SONIC REDUCER Can the Big Apple rightfully claim the cheese without "New York State of Mind" or even "New York City Cops"? How can we motor through Mobile without an anthemic blast of "Sweet Home Alabama"? Even boosters would have a tough time mustering a jones for El Lay if not for "I Love LA." Hometown pride is a construct, built on ballpark anthems, puny hot dogs, and bizarre caps with too many buttons. But even as we cringed at the Live Earth lineup, the idea of Antarctica musical antics intrigued. How to map the mysterious interchange, linked by a network of highways and folkways, between geography and music? I always associated indie rock's connection to place with the fragmentation of the pop marketplace and the rise of regional powerhouses like '80s college radio; if you knew where a band was from be it Athens, Ga.; Chicago; Olympia, Wash.; Minneapolis; Boston; or Seattle you could, at times, make a blurry mental chart of their sound, as if the brute soil, air, and water added up to a kind of aural terroir.
So when music fans with movie cameras attempt to encapsulate a town and its music scene, I usually unplug the ears and peel the film off the eyeballs. The Burn to Shine series, produced and curated by Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty, does it particularly well, with an unassuming eloquence infused with natural light and a poetic approach; in each, a series of local groups is captured playing one song, in sequence, in an abandoned house before it is burned to the ground. The first of the series was shot in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 14, 2004, and it's steeped in fiery performances by Ted Leo, Q and Not U, the Evens, and Bob Mould, as well as a bittersweet, archetypally punky melancholia as if to say these glorious seconds will never quite come again.
Likewise, I was hankering to view Rural Rock and Roll, Jensen Rule's grainy snapshot of the Humboldt music scene, which will be screened as part of the Frozen Film Festival on July 14. The 60-minute doc revolves around Eureka and Arcata bands playing in the area in the summer of 2005. Rule's technique is rougher than that of the Burn to Shine project, the narration tends toward the hyperbolic, and the music is rawer (and context free; forebears like Comets on Fire, Dieselhed, and Mr. Bungle are never mentioned), but the video is still worth taking a peek, especially for the grindingly heavy Lift, with an all-contractor lineup. "I believe we're the only band in the country that can build you an entire home," one member deadpans.
The 34-year-old director moved from Humboldt in 2001 to work as an editor on what he calls "bad reality-TV shows" like The Simple Life, but he remained fascinated by Humboldt's eclecticism influenced by the college, the Twin Peaksish witchiness of the redwoood curtain, the cultural collision between hippies and loggers, and the many local pot farms round the birthplace of Big Foot. "It's so far away from the big city, so to speak, there are no expectations of what each of the bands up there is supposed to sound like," he says from Los Angeles. "Isolation is a blessing."
PANACHE TO GO And even so-called big cities like San Francisco can't hold Humboldt hellions like Michelle Cable, who is all over Rural Rock and Roll, started her Panache zine in Eureka, and later fostered Panache Booking in SF. She'll be moving to Brooklyn on Aug. 1 after her July 21 farewell show at 12 Galaxies with Black Fiction, Aa, the Husbands, Sword and Sandals, and Health. Recovered from a broken back suffered in a tragic van accident with DMBQ, Cable plans to expand her booking agency on the East Coast, and in January 2008 she'll relaunch the zine as an SF- and NYC-focused online publication. Why the move?