Tuesday, September 22, 2009

“A Strangely Isolated Place” and “Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts”

In 2003 and 2004, Ulrich Schnauss' “A Strangely Isolated Place” and M83’s “Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts” were released. Upon buying and listening to both albums relentlessly I’d realized that the sound was re-emerging. In the ensuing months there were even more bands harkening back to the beautifully noisy sound I’d loved so much. Many reviews mention the My Bloody Valentine influence but upon reading interviews with Ulrich he was drawing from a richer and bigger canvas, many gems from his homeland Germany were mentioned (specifically Tangerine Dream) but what was really eye opening was his love for Chapterhouse, an unjustly maligned band from the early nineties. I was very impressed with him for not only being an amazing musician but for having the balls to praise music that he loved regardless of the negative perception of them in the UK. Record shopping, I found even more new bands inspired by that era and even more curiously I came across an electronic Slowdive tribute record released by Morr Music; something like this didn’t seem likely a few years before. 

I started digging around more and I came across indie labels like Darla Records, Tonevendor, Rocket Girl, Club AC30 and Sonic Cathedral, they are all committed to promoting artists who make beautiful noise and introducing new sounds in the ever-changing music marketplace.

It was around this time that I’d started thinking of documenting the period in some way, and eventually I decided to make a film. I wanted the documentary to tell the story of a style of sound that has been largely influential to progressive music of the last several years but had gained no mainstream acceptance. I wrote out a treatment then showed it to my good friend and skilled cinematographer, Chris Otwell and asked if he was interested in shooting some of the interviews. Eventually I would work with several different camera people including myself on a few occasions. It all seemed simple at first. I’d also created a budget that only included film equipment (camera, microphones, lights, tapes) and travel fees and though these nominal costs seemed high for my wallet, I decided to give it a go anyway.

It was in January of 2005 that I’d started to gauge interest from my network of film industry contacts for advice and/or funding and the response was mixed. Many people were very positive about the subject matter but I was given very cautious advice about the commercial viability of a project like this. It was suggested that I should start getting some footage and gaining access.

I didn’t really know many people in the music world; many of my early contacts were made through my brother Matt Green who led me to music industry veterans Jon Sidel and Marc Gieger (more on them later). Alan McGee (when I’d interviewed him in 2007) told me that my film couldn’t be made without the Internet and he was absolutely right. Relentless emailing and researching kept this thing going despite all odds. Thinking about it today it would be even easier now with the popularization of social media networks which so many people are a part.

Documentaries were more popular this decade than ever before but after a few Blockbuster documentaries mainstream interest had waned, even more so with music docs. Dig, New York Dolland Devil and Daniel Johnston were all well received critically but not as well commercially. This did not faze me in the least; all of these films were very interesting and compelling in their own ways. Though what I was trying to do had very little in common with those films, I did not want to lionize any one group but wanted to encapsulate an interesting cultural era. At this time, I started hunting down visual material, You Tube was my first stop but at that time it was only just beginning and was mostly only useful to re-watch old videos.

I started contacting UK footage vaults and I ordered several clips on VHS (VHS!) that I was charged a lot for, calling this a rip off is an understatement. When I got them I started wading through the footage and it was frustrating because there were very few clips (if any) for most of these bands. There was a lot of work I had to do to get started. I had to get interviews with people (my list of names was over a hundred); I had to start my film. It seemed unthinkable and unfeasible to start approaching people at the top of my list, I had no contact info, for most of my extensive interview wish list. The most natural thing to do seemed to be to reach out to interview current artists who have roots from that era; in a nice twist of luck both Ulrich Schnauss and M83 were coming to Los Angeles.

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