Vagrant Journalism

Published pieces from the past, the present and of the potential future.

1 September 09: Live at The Smell @ The Downtown Independentt

Posted by Christina on September 2, 2009

live-at-smellSo, The Smell is a pretty legendary venue out here in Downtown LA. The bands, the art, the people – everything about it was perfect for the live show scene of LA. All it needed was its own documentary and man, did they get one. They screened it last week at the beautiful Downtown Independent.

L.A. Record: Live at the Smell @ The Downtown Independent

Some volume issues during a performance on screen render the crowd restless. Murmurs ripple through, speculating and questioning.

“Can’t hear a fucking thing!” cuts through the darkness, crass and unconstructive.

“Well, you should’ve been there!” retorts another faceless voice, more lighthearted. By the end of the film, he couldn’t have been more right.

The Smell first opened its doors in 1998 and to this day is the only Los Angeles venue heavily DIY in nearly every aspect. Dedicated to the purveyors and connoisseurs of music and art, the Smell is run by the artists whose work decorates the walls, by bands who schedule their own shows and volunteers who love art. It’s a community spot welcoming creative minds.

Michael Fierstein, of Static Aktion, has been working with club owner Jim Smith for over five years now, setting up shows and loving every minute. He’s brought some great acts to the Smell, a magic he used to make their documentary film about the legendary venue, Live at The Smell.

“I love The Smell, it’s my home,” said Fierstein, who produced the film. “I have nothing but the utmost respect for Jim Smith and it really was an honor that he would trust me to oversee a movie about the Smell, using The Smell’s name.”

Working with friend and filmmaker Bob Bellerue, the documentary became the sort of thing only the marriage of like-minds could make happen. Bellerue brought his technical prowess to plate and Fierstein picked bands and booked shows for filming.
“I thought it was important for us to document some of the bands that were around and also document our space and what a show is like at the Smell,” said Fierstein.

From the in-your-face shots of sweaty kids in sonic ecstasy hovering over the Foot Village drum circle to Captain Ahab’s enthusiastic, Speedo (only) clad side show mouthing lyrics and bouncing off every surface he can get to, the shots capture The Smell in true form.

The camera stock, editing, and overall cinematography were very DIY, an appropriate aesthetic for the feature. Reminiscent of Urgh! A Music War, the film showcased live acts in uninterrupted succession. Segments of performances by The Mae Shi, Foot Village, Ponytail, Abe Vigoda, High Places, Gowns, BARR, No Age, HEALTH and Captain Ahab were shown with crisp, flawless audio.

“It’s DIY cinema vérité,” explains Bellerue, “a fancy way of saying we were just working with the equipment available to us. Amongst the core crew and our friends we had a couple of miniDV cameras, Hi-8, and mini-DVDr. With good audio any video can work.”

Mirroring the values of the Smell in content and quality, Live at The Smell immortalizes the venue on film. In the press release, Bellerue says, “Venues come and go, but Jim Smith and the Smell are going nowhere fast and taking us all along,” This film spearheads the ride and from the looks of things, it’s going to be the time of our lives.

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