Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

Film Review:

It’s Gonna Blow!
San Diego’s Music Underground 1986-1996

By Paul Silver

The title has a double meaning. The first refers to the music critics and major labels who were saying, in the early 90s, that the San Diego music scene was going to blow up big time and be the next Seattle. The other meaning, as embodied in the lyrics from the Trumans Water’s song“Aroma of Gina Arnold,” refers to the “plastic culture” presented by these musical leeches, and that what they offered was going to blow, as in suck. Both of these meanings are explored in the new documentary from filmmaker Bill Perrine, “It’s Gonna Blow! San Diego’s Music Underground 1986-1996.”

The film attempts to tell a very specific story. It’s not a comprehensive retrospective of the birth and growth of the San Diego scene. In this way, it differs significantly from many other documentaries that attempt to trace the history of a city’s particular punk or underground music scene. Rather, it tells the story about a scene that had to reinvent itself a couple of times, a scene that was deeply rooted in the DIY ethic, and a scene that struggled with the sudden, unexpected attention from an outside world, while they still labored in relative obscurity at home. And it succeeds in telling that story.

Like other documentary films covering various music scenes around the country, “It’s Gonna Blow!” uses a mix of interviews with former band members, archival video, photos, flyers, and recordings of music from the day. But the way in which it presents these things has some interesting differences. The introduction has a clever, humorous bunch of edits, first introducing us to the San Diego that most people think of, but then bringing us this “other” San Diego, the one that was the underground scene. George Anthony’s (Battalion of Saints) rapid-fire cuts are particularly funny, but there’s also a bit of a sense of melancholy from the interviewees, like Tim Blankenship (Creedle, Rust), as he recalls that the prediction that San Diego would be the next Seattle never quite worked out.

Another very effective difference in this film is in the settings for the interviews. Most documentaries of this sort just have the people sitting in a chair in a living room or something like that. Here, the locations and surroundings give a unique look to the film. Anthony is seen in a cemetery. John Reis (Rocket From The Crypt, Drive Like Jehu, Pitchfork) is outside of a men’s room. Mike Down (Amenity) is at a dirty table outside the Che Café on the UCSD campus. Justin Pearson (The Locust) is on a leather sofa beneath a large animal skull mounted high above on the wall. One of the most poignant locations was that of Lou Niles (former San Diego radio DJ at 91X and manager of the band Inch), who was sitting in a booth at The Live Wire, one of San Diego’s premiere dive bars. Hanging on the wall over the booth is a guitar and other memorabilia that belonged to Stimy (Michael Steinman), of Sub Society and Inch, who sadly passed away a few years ago.

The film tells its story, pretty much in chronological order. The backdrop of the early, violent hardcore scene is set, with stories and video footage of gangs, bikers, and skinheads starting fights at shows and stealing equipment from bands, even as they were on stage playing. The reaction of the actual bands and fans who wanted to see them was to withdraw and then restart the scene, sort of in hiding from these bad elements. Tim Mays stopped doing shows for a bit, opening the Pink Panther bar, and eventually The Casbah, which became one of San Diego’s most important venues. The Che Café was hosting the new breed of bands, with eclectic shows featuring a differing variety of bands. And out of these places and people, the San Diego music community was born.

The film features an interesting cast of characters reminiscing about the era. Of course, local musicians who were there are heavily featured, but also included are outsiders giving another perspective. Milo Aukerman (The Descendents) makes an appearance, as do Ian MacKaye and Brendan Canty (Fugazi).

The story moves into the building of this new community, centered around places like the Casbah and record labels such as Bob Barley’s (Neighborhood Watch, Tit Wrench) Vinyl Communications and, of course, Cargo Records. And it focuses on the sea change brought about by outside influences from Washington, DC and Louisville, Kentucky, in the form of the band Pitchfork. This was, as Mitch Wilson (Funeral March, No Knife) notes, a game changer, and people saw, as he says, “what was possible.”

What was possible, as Chris Prescott (Fishwife, Tanner) says, was that the bands could do whatever they wanted, because they were just doing it with their friends. And do whatever they wanted, they did. The diversity of music exploded, as did the on-stage antics.

The scene continued to evolve, as the film shows, and Pitchfork and Night Soil Man gave way to Drive Like Jehu, pulling in influences from bands like Bastro and Slint. And Rocket From The Crypt, as John Reis says, was his way of trying to bring an earlier punk rock influence back into his music, after the violence from that early scene was gone. The film then starts to focus pretty heavily on these two bands and the bands they influenced, the rise of Cargo Records, San Diego’s largest indie label, and the attention that was drawn to them from the majors.

The early 90s was a time when the major labels were trying to snap up any bands that had the new “alternative” sound, and several San Diego bands, though thoroughly DIY in nature, were something these labels wanted (or thought they wanted). Trumans Water attracted the attention of John Peel, who flew the band over to England to appear on his BBC radio program and play the Reading festival. And Interscope grabbed Jehu and Rocket. Rocket’s contract was amazingly unique in that it allowed them to continue putting out 7” singles with other record labels, and Jehu had creative freedom over their records, including artwork.

The scene developed sort of a split personality, with these bigger, more well known bands reaching larger audiences, yet the other bands were continuing to “do whatever they wanted,” bringing an ever increasing creative diversity to the scene. But what was eagerly accepted outside San Diego, with large audiences (Trumans playing to 5000 people in England, Crash Worship playing to 500-1500 at a time) was oddly under appreciated back at home. These cutting edge bands would barely attract a handful of other people at shows at home. And, yet, the majors started snapping up more and more bands from San Diego.

The film explores the interesting cynicism of the San Diego bands toward these interloping majors, with some creating bands just to get signed and play music for the masses to make money, while still doing their “real” bands for people who understand and appreciate “real” music. And it even went as far as some people creating a hoax band that didn’t exist, putting out fake press items for a band that never had played a single show, just to see what sort of reaction they would get from the A&R people. And they did get people sniffing around asking about this “Thorpe” band. Things were spiraling out of control, says Cargo Records’ Bryan Spevak.

Eventually, the majors realized that they really didn’t know what to do with a lot of these bands they had signed. So, as they had done before in other cities, they picked up and moved on. And the few bands that had gotten a bit of “traction” with the majors decided they didn’t really want to play the game by their rules to keep things going.

And so the San Diego scene reinvented itself yet again. But, through all these changes and reinventions, things were sort of always the same, in a way. It was bands doing their own thing, doing it with and for their friends, and no one else, really. And, doing it without realizing how much they have influenced other people around the country and around the world.

It’s tempting to complain about the omissions from this film. Bands that were a significant part of the San Diego scene, like Olivelawn and Fluf, are not included, and key people like Rick Froberg and O aren’t interviewed. And, as the film explores how the same group of people continues, to this day, to make music for themselves and each other, it would have been nice to talk about the younger bands that San Diego has spawned out of the old. But, like I said, this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive historical document. It tells a particular story. I didn’t get that going into my first viewing at the film’s premiere in October. But with a couple more viewings under my belt, I understand that story and the message behind it, and it’s very effectively conveyed. So I no longer consider those to be omissions.

“It’s Gonna Blow is making its way around the country this winter for special screenings, so check out and click on the Tour Dates icon for information on a screening near you. A DVD and digital download release is planned for sometime in 2015, and Perrine promises some interesting extras, so keep an eye out for that, too. I recommend you catch the film’s screenings, though, as there are special surprise guests planned at some of them, and Perrine will be on-hand for Q&A, as well.
 is an independently published music fanzine covering punk, alternative, ska, techno and garage music, focusing on New Jersey and the Tri-State area. For the past 25 years, the Jersey Beat music fanzine has been the authority on the latest upcoming bands and a resource for all those interested in rock and roll.

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