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.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
gotta hand it to NOISEY on this one, GUITAR MOVES along with PREMIER GUITAR's RIG RUNDOWN series are arguably the two earliest (and most consistent in terms of quality) guitar-centric YOUTUBE series i was made aware of a few years ago. while RIG RUNDOWN follows guitar nerds asking gear questions to touring musicians and their guitar techs, GUITAR MOVES follows INDIE ROCK guitarist / producer / super-fan MATT SWEENEY of SKUNK & CHAVEZ as he interviews notable guitarists about specific "moves" they do that are unique to them.
as a guitarist myself (a very poor one at that), it is often the little recognizable quirks and idiosyncrasies of musicians you admire that make them stand out. its a very cool concept for a series and for the most part SWEENEY's contagious unbridled enthusiasm and knowledge of their catalogue disarms them into opening up about their approach and philosophy regarding creating music on guitar.
highlights include the JAMES WILLIAMSON and ACE FREHLEY episodes where SWEENEY is beside himself and you can see him returning to his 12 year-old self in awe of his idols as they teach and play classics like "SEARCH AND DESTROY" and "SHOCK ME" with him. for their sake, many of these songs have been incorrectly transcribed, so this allows them to educate the masses on how to play their songs correctly.
i'd also have to point out the JOSH HOMME episode as being notable as he talks about how childhood POLKA lessons influenced his approach to the guitar and how a well chosen sharp note on a scale can transform the feel and tone of a solo. just super practical stuff.
all in all there is mention of techniques such NASHVILLE TUNING (JAMES WILLIAMSON), OPEN G TUNING (KEITH RICHARDS), TAPPING (JOSH HOMME) among others.
if you play guitar, this series (which sadly has been discontinued) is well worth exploring. for his part, SWEENEY has gone on to interview musicians for other video series with bigger brands, but essentially this is the one that is worth (repeatedly) checking out.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
the documentary AMERICAN VALHALLA (EAGLE ROCK, 2017) takes its name from a song off of IGGY POP's late-career album POST POP DEPRESSION (LOMA VISTA, 2016), which was a collaboration between the iconic STOOGES frontman and musician JOSH HOMME of QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE/KYUSS fame. this documentary follows their collaboration throughout the songwriting and recording process with interviews of both conducted by ANTHONY BOURDAIN (RIP).
i guess it should be stated that while IGGY and HOMME come from celebrated bands, both are actually quite unconventional musicians. lots of bands pay lip service to expanding their sound on subsequent releases, but if you track the career trajectory of both you will see that is actually the case. when IGGY reached out to HOMME, both took it as an opportunity to experiment and see what new creations could be manifested from their respective provided elements. it was interesting that in navigating this new relationship they based much on instinct and cooked the songs quickly in short order to not overthink it. just move forward.
i think this film at its core is about the nature of collaboration, especially when you have a history or legacy. it is about dismantling those expectations, both external and, more importantly, internal.
i remember when i was teaching i never slept particularly well because i was constantly questioning my plans. its not that they were inferior, i knew they were sound, but the opportunity cost of it all drove me nuts. there were so many options and how could i choose the right course of action that would best serve my students. i think that drive in part is what broke my heart about the profession, the fact that so many of my peers phoned it in. taught the same thing in the same order as years before, altering nothing. i saw the classroom as a dynamic venue for exploring ideas and challenging them against new technologies and world events. opening up the curriculum to show how these classroom concepts affect our understanding of both the world and ourselves. the fact that i did this in foreign countries, never on my home court made it that much more invigorating and scary at the same time. more colors to play with. i was willing to fail and being unable to settle down completely at night was the price i was willing to pay. risk nothing you get nothing.
what i am trying to say is that im well aware of this fear HOMME had in the film. how do i collaborate with an icon? make it worth his time and my time? and most frightening of all: the opportunity cost of all the other possible music i could write, that i could present to him. how do you conquer that fear?
you just do it by doing it. being truly in the moment. their collaboration was all instinct, mutually respecting and sharing that creative moment. in the moment. right now.
i loved that tightrope dance. i miss it.
note: but i wouldnt return to teaching. dealing with administrations that didn't have the students interests at front of mind cut my heart out. repeatedly. a bad one-sided collaboration rooted in politics.
great film. intriguing documentary on the nature of collaboration and cost required to make it a fruitful and meaningful endeavor.