Sound and Chaos: The Story of BC Studio
isn’t your everyday documentary about gentrification in New York. It also documents the story of cutting edge producer Martin Bisi, a guy who’s worked with acts such as Sonic Youth, Swans, Dresden Dolls, Cop Shoot Cop, John Zorn, Africa Bambaataa, Material/Bill Laswell, Boredoms, Herbie Hancock’s "Rockit," White Zombie, Foetus, Helmet, Unsane, Serena Maneesh, US Maple and Jon Spencer's Boss Hog. Co-directors Ryan Douglass and Sara Leavitt came at the project from different perspectives.
“They have different interests,” says Bisi, who brings his band to the Happy Dog
at 9 p.m. on Friday. “Ryan [Douglass] came from a music background. He was in a metal band in Texas when he was younger. Sarah was more interested in social issues and urban issues and gentrification but wasn’t into doing a straight-up gentrification documentary. A mutual friend suggested I was a good topic. I had been in the crosshairs of gentrification. Our current mayor was a representative for this area and he’s had his sites set on developing the area. When you put it all together, it seemed like it was something good for them to pursue.”
The film provides a fascinating look at the underground music scene and includes testimonials from many of the major players (Jon Spencer, the Swans’ Michael Gira, etc.) Bisi also plays guitar and sings in his own band. His current tour features songs from his heavy, post-rock-oriented 2014 album Ex Nihilo
, a complex recording that mixes noisy guitars with chanted vocals; it hasn’t made for an easy transition between studio and stage.
“It’s been hard to really find the sweet spot live,” he says when asked about what it's been like to play the tunes from the album live. “It has been a long process. I’ve been doing good shows with the shows, but I finally feel like I can now reproduce it. There have to be placeholders. There’s chanting repetitive stuff and visceral cathartic stuff, especially vocally. There’s ton of layers and all that has to be represented. The person who does keyboards and viola also sings but very randomly. We didn’t talk about where she sings. She just does it. Drums are pretty anarchistic and frenetic. There are bits of ‘Okay, this is go apeshit section.’ Lots of fills and pounding, and it’s got to be 110 percent. It’s hard to do verbatim, that’s for sure.”
Bisi has been making cutting edge music for decades now. It seems like it’s gotten more difficult rather than easier to find an audience and make a living, but he says the quality of the bands making noisy music has improved.
“I’m amazed at the amount of lame bands out there,” he says. “I come from a weird era in which music had to be loud and aggressive and over-the-top or you were just bullshitting around. If you talk to any of the bands I worked with, it was all very intense. Oddly enough, in terms of experimental music you might associate with No Wave or post-rock, the quality is up. In terms of sheer numbers, there’s a fuckload of Guitar Center bands. In terms of the people in those bands in the tradition – I hate to apply that word “tradition” — it continues to evolve. I see a lot of good quality. I don’t think we’re just rehashing the past. I just figured they were all flashes in the pan. If you would have asked me 35 years ago, I thought the bands would go away and something else would come around. That was my lack of understanding. It’s all really evolved.”