This week in Worth A Look, a Stanford alumna breaks up with her major label, hops on the Warped Tour and releases a fantastic DIY full length album; the San Francisco Mime Troupe is taking on gentrification caused by the tech bubble; and a Portola Valley man finds beauty in an unexpected place: a rotting onion.
Music: Startup hip-hop
"Palo Alto is so lovely; I wish I were there right now." Kristine Flaherty is sitting on a tour bus, in a parking lot full of other similar coaches, in an expansive parking lot, on a dreary Oregon day. The hip-hop producer, emcee and singer is looking back fondly on the time she spent at Stanford University in the mid-2000s.
Flaherty, better known by her hip-hop nom de plume, K.Flay, has recently broken up with her former record label, RCA, and despite her penchant for gloomy lyrics about drugs, doubt and depression, things are looking up. Earlier this week, she self-released her latest full-length record, "Life as a Dog," and she has a prominent slot on the Vans Warped Tour, a country-crossing alternative and punk festival, which has helped launch the careers of many artists.
Back in 2004, when Flaherty was just a freshman at The Farm, she got into an argument with a resident assistant in her dorm, Otero. "I was talking shit about mainstream hip-hop at the time," she recalls. "It was a time when 'Get Low' (the raucous Lil' John hit) was popular. It wasn't a great time for radio rap."
The argument ended with a challenge from her R.A. If it were so easy to make a good rap song, then she should be able to turn one out herself. Before she knew it, Flaherty was working with a fellow student in her dorm with music production software, cooking up a beat and fleshing out some lyrics. And although she entered into the endeavor as a "joke," she quickly discovered she enjoyed rapping.
"That summer I bought a midi keyboard and microphone," she says. "I basically taught myself how to make beats." The rest is history.
After graduating from Stanford, K.Flay hung around the Bay Area for a spell before moving to Brooklyn. The current location listed on her Facebook page is "San Francisco," although she also notes in her profile that she doesn't have an apartment -- a nod to her current nomadic state on the Warped Tour.
For a time she was signed to RCA Records, but said she asked to be released from her contract after the label wanted her to curate a set of tracks that represented one clear-cut genre -- either "dance" or "alternative." Ultimately, she says, she wants to be able to remain "a little bit of everything," even though its a formula that doesn't work well in the radio-oriented major label universe.
She self-released her excellent new LP, "Life as a Dog," on June 24 through iTunes, which is entirely appropriate, considering Flaherty's ties to Stanford -- a university so commonly associated with the DIY ethos of startup culture.
"I like to think of Stanford as a garage," she says, choosing as her metaphor the space where many great bands -- and many great tech companies -- have launched. In a way, Flaherty muses, "startup culture and music are actually quite similar. The major steps in the process of development as both an artist, and, let's say, the CEO of some new startup, I think they very similar."
K.Flay's new album, "Life as a Dog," can be downloaded on iTunes and Amazon. For more information and to stream some of her music, including tracks from "Life as a Dog," go to kflay.com.
Stage: A 'Ripple Effect'
As rents continue to rise in the wake of the burgeoning tech sector, those working for companies that don't make apps or come up with "integrated solutions" aimed at "making the world a better place" are finding that they are being priced out of the places they've called home.
Call it gentrification, call it a tech bubble, or call it downright class warfare, the San Francisco Mime Troupe, now in its 55th season, is calling it "Ripple Effect," the name of the troupe's latest production, which is being billed as "a musical comedic tale of intersecting lives and cultures that reflect the familiar neighborhood tensions that are polarizing San Franciscans today," and it is coming to Palo Alto on July 10.
It's the latest in a string of reactionary works from San Francisco artists. Recently, singer, songwriter and cabaret performer, Candace Roberts, released a music video on YouTube called "Not My City Anymore"; and musician Hannah Lew released a compilation album, titled "San Francisco is Doomed," featuring scathing rebuffs from local indie bands, such as Thee Oh Sees and Mikal Cronin.
Velina Brown, an actor in the SF Mime Troupe, plays "The Fiery Activist" in this year's production. In addition to noting that mimes actually speak and sing on stage -- as well as performing exaggerated motions and pantomimes -- Brown explains her connection to the underlying themes of "Ripple Effect."
"For artists, typically an area that other folks might say, 'Oh that's a rough area' -- artists will move into that area, because it would typically be cheaper to live in an area where more mainstream people are afraid to move into," Brown says. "When artists move in, they clean it up, they change the vibe, they make it someplace interesting and colorful to be from a creative standpoint, they tend to really uplift where they are. Then, all of a sudden, it becomes a mainstream place."
When this happens, wealthier individuals start to move in, and, in the process artists end up getting evicted and rents get raised. Brown says this is what has happened in San Francisco. "It's really an obnoxious process," she says. "It's particularly annoying to people who rolled up their sleeves and put the sweat equity in and took a warehouse and made it a cool place."
"Ripple Effect" comes to the south field of Mitchell Park on July 10. It begins with music at 6:30 p.m. and the main show starts at 7 p.m. The event is free, but the troupe requests that you RSVP online beforehand at Brown Paper Tickets. Donations will be accepted at the performance.
Photography: A portrait of the onion
Alan McGee says he has always looked at the world a bit differently. The longtime Portola Valley resident says where others see a landscape, he looks for aesthetic shapes and movement; in rocks and gnarled tree trunks he looks for faces and figures.
"It's analogous to children seeing things in the clouds," McGee explains. The shapes and figures he sees are "metaphors for feelings that I have about nature." When McGee picked up photography as a younger man, he gravitated toward images that some saw as abstract, but which he feels are animated with life.
And so, when McGee forgot about a half of an onion, which he had set aside while preparing pasta sauce, only to rediscover it after it had begun to wilt, he did what he always does. He pulled out his camera and documented the odd curves of the decaying bulb.
"These half onions simply presented against a black background seem, to me, informed with animism -- a primitive worldview that non-human entities possess a spiritual or supernatural essence," McGee says explaining his latest photography project, "Onions Observed -- An Animistic Perspective," which is currently on display at the Portola Art Gallery in Menlo Park. "These onions, over time, took on qualities that catalyzed my imagination. I invite the viewer to join me in this imaginative exploration."
The exhibit runs through July 31 at the Portola Art Gallery, located at 75 Arbor Road, in Menlo Park. The gallery is open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. McGee will attend a reception on July 12, from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information, call 650-321-0220, or go to portolaartgallery.com.