Basement tapes chronicle birth of alternative music culture
The year was 1984 and no matter where he turned the dial Mark Eberhage couldn't escape Sting on the radio in Kansas City.
"'Wrapped Around Your Finger' by The Police was all you heard and after a while you just couldn't take it," recalled Eberhage, who moved to Kansas City for graduate school and went on to document a strange and burgeoning new scene based around underground music and a do-it-yourself ethos on his weekly public access show "Joy Farm."
A quarter-century later Eberhage has unearthed footage from those exciting times in "They Came From Underground," a video compilation of interview snippets and rare live performances from Violent Femmes, Bodeans, Red Hot Chili Peppers, They Might Be Giants, Fishbone, Sonic Youth and Husker Du that had spent years sitting in a basement in Kansas City.
"Kansas City was a dead zone. There was just nothing going on except the club stuff," recalled Eberhage, "We hatched this idea that we could get in for free to see all these bands and maybe even meet them if we videotaped them."
The show's charming amateurism is on display in a parking lot interview with Husker Du's Grant Hart. Eberhage and friends used their car headlights to light the shot.
But compared with other music documentaries from that time period, the "Joy Farm" footage is surprisingly crisp and well shot with timeless moments like a playful Violent Femmes set from their Hallowed Ground Tour and an interview with the Minutemen's D. Boon just months before he was killed in a van accident on tour.
"There was no place to hear this stuff where we were at, so we became like the college radio station or the show that once a week played cool music," Eberhage said. "We started really small taping little bands and local bands and then it grew and all of a sudden ... because if you knew Fishbone then you could get the Chili Peppers. So it was like everybody started knowing you."
Proceeds from the footage's one-time screening at the Oriental Theatre on Nov. 18 benefit Milwaukee Artists Resource Network, with sales of limited edition prints from local poster artist Eric Von Munz also benefiting the group.
"Tape was expensive back then and it was common practice to de-gouge your tape. He had the vision to not get rid of all of this footage after it aired... I think this bigger than people realize," Melissa Musante, MARN executive director, said.
Eberhage, who runs a behavioral health firm and performs under the name Mark G.E. in his band cyberCHUMP, said he hopes to blend current interviews with this old footage in a documentary at some point.
While writers, filmmakers and cultural historians have begun to reflect on that time period and the bands that soundtracked its counter culture movement, Eberhage said he could sense a movement afoot even as it was happening.
"People in every scene were kind of like coming up from the underground saying 'This is our music and we are breaking all the rules and we are going to change the rules,'" Eberhage said. "It was the beginning really of independent record lables taking hold ... the whole DIY mentality. These people were pushing that and we were jumping right on that."
Tickets to the screening can be purchased in advance for $10.
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