The Royal Pick: It's Gonna Blow! (San Diego's Music Underground: 1986-1996)
In the magical pre-internet days of 1992, discovering new music wasn't as ridiculously easy as it is in 2015. For a kid growing up in the suburbs of Kansas City, my musical expansions were generally found in pilgrimages to record stores, stocking up on fanzines and whatever used CD's my grubby 16 year old mitts could afford (which, in all fairness, was basically the same as downloading a record these days, but whatever). The gaps therein were filled by having Monday evening watch parties with friends, poring over VHS recordings of last night's 120 Minutes (MTV's version of Pitchfork), occasional lapses in judgment that lead to joining BMG/Columbia House for the 10th time, and picking up copies of SPIN at the grocery store.
The back pages of SPIN were a veritable Etsy shop of alternative culture, and an ad for "Rock Video Monthly" sucked me in. It was a subscription service that delivered a VHS tape chock full of alt-rock videos to your door every month. As a voracious devourer of the alt-rock culture at that time, it didn't take a lot to sell me. Long story short, a tape came one month, full of forgettable cutout bin also-rans, but one video captured the entirety of my brainspace. Rocket From The Crypt's "Sturdy Wrists" was a firecracker in my television set, exploding with air-raid horns and a relentless staccato riff that went supernova during the chorus.
That video set me off on a Rocket From The Crypt binge that I'll write a doctoral thesis about some other time, but it also served as a wormhole into the world of the San Diego music scene. Singer John Reis is arguably one of the figureheads of the scene, and his involvement in Drive Like Jehu and Pitchfork spiderwebbed into the discovery of a network of new bands that I wasn't seeing covered by the zines that I was reading. Before I knew it, my stereo was stacked with records by No Knife, Heavy Vegetable, Three Mile Pilot, Tanner, Inch, Creedle, and enough Cargo Records samplers to fortify a small jungle hut.
I've always been amazed at the quality and diversity of sounds that came out of San Diego during this time, and thankfully, director Bill Perrine felt the same way. In his new documentary (It's Gonna Blow!), Perrine does his best to fit the tangled web of San Diego bands from the mid-80's to the mid-90's into a tidy 90 minute time period, and does a fantastic job at balancing live footage with stories from the music makers themselves, never focusing too much on one success or failure. While so much has happened in the nearly 20 years since the film's cutoff, it's crucial to go back and revisit this particular time period. From an industry standpoint, it's about appreciating the wheels that were in motion that brought punk and alternative rock into suburban households. All of this music was happening so close to Los Angeles, the music epicenter of America, and most of these things barely registered so much as a blip on that radar. Something about that was truly magical to my 16 year old brain, and is still befuddling to my 38 year old brain. From an artistic standpoint, this was a musical golden era for a lot of cities, but the growth and body of work that came out of San Diego during this period is fascinating (and a bit overwhelming). It's Gonna Blow does a great job touching on the significant players in this period, explaining why these bands were important while giving live snippets that inspire further inspection of the bands and their respective works. Bring a notebook and be prepared for a few hours of YouTube wormholes soon after viewing.
It's Gonna Blow! San Diego's Music Underground 1986-1996 is showing at the Grand Illusion in Seattle on January 24th and 25th. Saturday night's showing includes a live performance from San Diego band Physics. Tickets are available here.