Documentaries are created to make you think; they hope to engage your mind and inspire you to ponder an alternative way to approach both historical and contemporary issues by providing viewpoints that may differ from the norm. Perhaps this particular DVD should be a required primer for all kids who grow up in the suburbs and have been weaned on their parents' sports cars, cushy homes and decent schools. Independently produced, this documentary-of-sorts focuses on the vibrantly thriving indie rock-punk-metal scene that spans the Great Lakes state.
The Michigan Independent
Acutest Records (2004)
$10.00 + shipping
The 50 minutes of footage include interviews with bands, independent record label owners, small business proprietors and tons of live footage that will hopefully introduce you to your next favorite unheard-of band, or at least give you some insight into the world outside of suburbia. So please, put down that Limp Bizkit CD for a second and give The Michigan Independent a shot.
While the DVD focuses exclusively on Michigan's independent rock, punk and hardcore music scenes, the same characters and attitudes can be found in any city that houses a large alternative music movement. Many of the people interviewed on the DVD have made music their career, not just a weekend hobby. If you've always wondered what makes certain kids prefer dishing out music in dirty dives to attending dental school, The Michigan Independent should shed some light.
I'll admit that The Michigan Independent's message is a bit behind the times. Engaging and embracing the DIY ethic isn't something novel; fighting against the authoritative governmental regime was much cooler in the '70s too, but if people forget about these ideals, we may be doomed to repeat history. Nonetheless, if you need a quick refresher, go read up on Simple Machines or Dischord Records and you'll have more than your fill on what it takes to stick it to the man. However, the DVD isn't so much about how to start your own band, label or business, but rather a primer on some of the people who make up the Michigan scene and why they've chosen this particular path.
The DVD succeeds immensely if you're on the prowl for new faces and sounds. Like many regional scenes, Michigan apparently has an interesting assortment of aspiring musicians who are happy to rock out without acting like mega-cock rock stars. While you only hear snippets from the more than 30 bands that are represented here, there's a lot of memorable material: the explosive rock of Once a Hero, the sleek and sexy indie rock of Charlevoix, the arty and progressive sounds of The Sea, The Sea, punk-rock stalwarts South Bay Bessie and cleverly named hardcore-purists Bloodlined Calligraphy. Each band is caught in its natural setting: in a small club on an even smaller stage. In between music clips, bands are asked about their opinions of Michigan's music and the rallying cry of independent rock.
The interesting thing is that there's more to the musical web than a handful of bands. The Michigan Independent seizes upon this concept and does a solid job exploring the other components that aren't necessarily bands, but are still tightly connected to the thriving music scene. The presumed owner of VG Kids Screen Printing discusses the business aspects of running an independent t-shirt, sticker and poster company. Towanda Zine Distribution owner Jessika Rae happily voices her opinions about distributing alternative literature and the need for expressing a voice that's not part of the mainstream media. Toss in interviews with Michigan-area indie label owners and a quick jaunt through Woodshed Studios and you've glimpsed a snippet of what makes Michigan's well-oiled music machine move.
While it's admirable that Acutest spent time shooting and editing the DVD, it gets old pretty quickly if you've hung around your own local music scene for any amount of time. I get a bit peeved listening to hordes of hoodie-wearin', gruffly-bearded guys spoutin' off anti-corporate rock slogans, why you should become a vegan and giving props to all of the hip, scene-supporting kids. Perhaps it's because I, too, was once one of those kids, happily spoutin' off slogans and plastering posters on light poles much to the chagrin of the local police force -- and I secretly miss it all!
The best message you can take from the DVD is its simple analysis of alternative lifestyles and business ideas. While college advisors point soon-to-be graduates toward law school, medical school or some other "normal" career path, there are other options if you're willing to pour a lot of blood, sweat and tears into your efforts. More importantly, it's always a good thing to see that society hasn't been swallowed up by the pre-packaged easy listening music that's so readily available on the airwaves. While many of these bands and small businesses will probably fade into history, it's a relief to see the independent music community passing on the tricks of the trade to a new generation.
-- Andrew Magilow