Full Title: We Fun: Atlanta, GA Inside/Out
Director: Matthew Robison
Year: 2009 (shot between October 31, 2007 and September 27, 2008)
Comments: Kids Like You & Me (KLYAM) has and will always be about rock ‘n’ roll. A few years ago the kids were introduced to a handful of bands that changed their outlook on rock ‘n’ roll forever. Chief amongst these crusaders is the infinite Black Lips from Atlanta, GA. Black Lips showed us the light and whilst we hopped on the righteous path we came across countless other sage voices in the form of The King Khan & BBQ Show, Deerhunter, Jay Reatard and many more. For us, these aforementioned characters were already “indie” (fucking disdain that term) darlings; it was 2008-2009. Through creating this site our knowledge and passion for rock ‘n’ roll of this raw, aggressive, punk slime variety grew stronger and stronger to the point that we became scholars, detectives almost. It became our mission to trace back the steps of these legends and become fully aware of their roots. So, in the case of Black Lips and Deerhunter- we looked to Atlanta.
For years Atlanta was a punk rock town, storing a crazy, vibrant music scene filled with miscreants and mad men galore. With this in mind, WE FUN is the ideal flick for a KLYAMER. Going into this to movie I hoped to find out a vast amount of information on the place that fostered some of my favorite artists. The film opens with a mini manifesto from a true rock ‘n’ roller, King Khan. Ironically, not an Atlanta dude per se, but Atlanta in just about every other sense of the word. King Khan is aesthetically part of this scene and is the perfect dude to deliver a speech summarizing what happened in Atlanta and abroad in the mid-late 2000s amongst this small group of garage rockers and inadvertently revealing my own feelings about this music and the people that create it. Khan, looking quite stoned, stares straight into the camera and prophetically utters these words: “It was the first time in my life that I heard albums that made my mouth drop and made me so glad that I play music now. Because for a long time I wish I had been born in the 60s or 70s and doing my thing back then, but then I am so proud to live today because today I’ve heard the greatest music I’ve ever experienced… And finally the kids are tapping into it. We created our own myth. We created out own legend, and domination is just a step away.” This goes back to what I mentioned earlier about this specific group of people, the death cult as they are known to some folk: Khan, BBQ, Black Lips, Deerhunter, and certainly Jay Reatard is a must on that list. These are men that came from the underground for years and made enough noise to reach the masses .. well maybe not the masses. Now, one of the questions emerges. Why now? Why in Atlanta especially? Why these bands? How did it happen? And how has this changed the Atlanta punk scene? Just some of the questions I have in mind going into this film, and of course I hope that they are answered.
The documentary constantly makes a huge point of the fact that Atlanta has a tremendous party atmosphere or as Black Lips bassist Jared Swilley puts it in one of the film’s interviews, “First and foremost people just want to have fun.” And most of the bands seem to adhere to Jared’s words – partying and alcohol consumption is frequent and celebrated, on and off stage. Surely, this is part of any music scene (minus straight edge!), but clearly it is important enough to further note this about Atlanta and how the scene’s fast, primitive, pop music reflects this let loose, rowdy, and joyful attitude. With that being said, before the film even hits the ten minute mark the filmmakers are quick to note that this is not all of what Atlanta is. Queue the music for Deerhunter. While bands like the Black Lips and The Carbonas play party hardy punk/garage music, Deerhunter slimes its way into the darker realms of the pop landscape, while keeping in touch with the same rock ‘n’ roll spirit.
Bradford tells the audience, “When a lot of people think of Atlanta they think of the party element… I mean there is that element, I definitely had a lot of fun in the past eight years hanging out with all these people, but I was never afraid to be a little bit boring.” Boring is too harsh! But, I see what Bradford means and I acknowledge the stark difference between a band like Deerhunter and say an Atlanta band like Gentlemen Jesse and his Men, that has more of a power pop sensibility. What I really love however is the fact that all these bands can exist together and be apart of the same scene without being rivals simply because they play different styles of music. It’s not that case at all; while Deerhunter may be more far out then their “garage” comrades, it’s still rock ‘n’ roll, it’s still coming from the same place in every sense of the word.
Throughout the documentary, we get the sense that this is a close knit community and that is much of the reason why this scene survived over the years. Although, it seems like at times some of the interviewees are uncertain why they are even being interviewed or confused that someone is making a film about Atlanta. During The Carbonas interview they jokingly state that “Atlanta is lame” and that “it’s not worth making a movie over.” I’m not sure if these are just passing jokes or if they truly are questioning the motives for making this film. Of course, they love their music and their home, and the whole scene they have created, but they seem hesitant to display the same feeling of conquest shared by that of King Khan earlier in the film. In that same interview, one of the Carbonas says “They do it better in other cities,” but this is never elaborated. This interview also helps viewers understand the nature of this underground rock band lifestyle. The Carbonas humorously discuss their time on tours, sleeping and shitting in vans, and how it is far from glamorous. Touring is a theme that comes up often in WE FUN and it becomes clear that this is crucial to the existence of these bands. Their story, their legend, their survival.
We start to see how touring aka “getting out of Atlanta” is the name of the game. Of all the Atlanta bands featured in this documentary, Black Lips are most often cited as an example of a band that built its following from aggressive and incessant touring. In one of the film’s interviews Jared Swilley even goes so far as to say that “I don’t know if anyone would have known us if we hadn’t left this city.” Cole Alexander chimes in “Yeah we probably didn’t get much respect in Atlanta till we got respect in other places.” This is an interesting point to say the least. Is this unique to Atlanta? Or is this the truth for most cities? I tend to think this can be seen as a message to young bands to TOUR!!! and perhaps not get too caught up in trying to make it huge locally because at the end of the day the world needs to experience your band not just your local scene. And to the bands that are not as big in their hometown, don’t worry none of these bands never got too much attention until they blossomed outside of their own city.
One thing I really LOVE LOVE LOVE about this documentary is hearing stories from the past. Stories about some of these folks that later went on to become pivotal figures in this Atlanta music scene and current music in general. A few of my favorites include a teenage Cole Alexander handing Creative Loafing Atlanta (a weekly Atlanta music magazine) editor/writer, Chad Radford a beat up 7-inch of what is presumably the Black Lips first release, “Ain’t Comin’ Back” (2001/2002). OR hearing a story of Bradford Cox inadvertently seeing the Black Lips for the first time, expecting them to be a shitty bar band and instead being blown away. Stuff like that makes We Fun neat. Maybe not the most factual, historical or critically poignant pieces of information to be dispensed, but they help the viewer gain a better understanding of who these people are and where they came from.
This film does a nice job of capturing some of the city’s characters. Focal people that were/are crucial to this Atlanta music scene. You have the likes of Dry Ink Mag’s Tom Chesire, Chunklet Magazine’s Henry Owings, and best of all the late, great B Jay Wommack aka Bobby Ubangi, a man that truly put the FUN in WE FUN. BJ represented the scene in many ways and we see him play an active role as a musician in his own right (motherfucker played in some kick ass bands: The Lids, Gaye Blades, Carbonas, Bobby and The Soft Spots, and his solo work) and simply as a fun loving friend to many of the other Atlanta musicians, always keeping the party going.
We also start to see the importance of local independent labels, specifically Mark Nauman’s Die Slaughterhaus Records and Trey Lindsy’s and Travis Flagel’s Rob’s House Records. The latter articulate the point that none of these bands were ever in it to “make it.” Even going as far as to say that if you told them a few years ago that they would be where they are today, they wouldn’t believe you. This gives the story of these bands and the Atlanta scene as a whole a humbling quality that I admire. But, how did this transformation happen?
Okay, I clearly like this film, no I love it. But, it is certainly not without its flaws. Firstly, there is not enough clarity for people that do not know anything about this music or these individuals. I understand that if you are not into this style of music, this scene, or these bands then why would you watch this documentary? But, that can not be used as an excuse. If you are making a documentary you should not automatically assume the audience already knows about your subject matter. For example, I think this film could use a clear definition of what this music is, more biographical information on these bands, how they formed, how they evolved, how they got their sound, how it changed- if it did, and how some of these bands extended their audience and/or how they garnered wider exposure. There could be a mention of this transition and how it affected the bands. I could see why the filmmakers would decide not to focus too much on this aspect because these bands have always been great, not just 2007 onward. But, it seems like the documentary constantly makes it a point to say that these bands and Atlanta are bigger now specifically because of the commercial successes of some of these musicians. Overall, it just seems random and lacks cohesion. I would like to just see a bit more focus and explanation. I think the best documentaries are the ones that are able to appeal to both insiders and new comers. I am not sure if this would appeal to new folks, who knows? Maybe it would, but I think they would feel awfully lost, and I doubt they would comprehend just how big of a difference this transition was and how pivotal it was for these bands in their careers and how it affected Atlanta.
Now, being a 22 year old Bostonian, I was nowhere near Atlanta (never been!), but I love several of these bands and have over the years. Point being, I don’t know too much about music in Atlanta overall, but I have read of complaints from others in Atlanta, claiming that this film is elitist, exclusive, etc. I’m curious to anyone that can fill me in on this. What are your thoughts? Perspectives? In any situation, I know what happened in Atlanta and what is documented here is legendary and you can’t take anything away from that. I highly recommend this film and maybe this a cool way to get into these bands. I could (and do) watch this film over and over again, and now you can too! Check it out on You Tube below!