Every concert fan is familiar with the euphoric atmosphere that the best music venues promote, but even the most die-hard concertgoers don’t know what happens after the crowd files out and the house lights fade to black. Take Mezzanine in San Francisco for example; if you stood alone in the dark and listened closely, you’d hear the walls talking of all the things they’d seen. If you placed your hand up against the wall, it might still retain the faint rumble of bass.
Interview: Mezzanine on Success, Staying Relevant, and the Importance of Presentation
This renowned venue has seen a lot, including the birth of the Bay Area’s electronic music scene right on its stage. But this didn’t happen by coincidence; we got a behind-the-scenes look from two members of the Mezzanine staff that help breath life into this bustling venue.
In the 10 years that Mezzanine has been open, it’s become a staple in the San Francisco community. It’s a perfect example of the symbiotic relationship between a venue and a music scene and local culture, all of which feed off of one another. Venues, or perhaps more accurately―centers of culture, possess a unique power to determine the path of music popularity. With this in mind, it helps to look at Mezzanine with the same lens that one might observe how CBGBs fostered a punk movement in New York. As you trace the roots of America’s recent EDM craze, they might just lead you to 444 Jessie Street in San Francisco.
When we asked how exactly Mezzanine achieved such success, Deborah Jackman (the venue’s General Manager) shared: “We were very lucky that our bookers saw great talent, and had the foresight to go after all those artists. This business is all about relationships and smoosing to get people to play here. No one else was doing electronic music at the time, so the artists had to play Mezzanine.”
So, with a little luck, and some impressive foresight, Mezzanine gradually ground itself into the concrete of the S.F. music scene. The movement they nourished grew exponentially, and years later, the environment has completely changed. “By now, everyone has jumped on the train,” Deborah continued. “You see EDM shows at the Fillmore and the Warfield now, which doesn’t make sense because they’re seated venues!” Of course, success has made Mezzanine’s niche a bit more crowded, yet the venue’s staff seems unfazed.
“We don’t have anything to prove anymore. We’ve established ourselves. We’re Mezzanine,” adds Julie Schuchard, Director of Marketing and PR, who displays the pride that flows through this almost exclusively female staff. It appears that with Mezzanine (or “Lady Mezzanine” as it’s affectionately known), passion fuels all. But how does a venue that’s proven itself remain relevant in this ultra-competitive music hub?
For Mezzanine, presentation is everything. “Going to our venue should be an experience. We’re really picky about who plays,” Deborah stressed. “You have to prove yourself before you step on this stage.” Every minor detail is accounted for here: there’s the impressive sound-system and lighting, the placement of DJs “right in the middle of it all,” and if somebody adds graffiti to the walls, the whole wall (not part of it) is painted over evenly. Attendee presentation isn’t excused here, either; they enforce a dress code. It all plays into the vision instilled into this venue.
Though electronica is the calling card, Mezzanine books a wide array of acts. Our interviewees mentioned standouts like The National, Snoop Dogg, James Blake, and Green Day (booked on two hours notice, no less). Most recently, there was the instant-classic Danny Brown show on New Year’s Eve; if you’ve ever seen live footage of Danny Brown, surely you can imagine this scene.
“Danny Brown really brought a lot of energy. I’m glad I got to see him at my first show at Mezzanine.” — Lara Sarkissian, Rukkus giveaway winner.
Considering the onslaught on the senses that live music provides, it’s easy to forget about all the strings being pulled from just out of sight. Behind the curtains at Mezzanine, there’s a whole “family” dead set on creating an experience for the San Francisco community. Though there might not be a specific secret to their success, they did offer sage advice: “We try not to be too cool.” Take note.
Check out the Mezzanine concert calendar for upcoming shows.
Article by Nicolas White