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
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.