Underground Inc.: The Rise & Fall Of Alternative Rock
Walter A. Kibby, David Wyndorf, Steve Albini, Pepper Keenan, Sean Yseult
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This is a rock doco of the first, fiery, funny order.
Making docos can be tough, and more often than not, they’re absolute labours of love, made by true believers with a passion for their subject that defies all obstacles. Underground Inc.: The Rise & Fall Of Alternative Rock shapes up as exactly that, as director, writer, editor, producer and cinematographer, Shaun Katz (in his feature debut), crafts an insightful, insouciant, probing and wildly entertaining tale of artistic defiance and record company ruthlessness featuring a whole host of bands that most people probably haven’t heard of. That doesn’t mean that these bands aren’t great (hell, no!), but it certainly makes the doco a tougher sell, and an obviously deeply personal endeavour. Thankfully, we all get to enjoy it too.
Utilising gritty, punky, fanzine-style graphics; furious, from-the-crowd live footage; time-smeared vintage music clips; and wall-to-wall talking head interviews (in which just about everyone, honest to god, is an MVP…but special praise be to Fishbone’s Walter A. Kibby, Monster Magnet’s David Wyndorf and Dig’s Matt Tecu), Underground Inc.: The Rise & Fall Of Alternative Rock tracks the ragged cohort of bands that formed in the late eighties as an antidote to the mainstream (“Prince, Janet Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna…you know, just pure shit,” sneers alt legend, Steve Albini), and then ended up getting signed to major labels in the nineties when “alternative” became a buzzword thanks to the breakthrough of The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana and Pearl Jam. The fact that bands like Cop Shoot Cop, Sugartooth, Helmet, The Jesus Lizard and Corrosion Of Conformity were a little too left of field to ever make it in the same way as the aforementioned rock titans obviously eluded the major label record companies in their feverish desire to sign the next big thing. And then when the record-sales-by-the-truckload failed to materialise, the bands – despite their obvious artistic merit – were cruelly consigned to the scrapheap.
Though some of what transpires in Underground Inc.: The Rise & Fall Of Alternative Rock is hardly new (bands torn apart by drugs and betrayal; the freakish ability of record companies to lie to their artists, and then brutally exploit them), it’s depicted in such a fresh, honest and gutsy way that it feels like you’re actually witnessing it for the first time. At times endearingly lo-fi (many artists are interviewed in what look like very, very shambolic places of residence, while Quicksand’s Walter Schreifels chats away in a sunny park, as a sunbather obliviously checks herself out in a mirror behind him in the distance), Underground Inc.: The Rise & Fall Of Alternative Rock manages an amazing feat: it tells a story that you probably didn’t know that you needed to hear, but now that you’ve heard it, you’ll never forget it. This is a rock doco of the first, fiery, funny order. It also resurrects Scatterbrain’s classic “Don’t Call Me Dude”, and for that, we should all offer sincere and heartfelt thanks.