DAVE MARKEY

WE GOT POWER

Here with me awaits my super-8, my accomplice, my faithful lover. At the distance, the reflection of the lights, something is about to happen. The tape begins to roll in the reel. The path, stony and sharp, guides us towards an end without end. The haze of the crowd feels deep, a calm that awaits. The static that dances on the bodies, which laughs, accustomed to laugh, screams very loudly, that would like to be wind. A microphone's feedback deceives everybody. A mixture of hot beer and cigarette smoke is the only smell in the environment. No one thinks of the time, and immersed in a sea of delirium I remember that I have being nowhere better than here, I was never freer than now.

 

DAVE MARKEY exclusive with SUBTERRANEO.

Dave Markey is a reference and indispensable of the American underground culture of ends of the century XX being the author of the mythical and prophetic documentary "THE YEAR PUNK BROKE" that turns 25 years of life. This documentary portrays a Sonic youth aware of his rise being godparents of Nirvana - with K. Cobain happy and inspired - six months before they jumped to world fame with "Nevermind." Director of films like THE REINACTORS, The Omeneus, various documentaries from the golden era of the hardcore punk scene and the ascendant alternative rock scene of the 80s, music video director of Red kross, shonen knife, mudhoney, Sonic youth, among others. Also, along with Jordan Schwartz, they published the book entitled "WE GOT POWER! Hardcore Punk Scenes From 1980′s Southern California".

It’s the 25th aniversary of the documentary “The Year Punk Broke” Did you imagine that 25 years later it would be a cult movie?

25 years ago I was dealing with making the movie, and that pretty much consumed by that for the better part of that year. I didn't think that far ahead. When the word came that it was getting a theatrical release, that was very exciting. I had pretty reasonable expectations.

In your movie, between so many musicians in the dressing rooms we see a funny Nirvana with Krist Novoselik and Dave Grohl throwing food and bragging. How do you remember this young Dave Grohl that today is Mr. Foo Fighter and a retired Novoselic?

 

I remember Dave and Krist as being young and totally hung ho for the experience. There was fair amount of partying going on, a lot of drinking and late nights. Everyone was happy to be there and enjoying themselves.  Some of the stuff we see is influenced by this fact. I may have egged on their backstage food platter scene.

Dave Markey, Kurt Cobain, Kim Gordon. 1991: The Year Punk Broke.
Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, Dave Markey. 1991: The Year Punk Broke.

In her book “Girl in the Band” Kim Gordon said that she remembered Kurt Cobain in those days as a joyfull and fragil Young man who awakened certain maternal feeling in her. How do you remember him? Do you have an anecdote about Nirvana that you would like to share?

 

I recall Kurt being a quiet guy offstage, but just the opposite on stage. Definitely the artist-type. He had a sense of humor, which I don't think he is well known for. He really liked the stuff that I had shot of the band and he asked me if he could use it in a music video (“Lithium”). He had me come in and sit in on the edit session for it, in which I recall him making most of the creative decisions. It was interesting to see.

 

I was also around for the "Unplugged" sessions, and a series of blistering shows in NYC around that time. I was also there when Eddie Van Halen showed up backstage at the LA Forum, asking Kurt if he could jam with the band. Kurt refused. That was nuts.

How did you start your fanzine (today your film company) WE GOT POWER? How did you get to do it? 

 

I just did it. That was the thing about being young (17) and in that time that I sometimes miss. Just the sheer audacity and will to do stuff. Making films, producing 'zines... But actually I had been doing this kind of stuff since I was 12, pre-punk. So I already had an aesthetic and some experience in place.

Do you have a precise motive or was it rather spontaneous?

 

I was just into shooting film. Much of it was spontaneous. Some of it wasn’t. Depends what was going on. My narrative films are fairly different from my documentaries.

What do you remember about the time when you were doing “The Slog Movie” and “The Omenous?

 

I was young, a teenager, but I remember a lot of that stuff fairly well.  “The Omenous” was the last film I did (at 15) that stayed inside my Santa Monica neighborhood. By the time I was doing We Got Power (‘zine) at 17, I was getting out of my surroundings. That was important, and crucial to my filmmaking.

Is there a political reason above aesthetics why you use little HD in your achievements?

 

High Def?  Well, I've produced work in HD recently, like music videos for Bob Mould, Heyrocco and The Black Lips.  The reason why most of my work exists in standard def, is that this is the format and technology that was available at the time. I worked with what was readily available to me, which was primarily Super-8 film.

Could we say that you are a cultist, master or purist of the analog?

 

It’s probably it's just a matter of what I had to work with. But yes, there is a certain feeling from analog that is rather nice. That said, I'm not opposed to digital, or shooting in digital, and I have. I like the way The Reinactors looks. That's digital.

You have witnessed and documented a part of the history of contemporary music of the twentieth century. You know the backroom of it, I suppose you know many artists who have not transcended and have been forgotten. Like in your movie THE REINACTORS... that shows the celebrities doubles living that same movie every day. What can you tell us about that?

Thurston Moore. 1991: The Year Punk Broke.

That film basically tells a century-plus-old story about Hollywood and the people that come here to work in it, no matter how small or diminished that may be. It's basically "Day Of The Locust", but with people that would have never read the book, or even seen the movie. It's a documentary, but since the people in it have immersed themselves so deeply into Hollywood on every level, that it plays like a scripted movie. Is it life imitating art, or the other way around? That is what made it interesting to me.

The Slog Movie (1982). Dave Markey.
The Reinactors (2008). Dave Markey.

How do you feel when someone from another country wants to see your work, in this case SUBTERRANEO and for a matter of copyright, etc. a company like YouTube doesn`t authorize it for that country?

 

I hate it when I can’t see something I want to watch and it’s unavailable. But there’s other ways of seeing things. You Tube is convenient, but it’s not the end-all. I still have a large collection of VHS!

How do you manage to maintain yourself solid in a culture so changing in a country and capitalist power as the United States, cradle of marketing, I mean, where everything is business and even more today with the culture of entertainment?

 

Patience and instinct have seemed to work for me. I just did the things I was interested in doing, my own thing. Maybe this is the heart of the matter. Artists who are busy creating their own work. Business is the reason Hollywood films are less interesting these days. I think the last time there was a healthy ratio of  business and art was the golden age of the 1970's (cinema), where art and commerce intersected. It’s not the same world now in the least, however this is certainly one model to look at. But then again, I have never really worked “In Hollywood” outside of the geographical location. I never would claim to “work in the business”, as I was always outside of it. 

"Patience and instinct have seemed to work for me. I just did the things I was interested in doing, my own thing. Maybe this is the heart of the matter".

-Dave Markey.

Knowing your personal work history, the trajectory with rock history heavyweights, hardcore-punk pioneers, alternative rock, etc. How did you earn your place, to transcend your work in the passage of time, Survive and stay active with your ethics intact?

 

I don’t know about how I fit into all of that, I never really concerned myself with that.  I just stuck to it. I did my work, did the things I was interested in doing, and carried on. 

 

That said. No one really cared about the underground in the US in the 1980’s at the time. The mainstream could have cared less. It was a very real and organic thing because of that. Things clearly got strange in the 1990’s, when suddenly this stuff that was going on beneath the surface and cracks in the 80’s, became such a thing. But so it goes... 

Our current president profile is very similar to Trump in terms of crude neoliberalist policies, responding to corporate interests and entities that go beyond the governments like the IMF, etc. Are you aware of the situation in the country, and South America?

 

Somewhat, but by no means am I an expert.  I am very unhappy with the fact that a total asshole is the figurehead for my country at the present time. I don’t think we’ve ever had anyone less qualified to be in that position in my lifetime. It is scary. It feels like the world is laughing at us.

Being part and survivor of the Punk-Hardcore scene in Los Angeles, a boy who started filming in an autodidact manner with an urgency to capture what was happening in his city, his group of friends, favorite bands, context, etc. Do you see something similar happening in California today?

 

There is a lot of music going on currently in Los Angeles, and I do see a younger generation being clearly impacted and influenced by so much of this music and culture. Some bands have the sound and attitude down pat. Check out The Side Eyes. I am not really up on all of it, I just don’t have the tenacity to get out there and check bands out like I used to. That said, I still do see a fair share of live music. But really, this is such a different world… Comparisons are not really fair, or even that interesting. But I will say the music here is thriving right now.

Dave Markey reading 'zine We Got Power, LA 'Zine Fest 2014.
Mike Watt, Minutemen 1982 (with SST producer Spot, Dave Markey, Henry Rollins (in bandanna) and Dave Claassen.  (Photo by Jordan Schwartz).

It were Ronald Reagan's years, against whose conservative policies teenagers rebelled, the counterculture gave beautiful gems such as punk, hardcore, fanzines, DIY culture, and a long etc. that many young people inherited in subsequent generations. Do you think there is a musical scene today that is worth documenting for its spirit and ethics?

 

While it’s true that Reagan helped spread Hardcore across the continental United States by default, I heard rumblings around the time of the latest election that this Orange Buffoon was supposedly going to make punk rock great again, or some such nonsense.  I’d rather not have to deal with this on any level. It’s not worth it, and it’s not going to make anything great.

You came to the country in 2005 under the festival Bafici in its seventh edition ... What memories do you have of that visit?

 

I really enjoyed myself.  II would have never imagined screening something like “The Slog Movie” for an international audience, so many years after it was made. I was very pleased and surprised with the audience reaction to my films.  The Lovedolls films especially seemed to go over well, I returned again to BAFICI in 2008.

How does it feel to be part of an entire artistic-musical scene, of a generation that managed to reflect a cultural brake in your country? Did it get to be a burden? Do you think about it?

 

I don’t think of my work in relation to someone else’s. It was interesting watching the culture in the 1990’s, and all that happened there. But now, all of that is so far away in the past. It's almost like it never happened, in a sense.

In your documentaries and shorts somehow you always express your posture with what mobilize you. At that time, how did you see the female role in rock? Do you think it has evolved with the passage of time?

With a brief appearence of Babes in Toyland and a little bit more of protagonism of Kim Gordon at The Year Punk Broke (that appears more in the sequel “The Blue Scale”). How was it to see a woman in a band between so many men? Do you remember how the audience behaved? How do you see Kim Gordon’s rock influence in the girls of today?

 

Well, Kim definitely is a huge influence on me. But the music I know and love, women have always been directly involved. I myself (as a musician) have been in bands with girls. And girls invented punk rock, so…

Filming on the Sunset Strip, 1988 (Michelle Hirschhorn).

Introduction by Marcio Parks & Juan Cruz Molas y Molas.
Interview and editing by Andrés Asia & Juan Cruz Molas y Molas.

Design by Juan Cruz Molas y Molas.

Photographs courtesy of Dave Markey.

SUBTERRANEO. 

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To see more about Dave Markey / We Got Power go to: Sitio Web / Facebook / YouTube

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