Saturday July 26th
Sound and Chaos: The Story of BC Studio
A new documentary about Martin and his Brooklyn studio – Boston premiere
Brattle Theatre, 40 Brattle St. (Harvard Square), Cambridge
2pm show, doors at 1:30pm | Q&A with Martin Bisi and filmmakers follows
running time of film: 72 minutes | $8
Saturday July 26th
Martin Bisi (10:30 pm set) with Black Fortress of Opium (11:30 pm set)
at Lilypad, 1353 Cambridge St (Inman Square), Cambridge
all ages, 10 pm doors | $7
Martin Bisi has an impressive musical resume. That’s putting it mildly. As a New York-based musician, producer, engineer and studio mastermind since 1981, he has recorded an illustrious collection of artists that include Sonic Youth (Bad Moon Rising, 1985 and EVOL, 1986), Swans (The Burning World, 1989, Love of Live, 1992 and The Great Annihilator, 1994), Angels of Light, Afrika Bambaata, Iggy Pop (Instinct, 1988), John Zorn, Alice Donut, Fab Five Freddy, Lydia Lunch, Foetus, EMF, Bill Laswell, Material, Serena Maneesh, US Maple, Jon Spencer’s Boss Hog, Helmet, Live Skull, Unsane, Ginger Baker, Cop Shoot Cop, White Zombie (Make Them Die Slowly, 1989), Boredoms and Herbie Hancock’s Grammy Award winning song Rockit. He recorded The Dresden Dolls’ highly acclaimed debut album in 2002 and more recent bands Pop. 1280, Rude Mechanical Orchestra and Cinema Cinema. He’s worked with filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, and with painter Jean-Michel Basquiat and performance artist Michael Holman’s industrial band, Gray. Bisi has been a vital part of New York’s underground music scene throughout the 1980s, 1990s and beyond.
In 1979, with the help of musician and producer Bill Laswell and artistic luminary Brian Eno, Bisi created B.C. Studio (formerly OAO Studio) in the once forlorn and industrial (but now up-and-coming yuppie) Gowanus section of Brooklyn. As studio owner and engineer, he created a vibrant recording complex and underground community in a converted warehouse that became legendary. It was a warm, welcoming environment tucked inside a foreboding part of town, where some of the most creative minds of the city let their muses run wild. There was the birth of the New York hip-hop scene, the heyday of the city’s punk scene and CBGB, the zenith of the No Wave, noise, indie rock, cabaret rock and experimental music scenes, all the way up to and including the Occupy Wall Street Movement — all of these vital artistic (and social) movements passed through B.C. Studio’s industrial doors. The famed studio continues to this day, though the pressures of development and the all-too-familiar process of gentrification and the destruction of vital artistic communities and affordable living space has begun to take its toll.
Additional photos of B.C. Studio at Gothamist.com.
Sound and Chaos: The Story of B.C. Studio
The history of Martin’s fabled studio has now been lovingly told in a stunning documentary, Sound and Chaos: The Story of B.C. Studio, that was produced and directed by Ryan Douglass and Sara Leavitt. This humble little film is so huge in what it encompasses, I barely know where to begin. In a mere 72 minutes, they cover the owner’s feisty foray as a wild-eyed, ridiculously ambitious 17-year-old into the world of sound engineering, which started in Manhattan clubs for noise and no-wave bands and quickly moved on to remarkable (and amusingly told) recording sessions with the legendary Brian Eno for his On Land ambient album. They talk about his fateful meeting and long-term collaboration with Bill Laswell, the purchase and development of B.C. Studio and Eno’s crucial patronage. Through a New York City underground who’s who cast of colorful commentators, they examine B.C.’s vital role in the city’s emerging hip-hop culture, which included Afrika Bambaata’s brokered musical truce among the city’s rival gangs. There’s a behind-the-scenes accounting of Bisi’s involvement with the punk and experimental bands of the time. We’re given inside looks at the formation of Bill Laswell’s band/production company Material and the recording of seminal albums by Sonic Youth, Swans and The Dresden Dolls. They talk about Bisi’s collaboration with Bill Laswell and Material to record Herbie Hancock’s award-winning “Rockit,” the first mainstream song to feature a DJ ‘scratching’ with a turntable. There are Bisi’s in-depth explanations about his recording aesthetics and techniques, and anecdotal tales of the craziness that ensued during the parade of revered musicians who passed through on their way to greatness.
As the story moves forward in time, B.C. Studio crosses paths with other New York City notables like Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat (Martin produced the band Gray, which featured the artist along with actor Vincent Gallo and filmmaker Michael Holman). More recent B.C. Studio artists Rude Mechanical Orchestra find themselves at the center of the Occupy Movement during its birth as Occupy Wall Street. This becomes yet another connection of the city’s underground culture to B.C.’s own illustrious life. This dizzying tale finishes up with Martin’s philosophical musings about the future of the Gowanus artistic community and the changing neighborhood, poignantly brought home with a casual stroll through the new Whole Foods megastore.
This documentary is as ambitious as its subject matter. There are endless items of interest for punk, rock, experimental, industrial and hip-hop music fans; DIY musicians; political activists; sound engineers and recording buffs; New York City and Brooklyn historians; urban sociologists — and that’s just off the top of my head. Suffice it to say, this is a must see film.
Commentators include Martin Bisi, Bill Laswell, Victoria Galves (former studio manager), Glenn Kenny (film critic, journalist), Michael Holman (filmmaker), Grand Mixer DXT, Bob Bert (Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore), Michael Gira (Swans, Angels of Light), Brian Viglione (The Dresden Dolls, Violent Femmes), Chris Bug and Ivan Lip (Pop. 1280), JG Thirlwell (Foetus), Jim Coleman (Cop Shoot Cop), Ryan Skeleton Boy, Alyse Lamb (EULA), Ev Gold (Cinema Cinema) and Sarah Blust (Rude Mechanical Orchestra). There’s music from Apache Beat, EULA, Martin Bisi, Cinema Cinema, Ryan Douglass, WOMAN, P. Aceto/M. Dossantos and Boston’s Black Fortress of Opium (songs from their upcoming album).
But Wait, There’s More — Martin Bisi’s Solo Career and New Album
I’m not sure how he found the time for it, but Martin Bisi has also been releasing solo albums since his debut Creole Mass (New Alliance/SST) in 1988. His other solo efforts were All Will Be Won (1992), See Ya In Tiajuana (EP, 1994), Dear Papi I’m In Jail (EP, 1996), Milkyway of Love (1999), Sirens of the Apocalypse (2008) and Son of a Gun (EP, 2010), which features guest artists Brian Viglione of The Dresden Dolls, Bill Laswell and Bob D’Amico of The Fiery Furnaces. Bisi toured in the U.S. and Europe in 2009.
In support of the new album, he’s been performing with his band that features Genevieve Kammel Morris (viola), David Miller (drums), and Ernest Anderson III (guitar). They’ll be performing at the Lilypad on Saturday night, following the afternoon screening of the documentary. Also on the bill is Boston’s ethereal Black Fortress of Opium, who recorded their 2008 debut album at Martin’s studio and are featured in the film. Their new album is due out late 2014/early 2015.