Unlike crammed house shows in basements or living rooms, the immense Helter Shelter, on Harrison Street, seemed designed for live music. The high ceilings, corner stage, permanent sound system and multiple rooms formed a safe, open performance space that resembled a venue first and a house second.
"Helter Shelter was certainly much different than every house venue I have been to," says local musician and promoter Matt McDermott.
But July 14, police clad in T-shirts and shorts stormed into Helter Shelter -- and not to catch that evening's sets by Killer of Sheep or Purge.
Showgoers spotted officers nearby earlier in the evening and asked if "the place [was] getting busted"; officers said no, according to Ben Klahr, who was at the show that night. Later that evening, though, before Killer of Sheep could play, detectives entered the home.
"They hustled us all outside," says Klahr. "They were hassling members of bands as they tried to get back inside to grab their equipment."
No arrests were made. Police wouldn't discuss specifically what led to the evacuation, but according to Zone 2 Community Relations Officer Janine Davis, such operations stem from months of grievances. "Neighbors complained," says Davis. "Loud noise, leftover trash on the streets, and late-night traffic" were all attributed to the house shows.
Helter Shelter residents didn't respond to City Paper's requests for comment, but made it clear through a local online message board (nevertellmetheodds.org) that the venue was closed.
Noise complaints have also recently shuttered two Oakland house venues: The Aviary and Doo-Wop Mansion both stopped hosting shows recently. But McDermott, at least, hopes others will pick off where Helter Shelter left off.
"Hopefully," he says, "people will think more creatively about venues and spaces."