Lo Sound Desert by Jörg Steineck

Release date: July 1, 2016
Label: Monoduo/Rock Squad

This documentary blew up my television.

Well, to put it more accurately, my TV stopped working around 20 minutes into it. I was fuming. Not only because I would have to fork out for a new piece of equipment on which to view drag-racing and surf movies, but also because I was really enjoying Lo Sound Desert.

It was billed as an in-depth look at the birth of what we now know as stoner rock, or desert rock – the most famous purveyors of which were Kyuss, the guitarist of which, Josh Homme, then spawned Queens of the Stone Age. And it is a story that I was itching to hear, because I remember being exposed to Kyuss in 1992 via a promotional cassette for Blues From the Red Sun and being blown away by how isolated, wide-open and, y’know, “deserty” it sounded.

And this is before I knew anything about the Palm Desert scene, the Coachella Valley hotbed of creativity, the generator parties and the can-do attitude of the rock fans who lived there when it came to killing their own boredom.

I was also itching to hear more about the generator party originators Yawning Man and their connections to skateboarding – specifically the Nude Bowl, a mystical spot in the middle of the desert that consisted of an empty abandoned swimming pool. The cover of Lo Sound Desert promised a chapter on this; it was a place I have yearned to know more about since seeing footage of the place in late 1980s skateboard videos. In fact I first heard of Yawning Man as part of a soundtrack to a skateboard video.

But alas, technology let me down.

I did get a taste of the quality and depth of the movie in the part I did watch – and the cast-list of narrators promised some great tales. Homme, Brant Bjork, Mario Lalli and Nick Oliveri were all set to be interviewed. In fact the only name that appeared to be missing was John Garcia, the lead singer of Kyuss.

What I did see was a sort of introduction to the area by Sean Wheeler, of the punkabilly band Throw Rag. And his languid way of speaking, not to mention the fact he was so candid, gave a glimpse of what was to come – what I suspect is an essential watch for fans of desert rock, or those interested in music history in general.

As Wheeler cruised around in his large and stylish set of wheels from the early 1960s (it may have been a Chevrolet Impala, although I could be wrong), he recounted a story familiar to anyone who has grown up in a small town of having to make their own fun (his chuckles suggested that the fun they made was not entirely legal). In one amusing segment, he stopped at a corner and pointed out a gay bar, fast food outlet and a strip joint. He commented: “All the entertainment you need.”

And Lalli had a brief cameo in the segment I saw before my TV went “sktrrrtz”. He spoke of the music played back in the day (we’re talking end of the 1980s to beginning of the 1990s) being infused by the vast, bleak, beautiful landscape of the Californian desert.

Ah, the desert. The director, Jörg Steineck, clearly fell in love with the expansive landscape, judging by his long, slow pans of the spectacular countryside. And the scenes of dusty mountains, rusting street signs and grainy footage of young men with guitars were enhanced by either acoustic or slide guitar.

It was far more effective than merely playing the music of the time over the whole movie – it meant that when the bands in question did have a chance to be aired, they had a massive impact, coming as they did after the tranquil, rootsy instrumental soundtrack.

So I am now on a mission: to extricate the DVD from my fried TV (and buy a new set) and watch this the whole way through. Because what I saw was excellent – and as in-depth as the cover promised.

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