Bug on the Wall

Ded Bug Matt Meyer puts down his guitar and picks up a camera to chronicle St. Louis' rock scene

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A lot of local bands appear in STL 2000, a new rockumentary directed, produced and captured on digital video by Matt Meyer, but not Meyer's own group, the Ded Bugs, which won a Slammy this year in the Best Punk Band category. "How do you put yourself in a movie like that anyway?" Meyers asks with a self-conscious chuckle. "It's so subjective and biased anyway; I can't even imagine doing it." In this video, Meyer's first -- and, he insists ruefully, his last -- such project, a slice of St. Louis punk rock is preserved in all of its gritty, muffled, poorly lit glory. Kicking off with a local newscaster's live countdown to the year 2000, the film, which clocks in just shy of two hours, lovingly documents a year in the underground, with live footage shot at the Galaxy, the Creepy Crawl, the Way Out Club (at its previous location, on Cherokee Street), the Centro Sociale (now known as the Tin Ceiling), the Side Door (before it closed and reopened under new management) and, surprisingly, the St. Charles Family Arena. Providing color commentary and historical perspective are such local luminaries as Randall Roberts (Radar Station's previous proprietor), Tony Renner (volunteer coordinator at KDHX-FM), Gary Phillips (publisher of the fanzine Motion Sickness), Tim Jamison (Ultraman founder), Lisa Turallo (former Side Door booker, now with the Chicago label Drag City), Jeff Kopp (of KDHX's Wayback Machine program), Jim Utz (Vintage Vinyl employee and general scene guru) and Beatle Bob and Dancin' Bobbie (ubiquitous slaves to the rhythm).

Although the focus is the 2000 St. Louis punk scene, a fair portion of the film delves into the history of the St. Louis underground, the clubs, bands and fanzines that exist only in the fond memories of the interview subjects. This attention to St. Louis' punk past may strike some viewers as unnecessary, and it certainly contributes to the film's sprawling scope, but it adds depth and interest to the coverage of the newer bands, which are, with a few exceptions, too young to know that they're part of a long tradition, one that predates their births in most instances.

The documentary's real charm, of course, rests in the fact that for most of these groups, the past doesn't matter. It's only rock & roll, invented anew from their parents' basements, and it's fresh and dumb and exhilarating, just as it's supposed to be. Meyer didn't focus on bands he already liked or even knew about: "I'd go out and see just any band, see something in the RFT and then go check them out. I started out with a wide range, and then I just narrowed it down to bands I thought were most interesting." One group that made the cut was 4 Sum 5 Sum, whose disastrous gig at the Family Arena, as part of the Mars Music Battle of the Bands, is a hilarious highlight. "Surprisingly, their songs are pretty good, in a geeky-pop kind of way, despite their youth," Meyer remarks. Another featured band, the Wreckless Angels, compensates for technical ineptitude with a manic melodic energy that sometimes recalls the great X-Ray Spex. "I know a lot of people are, like, 'Matt, why do you like them?' And it's hard to see any talent through the feedback and the inexperience, but that's all they've got right now. I think with any amount of persistence, they'll turn into something very cool," Meyer explains.

Meyer doesn't expect to make any money from the project -- in fact, he's still in debt from buying the camera and paying for the editing -- but he's happy with the final product, which he plans to sell at gigs and distribute to select local record stores through Blue Sky Distribution. "It's not an epic or anything," Meyer admits. "I think it would just be cool to give it to people who want to see it. People can look back on it and say, 'This was the way it was back then.'"

The concert calendar is crowded with shows we'd love to describe in more detail, but space, alas, doesn't permit. Herewith, a few recommendations:

Musicians from more than 15 bands have collaborated on a new single, "Freedom in the World," the sales of which will benefit the Red Cross' Sept. 11 fund. (Radar Station hasn't heard the song yet, but we feel safe in guessing it has a distinct "We Are the World" vibe.) Among the featured artists are the Javier Mendoza Band, Just Add Water, Somnia, Daisy Chain, the Patrick Clark Band, Robynn Ragland and Brandy Johnson. All participating musicians will perform on Friday, Nov. 16, at the Side Door/Club Z complex.

Also Friday evening, Quasi appears at the Rocket Bar. Ex-spouses Sam Coomes (Elliott Smith, Heatmiser) and Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney) have been making smart, sad and pretty indie-rock for some six years now; their new record, Sword of God, is as brilliant as anything they've ever done, a bittersweet slab of chamber pop, at once angelic and acerbic, sanguine and despondent. On the Beatles-kissed "It's Raining," Coomes sings, "When you give me gifts and money, I'm a swine before the pearls/It only serves to remind me that we're all alone in this world."

NYC-based post-punkers the Liars appear at the Way Out Club on Tuesday, Nov. 20. Recommended if you like angular skronk à la P.I.L., Gang of Four and the Birthday Party.

Finally, the glamorous Manhattan pretty-boys known as the Strokes bring their much-hyped sonic shtick to Mississippi Nights on Wednesday, Nov. 21. Are they rock's salvation or just this year's model? You'll be sorry if you don't see for yourself.

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