jobs, we have created a series of “virtual volunteer training” videos where longtime Gilman volunteers discuss their jobs. This is to help the curious outsider get a better understanding of two things. The first is DIY ethos and community that are integral to Gilman’s continued existence. The second is provide a sense of the “nuts and bolts” of how a performance venue is run, something most audience members take for granted.

Harley shows you the process of setting up Gilman’s concession stand, affectionately known as the “Stoar.”

Former security guard Sam talks about how one gets involved in security, with some highlights from his years on the job.

Liz discusses sound and the general Gilman volunteer experience.

Art Documentation

Some of the art within 924 Gilman has political overtones and some are purely artistic. The bathroom walls are also a canvas covered in many layers of tags, some readable, others in the style that only other taggers will understand. This project documents the multitude of wall art that has become a fixture of this venue. The goal is to create a visual experience via photo catalogue of the various artworks deemed important by the Gilman community, curated with the assistance and support of the Gilman community.

(A collage of graffiti in one of the Gilman bathrooms. Photo by Silas Jones.)
(One of the darker, more surreal Gilman artworks. Photo by Silas Jones.)

When one of our team members visited the venue and commented on the new graffiti, he was immediately invited to add his own. Ethos and ephemerality are the big focus here. Having a place that not only allows but actively encourages wall art and graffiti inside is a major part of the idea behind Gilman. It’s “everyone’s place.” People express themselves through visual art just as others express themselves through music, both are done within the rules of the venue (no racist, sexist, or homophobic art or music, for example). However, nothing lasts forever. This project will create a snapshot in time of the art of 924 Gilman Street circa November 2015. One can compare the art seen before and after this period of time. Some may be painted over, others may still be there.
Any audience can interact with this project. While the punk community in and out of Gilman may see these artworks in person, we may catch something they miss. For the other audiences who may not ever set foot in Gilman, this project is their window into the inside of this venue.  The artwork contributes to the sustainability of 924 Gilman by representing the memories that have been collected over the last few decades. Much of the art found layering the walls of 924 Gilman are the result of art shows presented by the venue.  Some of the murals, such as the naked lady with hairy legs, represent longevity and resilience.

(The Gilman “naked lady” resides in a corner of the venue. Note the tags beginning to accumulate. Photo by Silas Jones.)
(A collection of art. At the top is a long lasting political piece, contrasting a starving African boy with a McDonald’s logo. Photo by Silas Jones.)

Our documentation and research of 924 Gilman has allowed us the opportunity to present these artists creative ideas for others to enjoy as true art and not vandalism. According to an informant, the art within the venue is very much alive and constantly changes as the community changes, and there is no one way to classify 924 Gilman because of these changes.

“924 Mixtape”


924 mixtape cover

The goal of this project is to collectively build an interpretative soundtrack with the members of the Gilman community because the most legitimate way to achieve an understanding of the community’s values, meanings, and philosophies as it relates to punk rock culture is to listen to the musical expressions of these concepts which bring this community together in the first place. Participants are asked a single question: if you had to describe Gilman with one song, what would that song be and why? This project will contribute to the sustainability of the site because it will contribute to a wider accessibility of potential audiences into the punk music scene by giving visitors who don’t necessarily have a context or an initiation for exploring the musical aesthetic, an introduction to punk indicative of what one might experience by naturally engaging with Gilman. Furthermore, the ambiguity of the question we ask allows participants to ascribe what is specifically and personally meaningful to them at the forefront of the Gilman experience. By being able to describe that affect through the use of a song allows for participants of the project to guide the audience in a personal narrative, while allowing the audience to make their own interpretations about how the song reflects their understanding of the culture, history, and musical aesthetics which are connected to the site.

Tait- Sound System by Operation Ivy:

Ryan E- Reflections by Trial:

Harley- Whore by the Insaints:

Pema- Berkeley is My Baby (and I wanna Kill It) by Blatz:

Sam Smash- Kiss the Bottle by Jawbreaker:

The Story So Far…

Front Door

On the corner of 8th Street and Gilman Street in North Berkeley, there stands a small, nondescript brown building. No signs say what it is, only a painted arrow pointing to the caning shop next door. One might walk by without paying a second though. Yet behind the door under the numbers “924” lies a stage that has provided a stage for countless bay area punk bands, and a home for the city’s dissidents, rebels, and rockers. The origins of 924 Gilman Street can be traced to the actions of two men: Tim Yohannon and Victor Hayden. They envisioned a non-profit performance venue where the artists and patrons made the rules, a space where people could make the place their own, instead of yet another commercial space. The current building was scouted in 1984 and given approval by the city of Berkeley. Renovations began in the summer of 1986, and the very first show was held on December 31st of that same year.

The Gilman Street project would briefly close in 1988. Not only were the venue’s financial managers grossly mismanaging Gilman’s funds, Tim Yohannon also believed that the goal of creating a space for self-expression was not being met. 924 Gilman Street would then reopen under the organization the Alternative Music Foundation, and it remains open and hosting the latest underground punk talent to this day, enduring financial close calls and actions from many city councils opposed to the presence of the punk community. Many famous punk bands would get their start at Gilman. Green Day, Rancid, Operation Ivy, NOFX, The Offspring, all played here in their early years. Gilman has inspired other similar non-profit, community run venues. Many have since closed, but Gilman retains the spirit and means to keep going ever since its doors first opened.

Management Policies and Constraints

In many respects, the venue relies on the community just as much as the community relies on the venue. Any management plan which seeks to preserve the culture heritage of 924 Gilman must ensure that the comradeship of the community remains a priority. At different times, different parts of the community become the frontrunner for keeping the club alive, be it through striving to keep the multivocality prevalent, through keeping the shows and audiences coming, or by just simply making sure the bills get paid. 924 Gilman Street represents a whole lot of things to a wide variety of people. By keeping the community accessible to active participation and involvement, this diversity of voices is heard and maintained.

Furthermore, the people who are generally drawn to Gilman are either unable freely define their identities in regards to mainstream culture, or they simply refuse to be restrained in such a way. Punk rock forces us to ask questions like: Why is this wrong or right? Who decided this? Do I agree? The result is to consider how and why one believes in the things they believe in. In this sense, any management policy must also undergo scrutiny where as many community perspectives are considered as possible before any action is taken. Management policies should therefore must be flexible to amendment and without a predetermined result.