FILM REVIEW | DESERT AGE
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
there is an arc to INSULAR art and music scenes as they become discovered and heralded by forces outside the COMMUNITY, especially in the pre-internet age. such was famously seen in SEATTLE in the early 1990s whereby a geographically secluded region ironically provided the necessary INSULATION for a cultural evolution to take place with the advent of what became marketed as ALTERNATIVE ROCK. what is very interesting is there was very much a concurrent scene taking place in the COACHELLA VALLEY more than 100 miles east of LOS ANGELES.
DESERT AGE (BACKWOODS, 2016) is a documentary the celebrates that COMMUNITY of artists and musicians associated with the desert scene of the 1980s and early 1990s that initiated and supported that cultural movement up until its collapse as it was discovered and ultimately infiltrated by outsiders. notable interview participants include musicians such as SEAN WHEELER (MUTUAL HATRED / ZEZO ZECE ZADFRACK / THROW RAG), MARIO "BOOMER" LALLI (DEAD ISSUE / ACROSS THE RIVER / YAWNING MAN), BRANT BJORK (KYUSS), BRIAN MALONEY (UNSOUND), PAUL MITCHELL (TARGET 13), IAN TAYLOR (UNSOUND), SCOTT REEDER (DEAD ISSUE / ACROSS THE RIVER / KYUSS), JESSE HUGHES (EAGLES OF DEATH METAL), DAVE GROHL (FOO FIGHTERS / NIRVANA) and JOSH HOMME (KYUSS) among many others.
what seemed to mark this scene was its DIY PUNK ROCK ethic and internal celebration of EXPERIMENTATION and INDIVIDUALITY. there was no arms race of sorts, as in the nearby LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK scene, to be the hardest and most HARDCORE band in the area. instead bands were mutually encouraged to seek out their own sound. part of this was just the nature of being in a small closed COMMUNITY with limited resources. famously LALLI had a generator that allowed for concerts to take place beyond the city limits in the vast space of the open desert. that unique venue alone spurred INNOVATION with the upcoming musicians of the area, who had to tackle the concept of playing in such an open venue. at these "generator shows" it would not be odd to have a PROGRESSIVE band play next to a PUNK band and so forth. the ETHOS really was EXPERIMENTATION and seeking out ones own sonic signature. having shows outside the city limits, although LIBERATING in one sense, also allowed for certain local lawless, violent elements (biker gangs, meth dealers) to take advantage of the situation.
i was happy to say that this film did not devolve into an unofficial KYUSS hagiography, as they are the most famous direct export of the scene by far (as the antecedent root for the globally successful QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE). this was my fear and i was glad to see that such an an itch was not scratched. instead the majority of the film outlines how the efforts of key scene initiators like the older SEAN WHEELER and MARIO "BOOMER" LALLI laid the groundwork for the cultural revolution that followed. this film is largely a celebration of their efforts to promote art and music in a barren cultural island whose true identity was the very meth-addled inversion of the popular iconography associated with celebrity playgrounds like nearby PALM SPRINGS.
interesting film worth your time if you have any interest in the desert scene or ALTERNATIVE and STONER ROCK in general.