Much like Searching for Sugar Man (2012), A Band Called Death shares the story of a musical act lost in time and rediscovered a generation later to open ears. In this case, it isn’t an inner city, Dylanesque poet named Rodriguez, but the members of Death: three black brothers from Detroit. They are regarded as ahead of punk and ahead of their time. True punk pioneers and no one even had a clue. Until now, Rock n’ Roll history has been tucked away in an unmarked box, beside an unmarked photo album from that trip that one time, and only recently have the pages started being filled in. Pages covered in spit, and denim jackets, and more proof that black musicians will always be the coolest people on the planet. Jimi Hendrix, amirite everybody?
Gathering dust for the past thirty years, Death’s recordings have been resurfacing over the past decade. Their songs have slowly become the soundtrack to many liberty-spiked mosh pits in the underground punk scene over the past few years. The main question is: why couldn’t they crack the scene back in the day? This has two parts:
1)They didn’t have honey-dipped vocals like Marvin Gaye or sing ballads about love, lust, and love. They didn’t fit the Motown mold. Black artists didn’t play rock n’ roll during that time. This new style was good, but too risky.
2) Another reason was their name: Death. When asked to sign a record deal, on the premise that they would change their name, Death walked out the door. Anti-man, anti-establishment. These guys were punk through and through.
A Band Called Death, along with Searching for Sugar Man represent true examples of how (most) artists, even those with tremendous talent, can be forgotten if they don’t adhere to a profitable image.
Movies like these are bittersweet. Everyone loves an underdog story, sure. But, the other side of me is thinking: what if they were discovered earlier? Or, found a label that didn’t care about their name? How could that have changed music history? I guess there’s no use dwelling of the what ifs and hypotheticals. The point is if you like punk, underdogs, and want to learn a little music history then go check out A Band Called Death.
A Band Called Death plays at The Rio August 18, 19 & 20 (all screenings at 9:30 pm).
Click here to watch the trailer.