Making its world premiere at the Sydney Underground Film Festival is the debut feature documentary by Sydney film maker Shaun Katz.
Underground Inc.: The Rise & Fall of Alternative Rock features members of White Zombie, Queens Of The Stone Age, Primus, Bad Religion, Ministry Helmet, Corrosion of Conformity Fishbone, Clutch and Steve Albini, among others, speaking honestly about their time in the goldrush when masterpieces were promised and more questions were posed than answered.
While managing a record store, Katz had a huge dose of what-was-then underground music up close.
“It was one incredible album after another,” he recalls. “These were bands that the music buying public had never heard of. Very often they were better than the household names.
“The strange thing was that a lot of these bands never got to put out more than one album.”
The reason was that such was the greedy rush to find the next Nirvana that any band that failed to hit the 500,000 sales mark were dropped.
Explains Katz. “While the tales of industry were intriguing to read about, it was the music by these bands that made me want to make the film.
“I wanted to get in there and find out why these bands that became the soundtrack to my life never got that second record out!”
Katz did some short films and music videos, but winning the SUFF Audience Choice award for his short Sleeping In Blood City in 2012 allowed him to reach out to some of the trend-makers directly or through their agents and publicists.
He spent two months in 23 American cities catching up with them as they criss-crossed the highways still making music.
Through the glass darkly
Underground Inc. comes at a time of ‘90s reappraisal, with a myriad websites unearthing the bands and records that flew under the radar, and join-the-dot appraisals of their influence on the current generation.
“A lot of these bands that appear in Underground Inc. are doing better now than they were doing 25 years ago.
“Quicksand, Failure, Clutch, Afghan Whigs – it’s nice to see them showing younger bands how it’s done.
“What really excites me though are the ones who are ripe for rediscovery. There are some fucking brilliant bands out there that nobody knows, but they’re awesome.
“I was really excited to have them be a part of the film; bands like Sugartooth, Cop Shoot Cop, Course Of Empire, Handsome, Sensefield and Jawbox.
“As for the new acts…the 90s were that great period where bands started combining all kinds of influences together, and not restricting themselves to one genre only.
“This seems to really capture the spirit of how those bands have influenced current artists who do whatever they want now.
“I know a lot of new bands were inspired by Fugazi. I’ve noticed a bit of a resurgence with Industrial music as well, bands like Youth Code or 3Teeth.
“I’m also noticing bands like IDLES and Ho99o9, who have these really vital voices which seem to be what made some of those late 80s/early 90s bands seem special. “
Holding nothing back
The interviews were mostly just two people n the room, so the musicians held nothing back, and their personalities and quirks really came through.
Industry stories about secret clauses built into contracts to radio politics emerge, as does a gruesome “nose” story about the time Surgery’s John Leamy and Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli were walking along and saw a fight between a homeless man and a Seattle rock star and still chuckle over what ensued.
“Underground Inc. takes me back to a time when music was real, raw and exciting…. a great time to be a musician,” says Louis Svitekpg of Ministry.
While Joey Castillo of Queens Of The Stone Age/ Danzig sums it up as “A film that captures and preserves a time in music that will forever be felt in sound, style, and inspiration…the ups and downs of the industry, and recognition to some talented bands and musicians who should have been heard.”