Sunday, February 19, 2012

Nightclubbing: Archive of an Era

The Talking Heads are legendary for their cinematic performance album Stop Making Sense, but if you caught David Byrne and Co. jittering around a tiny stage at yesterday’s Nightclubbing: Greatest Hits, you know they weren’t always such a polished act. “They announced after the show that this was something like the third time they’d ever played together,” says filmmaker Pat Ivers, and the 135 other shows she recorded with Emily Armstrong in NYC between 1975 and 1980 display a similarly raw, fresh, uncensored and unrestrained energy. Primarily filmed at CBGB, Nightclubbing is more than a series of performance films—it’s an archive of an entire era that captures punk and new wave artists like Dead Kennedys and Blondie performing in a pre-music-video, pre-YouTube world.

If you missed the Greatest Hits program, be sure to catch BSDFF’S screening of Nightclubbing: Roots of Hardcore. The film plays Monday, Feb. 20 at 7:45 PM at the Crystal Theater, and features performances from Iggy Pop, Dead Boys, and others. BSDFF sat down with filmmakers Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong to discuss the film.

BSDFF: What was CBGB like in the 1970s?

PAT IVERS: Well, it sounds kind of like a cliché, but it really was like a big family. Most of the people at CB’s were the people who were total freaks in high school, the outsiders who were just considered weird, and you know, it became this place where you suddenly felt at home. People would be reading poetry at the bar, there was no money, and it was a very small group of people. And the music that was being played then was really diverse: folk, rock, noise, jazz, etc.

BSDFF: What was your recording set-up like?

EMILY ARMSTRONG: We did a few shows with multiple cameras, but predominantly it was one camera, and Pat shot everything. We had a low-light black and white camera, but then we switched to color, you know, to be modern, and that was terrible. We had to put these giant lights right in front of the musicians’ faces, and sweat would be pouring off them and stuff, but people liked to have it in color.

PI: They weren’t like the little cameras we have today. I used to shoot with an Ikegama 77, and it was like a Buick on your shoulder. It was heavy, you know. I guess I must have been tough! Also, we were the only ones recording with synced sound, because they let us plug right into the soundboard. A lot of people have some footage and will try to put it together with some Ramones song, but we’re the only ones that had synced sound.

BSDFF: Obviously, with over 100 recordings, you were extremely dedicated to this project. What did punk rock mean to you when it started coming out?

PI: Well, I think we were both incredibly entrenched in music from a very early age, we both love the music of the 60s—we’re both huge Rolling Stones fans—but during the two years before punk, I was so sick of popular music. I mean, there was nothing to listen to. I would go and see Cleo Lane at Carnegie Hall because even that seemed better than Crosby, Stills and Nash or whatever.

EA: [laughs] Or Air Supply, or Chicago! That was really a bad period for music, and so punk was really a redemption. It was a musical redemption.

Nightclubbing: Roots of Hardcore plays Monday, February 20 at 7:45 pm at the Crystal Theater.

Article by Peter Schumacher