Desolation Center (2018)
1h 33min | Documentary | 25 January 2019 (USA) | Unrated but contains some adult language.
Synopsis: The untold story of Reagan-era guerrilla desert happenings now recognized as the inspirations for Burning Man, Lollapalooza, and Coachella including Sonic Youth, Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Swans, Einstürzende Neubauten, and more.
Review: The new rock doc DESOLATION CENTER from filmmaker and Desolation concerts creator Stuart Swezey is a fantastic look at not only the LA punk scene in the 80s but also one man’s desire to give fans of that day a unique concert experience. For those who had the chance to witness first hand bands like Sonic Youth, Minutemen, Meat Puppets, and Redd Kross in one of the desert shows, well, I am more than a little jealous. The rest of us luckily get a taste thanks to a lot of archived footage and verbal accounts from band members and attendees.
Considering that this was decades before cell phones, social stories, and unlimited selfies it is surprising that any footage exists. What we see and hear here are well preserved sights and sounds from those isolated gatherings. Most of us can’t find the grocery store now without GPS yet these guys and gals were able to get hundreds out in the middle of nowhere with little more than a big idea, a generator, some rented school buses and lots of passionate people to spread the word.
What drove them to the desert in the first place is another poignant part of this documentary. The punk movement was so very misunderstood by polite society and the authorities who misinterpreted the angst and passion for something more sinister. The Desert shows were a chance for them to freely enjoy and express these passions without interruption.
The film is also entertaining as we listen to the members of these iconic bands reminisce about the concerts. Those of us who were teens in the 80s look a lot different now. But the glint in these peoples eyes prove they all took a small part of that desert experience with them.
It is safe to say that had it not been for the vision and tenacity of young men like Stuart Swezey there would not be the mega festivals we have today. But to be honest there is nothing like those early days of small gatherings that were driven by love of music and like minded individuals. Watching DESOLATION CENTER made me a bit nostalgic for those times. I sadly never made it to a Desert show but attended similar type concerts and they are grand memories for sure.