Sun Ra – Brother From Another Planet (dir. Don Letts, BBC film, 2005)

Brother From Another Planet is a 2005 film by Don Letts about the inimitable Sun Ra, telling the story of the pianist and band leader as he migrated from a traditional brand of jazz to something altogether other.

Through contributions from fans like MC5’s Wayne Kramer and Sonic Youth‘s Thurston Moore, Ra biographer John F. Szwed, poet Amiri Baraka and sundry Arkestra members, Letts’s sympathetic documentary highlights Ra’s distinctive spirituality and his ruthless work ethic, as well as a pioneering approach to composition that found him an early experimenter with synths and electronics. 

Central Arkestra member and his devoted successor Marshall Allen recounts how intense rehearsals with Ra were, often lasting over 24 hours, with the band playing while walking from their communal living / rehearsal space right down the street to whichever venue they were playing that evening. Drugs were eschewed in favour of workmanlike discipline, even though, to look at the band dressed in glittery, space-meets-Egyptian garb, you’d think the band were off their faces the whole time.

Ra comes across as a sincere and avuncular perfectionist, using astral spirituality as a means of channelling the energy of his particular big band toward an enlightenment that it still might be impossible to fathom today. “People have no music that is in co-ordination with their spirits,” says Ra during the film. “Because of this, they’re out of tune with the universe.”

Thurston Moore, a massive Sun Ra fan and collector, describes Ra’s level of independence and massive body of self-released recordings as the original “music from the bedroom”; a pioneer of the independent spirit that would influence everything from punk to electronic musicians bashing out tracks from next to their beds.

Through archive footage, interviews, live footage and extracts from Ra’s Space Is The Place film, Letts paints a compelling portrait of this incredible, misunderstood visionary, the likes of which we will more than likely never see again.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Advertisements

The Killer Robots! Crash And Burn (Leomark Studios film, 2016)


I’m not sure how I never heard about The Killer Robots!, a ‘theatrical rock band’ from Orlando, FL where the band members wear huge robot costumes. They seem like a lot of irreverent fun, though I think you have to be a huge nerd to fully appreciate them; or maybe, given their predilection for on-stage pyrotechnics and tongue-in-cheek sci-fi-isms, you just need to be a fan of Muse.

The Robots are just about to release their second movie (the first was called The Killer Robots And The Battle For The Cosmic Potato – yes, you did read that correctly). Co-opting the name from one of my favourite robot flicks of my youth, Crash And Burn is a B-movie-style adventure that follows the Robots as they try to eliminate various nefarious villains in increasingly goofy chapters. The movie was began in 2010 and delivered on an amazingly small budget. The result is both deftly humorous but also, in its own inimitable way, a faithful tribute of sorts to the earliest sci-fi movies.

One-time Mute artist Espen J. Jörgensen contributed voices to three characters in the film – Skippy, RoboNoid and Spytor. Robots founder, bassist Sam Gaffin (who also plays the character Auto and put most of the film together single-handedly over the past five years) wrote a brilliant electronic score for the film that is sure to become as legendary as the movie will, and absolutely needs to be released in its own right. Think of the Louis and Bebe Barron soundtrack to The Forbidden Planet rebooted for modern kit and you won’t be far off.

The Killer Robots! Crash And Burn will be out on iTunes on July 15th. In the meantime, check out the official trailer below.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Nitzer Ebb – NE + HH Live At The Markthalle (Major Records DVD, 2012)

dvd / 2 x lp // NE + HH Live At The Markthalle

  
major records | dvd 1nepdvd2012 | 02/12/2012
2 x lp edition: emmo.biz/kompuphonic | 2 x lp ezr011 | 02/02/2013

NE + HH Live At The Markthalle is Nitzer Ebb‘s first live concert DVD and was released by Major Records, a German imprint, in late 2012. The film captures the trio of Doug McCarthy, Bon Harris and Jason Payne at the Markthalle in Hamburg (Hamburg’s city code on car registration plates being HH, hence the title) on 30 December 2011 as part of a worldwide tour to promote Industrial Complex, the band’s first album since 1994’s Big Hit. The DVD was released as a limited, numbered edition of 500 (mine was #479) swathed in a black sleeve with bold, This Total Age packaging and a booklet of photos and credits.

Nitzer Ebb have always had a very definite image, mostly through their sleeve designs and use of simple but bold logos, and there’s something about the way the trio are dressed on stage that doesn’t quite seem to fit with that. Doug is dressed in a suit and tie, slim-fit white shirt and sunglasses, looking youthful and effortlessly cool, like he’d walked into the Markthalle straight from a Ferrari parked on the curbside after a long day of directing a movie in LA; Bon and Jason on the other hand are both wearing baggy slacks and braces, for all intents and purposes looking a little like extras from The Untouchables. What’s most remarkable is that Doug manages to keep his tie and shades on for the whole show – I have to loosen my tie just from the exertion of sitting at a desk writing emails all day, let alone leaping about a stage for nearly ninety minutes.

Throughout, Doug stalks the stage menacingly, every word delivered with an aggressive confrontational air; Jason casually bashes out percussion and percussion like he’s not really concentrating; Bon smacks pads and various percussion instruments with the same rude grace that a kid would approach a toy drum, waving his sticks aloft and generally looking like he’s having a lot of fun.

‘Let Your Body Learn’ is all aggressive, faithful urgency while ‘Shame’ has a real sense of the emphatic, even if it seems a bit lightweight delivered straight after the set’s opener. ‘Hearts And Minds’ becomes a minimal electro funk track, with Doug pointing a finger at the crowd every time he he shouts the word ‘you‘. Industrial Complex‘s ‘Once You Say’ includes synths that sound like pure electricity, blended with a tight rhythmic strictness, Doug and Bon commanding the crowd with the lyric ‘move that body‘ like they needed any more encouragement.

Alongside a particularly energetic ‘Control I’m Here’, two of the set’s highlights are the classics ‘Lightning Man’ and ‘Blood Money’. ‘Lightning Man’ sounds as noir as ever, the jazz / latin fusion and aggressive chorus at the centre still sounding unexpected after the muttered prose of the verses. ‘Blood Money’ is approached with a much harder edge than the album original, with Doug appearing to be taken over by the sampled religious talk of spirits toward the end, body jerking manically, just as it does on the cynical ‘Payroll’, only here interspersed with lewd gestures when he sings ‘you better suck it‘. The same sense of sexuality appears on ‘For Fun’ with Doug emphasising the point with some dubious hand gestures and by holding his crotch for most of the song.

‘Ascend’ is given a plaintive, emotional reading but the dense build of the music seems a bit lost as Doug’s vocal is just a little too loud. Most of ‘Join In The Chant’ is true to form – a series of shouted motifs over a thudding drum track, metallic percussion and a sluggish, funky bassline – but it’s spoiled by some percussion sounds at the start and end that make it sound like a PWL pop track; I genuinely thought it was going to open out into ‘The Locomotion’ by Kylie. Perhaps it was intended as a tongue in cheek reference to PWL mixmaster Phil Harding having worked with the band on This Total Age, but despite my reservations, the crowd clearly love it.

After a very long wait for an encore, we’re rewarded with a storming version of ‘Getting Closer’, Doug and Bon prowling the stage and flinging their lines out into the audience like cluster bombs, followed by ‘I Give To You’, which sounds as majestically sinister and harrowing as ever.

My only criticism of what is an otherwise good film is the over-emphasis on crowd footage. There are so many shots of the tall blonde woman in the front row that I’m starting to think she’s actually part of the band. Overall though, it’s a small gripe for what is a good, if not lavishly-produced, document of Nitzer Ebb on stage.

The DVD also includes murky versions of ‘Let Your Body Learn’, ‘Shame’, ‘Hearts And Minds’ (sounding a little like a proto acid house track) and ‘Lightning Man’ recorded at the Blackfield Festival in 2008. Doug – complete with military jackboots – appears to have been in a bad mood that day, and only really seems switched on when delivering a particularly emphatic version of the last track (though he also seems to miss some of his cues to start singing). Also included is an interview with Bon, Doug and Jason sitting on the end of a bed in someone’s very basic hotel room. Bon and Doug do most of the talking, and subjects vary from stuff about how demoralising it can be to go out on tour, to how chilled out it is to live and work in LA, and to Bon and Jason’s then-current work developing characters for stop-motion animation. The most interesting chat comes when they discuss how various tracks on Industrial Complex came about, including an amusing deadpan comment from Doug about roping Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore in to do backing vocals on ‘Once You Say’ because they wanted ‘a big, busty black woman sound’. There’s also a frank acknowledgment that trying to write a song like ‘Down On Your Knees’ in the style of ‘Let Your Body Learn’ is really difficult and that it’s ‘hard to regain that naïvete again in the studio’. Bon goes on to admit resignedly that it took two months to come up with a simple bassline for the track.

Since I started writing this, it’s been announced that Emmo.biz/Kompuphonik will release a limited-edition audio version of the Markthalle gig as a double LP in February 2012. According to the press release the album will be released as a limited edition of 500 copies in a gatefold sleeve, 400 of which will be pressed on transparent vinyl while the remaining copies will be issued on red vinyl inside a box containing a t-shirt, flag, badge and poster. Undoubtedly one for the Nitzer Ebb completist only.

Thanks to Hayo at Major Artists for the review copy of the DVD, and also to Jürgen for the vinyl press release and for reminding me about German number-plates.

dvd:
1. Intro
2. Let Your Body Learn
3. Shame
4. Hearts And Minds
5. Once You Say
6. Lightning Man
7. For Fun
8. Hit You Back
9. Blood Money
10. Payroll
11. Godhead
12. Ascend
13. Down On Your Knees
14. Murderous
15. Control I’m Here
17. Join In The Chant
18. Getting Closer
19. I Give To You

Blackfield Festival:
1. Let Your Body Learn
2. Shame
3. Hearts And Minds
4. Lightning Man

Interview:
1. Jason Payne, Doug McCarthy and Bon Harris interview

2xlp:
A1. Intro
A2. Let Your Body Learn
A3. Shame
A4. Hearts And Minds
A5. Once You Say
B1. Lightning Man
B2. For Fun
B3. Hit You Back
B4. Blood Money
B5. Payroll
C1. Godhead
C2. Ascend
C3. Down On Your Knees
C4. Murderous
C5. Control I’m Here
D1. Join In The Chant
D2. Getting Closer
D3. I Give To You

First published 2012; re-edited 2015

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

HTRK – Chinatown Style (Ghostly International short film, 2014)

HTRK 'Psychic 9-5 Club' LP artwork

In my Clash review of HTRK‘s third album (Psychic 9-5 Club), I likened the smooth, sensual dubby soundscapes of Jonnine Standish and Nigel Yang‘s music to the ‘aural equivalent of Prozac’, an effect that leaves their music devoid of any discernible ups and downs.

The duo have worked with director Nathan Corbin on a short film for the track ‘Chinatown Style’, which finds the viewer following various Chinatown residents around seemingly quotidian pastimes – cooking octopus, jazz dancing and so on – all jarringly set to Standish and Yang’s ethereal ambience.

Here’s what Corbin had to say about the film: ‘I worked as a delivery boy in Manhattan in my early twenties. It’s an intimate way to experience the city. The delivery is a conduit into an extended, physical exchange. It can be erotic and psychedelic; the repetition of “opening” in a city full of guarded skyscrapers and locked doors. You float invisibly, drifting from one ambiance to the next.

‘In NYC there is fluidity between everyone. You’re constantly “encountering”people. Always entering. The energy can vary wildly with successive shifts from light to dark to light like yin-yang. You found luck! You find yourself in a utopian center: a Psychic 9-5 Club.

‘People are dancing.

‘I chose to work with people I didn’t know for the most part..so that our interaction was new, innocent..like a delivery.

‘The cinematography concept was crucial. Shoot with a wide angle lens to create that innocence. You see everything so the “gaze”… the obsessive and voyeuristic part of looking is reduced. The eye of an open heart.’

Chinatown Style can be viewed below. Probably not one to watch at work (or if you’re a vegetarian).

Thanks to Matthew @ Ghostly.

(c) Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

The Residents – The Eyes Scream: A History Of The Residents (Cryptic Corporation film, 1991)

The Residents 'The Eyes Sceam: A History Of The Residents' VHS artwork

cryptic corporation | vhs | 1991

One of the consistent things that has always hovered around The Residents is, of course, the identities of the members. This is hardly a surprise when the members have generally spent most of the last forty-odd years underneath various masks, the most obvious being the eyeballs that have become synonymous with the band for most of this time. The obsession with knowing the names of The Residents taps into a curious aspect of the human psyche – namely the need to know. It is simply not enough for us to appreciate their art – music, films, multimedia – as art; we need to know who is behind it.

But really, what would knowing their names actually achieve? Would our appreciation or comprehension of the work of The Residents really be any more enriched by knowing the names of these people? I think not. Nevertheless, we’re all still desperate to know, and The Residents themselves know this all too well; not too long ago they unmasked themselves and announced that their real names were Randy, Chuck and Bob. No-one believes that for a second, but it’s probably as much as we’re ever going to get.

The Eyes Scream, a 1991 documentary by the band flirts with the need to know those identities in the final few minutes. The host, long-term Residents accomplice Penn Jillette, stops reading the praise for The Residents from the autocue and storms off set, the camera following him as he walks off; as he does so, The Residents are there operating the cameras and microphones. Just before the credits roll, they lift up the eyeball masks, offering a brief and tantalising glimpse of who they might really be. But then, how do we know they really were the actual Residents and, once again, does it really matter? Probably not.

Given that The Residents are not a conventional group, The Eyes Scream is not a conventional documentary. The film takes the form of video selections from the band’s body of work, some live performances on various television shows and obligatory talking head interview footage. The videos show how richly inventive the band have always been when it comes to the use of visuals, whether that be in the early use of computer animation (Earth Vs. Aliens) or the art-house narrative of Whatever Happened To Vileness Fats? which feels a lot like David Lynch directing Elias Canetti’s Auto Da Fe on the set of Rentaghost. Vileness Fats was the mythical film that the band’s first single, 1972’s Santa Dog, was supposedly taken from the soundtrack for, and only extracts like the one included here have ever been released.

Then there’s the band’s tendency to dress up. Eyeballs aside, there are plenty of examples here of the band dressing up and clearly having a lot of fun, including some spirited cowboy clobber on a performance captured live in Munich – here the band are without eyeballs, but any hope of discerning features is thwarted by their faces being obscured by scary lights. We can all see the artistic side of the band, but what’s perhaps overlooked is their theatricality and sense of showmanship. Just check the Busby Berkeley-esque choreography on their rendition of ‘Jailhouse Rock’.

The documentary is hosted by Penn and his mute sidekick Teller. Penn has worked with the band in the past on a 1982 European tour and several albums (beginning with that year’s Ralph Records 10th Anniversary Radio Special!), even acting as a sort of spokesperson for the group according to some clips included here – as surreal as this band are, there’s little more weird than watching four eyeball-headed people playing ‘snookers’ (sic.) in a Brixton pub. The involvement of the duo briefly gives rise to the notion that maybe they may themselves have been Residents, but clearly you can spend too long thinking about these things. Penn and Teller’s own brand of comedy has always tended toward the somewhat bizarre, making them perfect presenters for this supposed (albeit loose) history of the band; the best section is one where Teller keeps on taking off layer upon layer of clothing to show the camera a variety of Residents t-shirts and sweaters, while Penn reels off a list of available merchandise such as a Residents pizza holder ora Residents yo-yo (‘so you can walk the Santa Dog’).

As this is a music documentary, it wouldn’t be complete without the addition of talking heads, in this case the Cryptic Corporation‘s Homer Flynn and Hardy Fox. Both have vehemently denied being Residents, but on the video evidence presented here, during one of the sections where the band are relatively shorn of masks, the lead singer looks a lot like Flynn. Flynn himself sums up the motivation of the band, explaining that they are constantly ‘creating their own reality’. In this sense, in a world of alternative reality, identities don’t matter a jot.

The Eyes Don’t Scream is a product of the Nineties – its presentation and garish graphics are reminiscent of MTV or The Word – but in the absence of anything more concrete, this documentary is essential viewing for anyone seeking to make sense of this most enigmatic of bands.

Featured Clips:
Don’t Be Cruel
Alter Image
Third Reich & Roll
Vileness Fats
Man’s World
Hello Skinny
One Minute Movies
Jailhouse Rock (Live in Oslo)
Cry For The Fire (Live in Oslo)
Man’s World (Live in Australia)
Burning Love (Live in Munich)
Earth Vs. Flying Saucers
From The Plane To Mexico

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Beatz – Divergences & Contradictions Of Electronic Music (Analog Solutions film, 2014)

Beatz

Beatz – Divergences & Contradictions Of Electronic Music is a documentary film by DJ Eduardo De La Calle that surveys the health of the global dance music scene.

An independent – some might say underground – film, De La Calle’s methods veer toward the lo-fi, being largely just what he captured as he travelled around the world to interview many of dance music’s legends (Carl Craig, Derrick May, Marshall Jefferson, Carl Cox, Laurent Garnier, Juan Atkins) and newer talents in order to collect their views on what they think dance music has become and where it’s going.

Although the likes of Garnier ultimately deliver a spirited reading of the enduring vitality of the international club scene, elsewhere the vibe is uniformly sombre. Much decrying is made of the likes of Beatport as a means of manipulating tastes and pre-filtering selections for the listener in a way that record shops never did; similarly impassioned comments are delivered about the supposed commodification of dance music and mp3s – particularly unmastered tracks constructed of nothing more than three loops (echoes of punk’s limited musicianship aside, such tracks inevitably lack any particular human quality) – and DJs that eschew proper mixing in favour of simply queuing up poor quality mp3s and letting a machine synchronise them; one commentator likens buying records off the internet to drinking at home. Vinyl is seen as the golden medium, encouraging lots of fetishistic comments about its fragility, malleability and even artistic merit, while others counter this with a view that the medium itself doesn’t matter – it’s the ideas that make something original or not. Minus artist and Richie Hawtin protégé Matthew Jonson (they even dress the same and have the same hair) sums it up perfectly with ‘the machine will never have the idea’.

Throughout the film, the ‘human’ quality comes through in a loud way – perhaps somewhat surprisingly for a strand of music that is supposedly all about technology. That human dimension appears most negatively with diatribes against the super-DJ where showmanship has overtaken the actual music, or in discussions about ‘live’ versus programmed music where mistakes can happen, therefore allowing a real unpredictability can creep in. Carl Craig talks enthusiastically about the influence of jazz on dance music, an often overlooked input into the genre and one which perfectly illustrates the impact of individual flair over lumpen technology. Mute‘s own Apparat (Sascha Ring) offers his own slightly bemused reaction to talking to people in clubs and finding that people don’t know – or don’t care – who’s on the bill, as if the natural conclusion of the so-called facelessness of techno’s logical conclusion comes as a surprise to him.

The film is a bit rough around the edges, especially with regard to the subtitles, but this globetrotting film was shot with evident care and attention – much more so than most lo-fi productions. The soundtrack features a number of intricate pieces by De La Calle himself which had this reviewer feeling nostalgic for his old techno collection. For Mute fans, as well as Apparat, Speedy J and BMB‘s Surgeon also appear as talking heads.

The film can be streamed at Eduardo De La Calle’s website or below.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Industrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay (Les Films Du Garage film, 2014)

Industrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay logo

Industrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay is a film by Amélie Ravalec and Travis Collins which will be released in late 2014.

The film charts the history and development of industrial music through the political, economic and urban upheaval experienced in late Seventies Europe and America through a series of interviews with the key individuals and groups that were at the forefront of this musical genre.

The film features interviews with many names familiar to Mute Records fans – Chris Carter, Cosey Fanni Tutti and Genesis Breyer P. Orridge from Throbbing Gristle, Boyd Rice, Graeme Revell, Stephen Mallinder from Cabaret Voltaire and other luminaries such as Test Dept, Hula and Z’Ev. The film promises to be one of the first, and certainly most comprehensive, surveys of a scene whose echoes can still be felt in the worlds of Factory Floor and noise protagonists like Cold Cave.

A trailer for Industrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay can be viewed below. A Documentary Evidence interview with Ravalec and Collins, as well as a review of the film, will follow later in 2014.

For more information, a list of interviewees and a selection of industrial mixtapes (including one by electronic music stalwart and Simon Fisher Turner / Githead collaborator Robin ‘Scanner’ Rimbaud) head to industrialsoundtrack.com

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence