STL 2000: A Year in St. Louis Underground Rock: VHS

Mar 03, 2011

Jason Pankoke of MicroFilm wrote a review of this movie that inspired me to hunt down a copy for myself. Shortly before reading Jason’s review, I’d watched a recent movie about an underground rock scene, and the movie drove me nuts. It was so self-congratulatory and insular, and the kids interviewed seemed so naïve that I started to feel like I needed an anecdote to that film. After reading Jason’s review, I thought I’d found the anecdote. I knew that I was holding STL 2000 up to some pretty high expectations, and I also knew that part of me felt like the flick didn’t stand a chance against my expectations, but I requested a review copy, anyway, and had the video in my VCR within an hour of getting back from the post office. And, to my surprise, it lived up to my expectations. This is a pretty fucking rad movie.

STL 2000 covers a year of the punk/hardcore/rockabilly scene in St. Louis. In the spirit of making a time capsule, this movie starts and ends at a New Year’s party. In between, we meet local bands, hipsters, zine guys, writers, club owners, and disc jockeys. The interviews cover what seems to be a fairly broad cross section of the underground music scene in St. Louis. Not everyone interviewed has horribly intelligent things to say, but, to filmmaker Matt Meyer’s credit, he does get them talking about a variety of topics. Some of the people interviewed lament the death of punk rock, some celebrate it’s vitality, some pine over the loss of the good old days, some look forward to the future, and a lot of them have very level-headed, lucid insights into underground culture. Two of my personal favorite points were the interviews with Phil Motion Sickness and the two owners of the punk club Creepy Crawl. Phil’s interview was interesting not only because he explained the madness behind publishing a zine, but because, when he explained the madness, I recognized the look on his face as the same look I get on my face when I explain why I drive myself nuts working on Razorcake. But Phil always seems to have a good attitude. It comes through in Motion Sickness and it comes through in his interviews. The Creepy Crawl guys are interesting because one of them, Shannon Hill, is preternaturally laid back and open minded, and the other guy, Jeff Parks, gives the most dead-on description about the difficulties of opening a business yourself that I’ve ever seen. He describes what it takes to open a venue and covers everything from finding a spot to getting licensing and permits to basic accounting, and it’s priceless when he tells you to figure out how much money you’re gonna need and double it, to figure out how much money you expect to make and cut that in half, and to be prepared to get screwed because you’re gonna get screwed; the key is to just keep from getting screwed too badly. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anyone that honest in an interview.

Perhaps the most jarring thing about STL 2000, though, is the pacing. It’s remarkably slow-paced, especially in relation to the music it covers. In the first few minutes of the movie, Meyer films a poorly-attended basement show featuring the band Wreckless Angels. The show is moderately entertaining, but it’s not exactly what you would call a high-energy set. After about a minute of watching the Wreckless Angels play, I realized that Meyers was going to stick with them for the entire song. It made me feel a bit restless. I felt like he should just get on with it. Then, I thought about it more and decided that Meyer shouldn’t just get on with it. I realized that this was probably the only time I was going to watch this band, and I had the extra two minutes to spend listening to a whole song. So I relaxed. I listened and I watched the moderately entertaining set and I ended up really digging the song. At that moment, I decided that the movie wasn’t paced too slowly. The problem was just that I was used to movies being paced too quickly. I’ve grown accustomed the the rapid fire editing of the music-video era where images come and go so quickly that you can’t really look at anything. Meyer, on the other hand, seems to feel as if no one really gives St. Louis a fair chance, so he makes sure that you get enough information to give it a chance. And I really appreciate that.

For the most part, the bands covered in this movie are pretty solid. None of the bands left me feeling like I had to rush down to the record store to pick up an album, but I am keeping most of the bands’ names in mind when I flip through the Razorcake review pile and through the seven inch sections of my local record stores. All of the bands are worth the few minutes spent covering them. One curious thing about the bands, though, is that Matt Meyer is in the St. Louis pop-punk band, The Ded Bugs, and Meyer’s film completely ignores his own band. Meyer takes the anonymity one step farther and pretty much eliminates himself from the film. With the exception of one bit at the very end, Meyer never let’s himself be seen or heard in the film. He let’s the film and the people in it speak for themselves. It’s very respectable. By the end of the movie, I really admired the tenacity of the bands, the clubs, the fans, and everyone else in the St. Louis music scene.

I’m so entrenched in punk rock that it’s easy for me to forget that punk rock scenes don’t thrive everywhere in the US. There are so many good shows and so many good bands in LA that I tend to forget that the rest of the world isn’t as privileged as I am here. But I come from a small town in Florida where punk rock barely exists, and I’ve spent years having to drive to Orlando to catch snippets of touring acts and local bands that just don’t have a chance. I tend to forget about that, though. Watching STL 2000 helped me to remember what it’s like to struggle to have any kind of scene at all. It’s good to remember that. It helps give me perspective. Maybe that’s what I enjoy most about this film. –Sean Carswell ($10 ppd. to: Ded Bugs, 318 Stewart, DeSoto MO 63020)