"...infectious and inspirational film about creative people making innovative music..."

Indy Rock Doc Premieres in Chicago

(060418) Parallel Planes is a fascinating, exciting, and informative documentary that will be playing as part of the Chicago Underground Film Festival, the longest running underground film festival in the world. It will receive its United States premier on Friday, June 8th at the Logan Theatre at 7:00 pm.

This film which can also be seen as a visual mix tape takes us across the country and depicts participants in various American Indy music milieus. The film depicts musicians from scenes in Chicago, L.A., New York City, and Austin, Texas. One of the interviewees suggests talking about scenes is just journalistic shorthand that allows writers to talk about very different performers in the same area more easily.

Much of the Indy rock that the film spotlights is influenced by or could be categorized as noise music. Noise music is a genre that emphasizes the use of what many consider to be noise within a musical context. This type of music attempts to break down the wall between musical and non-musical sound and expand musical possibilities. In its own way rap also did this.

Many local practitioners of noise music can be seen at the Lumpen Times magazine events and music festivals in Bridgeport such as the Version Festival which is curated by Ed Marszewski.

The performers in the “Parallel Planes” play everything from post no wave (not to be confused with new wave), electronica, industrial, lo-fi, synth pop to punk, metal and/or hip hop influenced music.

The film was made by the Nicole Wegner, a talented producer and director. So far she has only made Parallel Planes and Alaaf You (2016), but her work shows plenty of promise, and talent to spare. She appears to have a real affinity for her subject matter and this film is clearly a labor of love. Based on her film cult subject choices she does not seem to be primarily motivated by commercial considerations.

In Parallel Planes she often livens up the interviews which might have been visually uninteresting by depicting paintings or animation related to the work of the interviewees. When an extended guitar solo by Orthrelm is played the viewer is treated to paintings of moving chickens and the viewer can draw their own links and associations between the music and art.

The film is concerned with spreading the DIY spirit which is the ethic of self-sufficiency through completing tasks without the aid of a so called experienced musician or expert. The director herself established a DIY venue herself after the film was completed.

Parallel Planes features extensive interviews with: Michael Gira (Swans, Young God Records), Mick Barr (Orthrelm, Ocrilim, Octis), Justin Pearson (The Locust, Swing Kids, All Leather), Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat, Fugazi), Valentine Falcon (Get Hustle), Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu), Anna Barie (These Are Powers), Weasel Walter (Flying Luttenbachers), Jenny Hoyston (Erase Errata), Alap Momin (Dälek), Greg Saunier (Deerhoof), and Otto von Schirach

One of the few musicians in the film that I was previously familiar with was Michael Gera of the noise music ambient trio, Swans. Gera has said that the band chose that name because like the bird, the band is a majestic, beautiful creature that has an ugly or difficult temperament. (I highly recommend the band’s winningly subversive Holy Money as well as their fine Soundtracks for the Blind, a soundtrack for a non-existent film.)

Gera boiled down his goals and anti-rational philosophy for his music when he said, “I was just about making sounds in a kind of brutal way….It was a kind of way to erase consciousness.”

Ian MacKaye of the Teen Idols and Fugazi (his current band is Discord) said that innovation often happens when a new artist tries to copy what an older artist did, and it comes out as something unrecognizable (This is obviously what happened when the technically incompetent New York Dolls tried to copy the stones and accidentally invented glam-punk.) MacKaye also talked about how he used the small profits that his bands made to preserve records of bands he admired and document his scene on his own label, Discord Records.

As a side note, MacKaye actually had his shot in the big time, but he lost his chance because he refused to compromise. Rolling Stone wanted to do a cover story on his then current band, but the straight edge musician refused to do it unless the magazine refused to run liquor ads in that issue because he did not want to help promote alcohol.

The film also includes a section devoted to the Weasel Walter, the former leader of the seminal punk jazz combo, The Flying Luttenbachers (the distinguished avant garde jazz musician Ken Vandermark who I saw at Pitchfork had a stint in that band.) Many of their recent songs (some of them are excerpted in the film) deal with the destruction of the planet earth in a future dystopia.

Anna Barie (formerly of These are Powers) emphasized the importance of finding the right venues and how hard it is to find places to play that will book all ages shows that showcase experimental music. Jaimie Stewart of Xiu Xiu (he also played with Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon) said that he would often have to put together a pickup band in a few hours to play a terrible sports bar in which customers had no interest in his work.

The film also delves into the considerable hardships (including instability and poverty) of being an Indy musician or alt rock label owner. Weasel, who also has his own label, UGExplode, admits that the most he can hope for is “put out good shit without losing money.” Weasel said that he is constantly struggling to make his rent and not die. Mick Barr who has played with Orthrelm and solo said that in order to get by he has had to work in over 65 short term jobs.

Despite this, Parallel Planes is an often infectious and inspirational film about creative people that make innovative, ground breaking music for next to no money for limited commercial prospects. If you see it you might want to pick up your own guitar or to start their own scene.

Directed & Written by:  Nicole Wegner
Starring:   Ian MacKaye, Michael Gira, Justin Pearson
Released:  050418
Length: 100 minutes
Rating:   No Rating Available

PARALLEL PLANES ©  2018 Bron Studios
Review © 2018 Alternate Reality, Inc.