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Underground Inc: The Rise & Fall of Alternative Rock

USA 2019
produced by
Shaun Katz, Jb Sapienza, Adam Lovett, Lawrence Trakman (executive), Gary Trakman (executive) for Third Face Productions
directed by Shaun Katz
starring Aaron Beam, Adam Grossman, Aimee Echo, Alex Newport, Billy Graziadei, Brian Ares Schwager, Brian Liesegang, Bryan Giles, Bryan Richie, Buzz McCoy, Chris Connelly, Chad Lovell, Clint McBay, Craig Silverman, Dave Dicenso, David Wyndorf, Derrick Green, Garrett Klahn, Greg Saenz, James Robbins, Jack Natz, James Morris, Jamie Miller, Jeremy Chatelain, Jesse Rhodes, Jim Coleman, John D. Cronise, John Leamy, Joey Castillo, Jon Bunch, Josh Blum, Kellii Scott, Laurel Stearns, Louis Svitek, Marc Hutner, Marston Daley, Martin Atkins, Matt Tecu, Matt Wallace, Michael Jerome Moore, Mike Gitter, Mike Graff, Mike Lewis, Neil Fallon, Pepper Keenan, Peter Mengede, Petey Reichert, Phil Owen, Ron Holzner, Roy Mayorga, Sean Yseult, Shawn Smith, Steve Albini, Ted Gardner, Tim Cronin, Todd Huth, Walter A. Kibby II, Walter Schreifels, Zeke Piestrup
written by Shaun Katz, Jb Sapienza, music by Alex Newport, Mark Bradridge

documentary

review by
Mike Haberfelner

By the 1980s, mainstream pop and rock music had become a strictly profit-oriented business, and thus major record labels would put out only what was deemed as safe to play on MTV (back then a novel thing and a major player in the business) and mainstream radio stations. And even more progressive musical styles had been watered down for mass appeal rather than a niche market. This of course left many music fans looking for rock music with dirt and edges disenfranchised - which helped create a very vibrant underground rock scene that combines elements from metal, punk and goth music to an original hybrid that was "alternative" rock in more than one way. Occasionally, videos from some alternative rock bands played late at night on MTV, until circa 1991, Nirvana was signed by a major label, a band that despite its alternative rock sound, looks and attitude became a massive mainstream success. This movie is not the story of Nirvana though but the many alternative rock bands that got signed by major labels who simply wanted to repeat the success of Nirvana - and sometimes successfully so, as with Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Smashing Pumpkins. But many bands didn't make the cut, and only in the rarest occasions did it have to do with the quality of their music - basically the truth was record companies didn't always know what to do with them or how to promote them, as they didn't fit the 80s pop band mold, often sent them on tour supporting mismatched headliners, and also lacked breath to support them should things go not quite peachy in an already over-saturated market - and of course, that many bands simply weren't ready to become that big that quickly or just ill-fitted for mainstream media didn't help either. And thus, with many bands, the record labels just did what big business tends to do, drop them at the drop of a hat rather than invest into their future. And really, with at least some of the bands it's a shame that they were pretty much barred from reaching a wider audience ...

 

Now one thing's for sure, you don't have to be a fan of alternative rock to find this documentary interesting, but it's also more than likely that after watching that you will try to track down some of the music covered in this film, a music much more vibrant than the few alternative bands to successfully cross over into mainstream might suggest. And while this is basically a talking heads sort of documentary with some music interspersed, it's still a well-conceived film with a well-built story arc, and also a good hand in choosing interview partners, almost all members from 90s alternative bands including Cop Shoot Cop, Ministry, Handsome, Queens of the Stone Age, Jets to Brazil, Sugartooth, Fishbone, Helmet, For Love Not Lisa, Fudgetunnel, Jawbox, Qucksand, Downset, Failure, Brad, Monster Magnet, and many others, who tell their stories rather authentically, making this a pretty cool trip not only through 90s alternative rock but 90s music business as a whole.

 

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review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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directed by
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written by
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