Rock bands (and the like) in web series (1)

“At least we’re famous.
On the Internets”


There’s little sub-genre, in web series, dealing with music bands, in an almost bio-pic fashion.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise. Even not considering the niche-oriented nature of the format, and its plastic, potential ability to cover any subject or matter, music biopics are special bread, per se.

Music biopics and the strength of archetypes

Till yesterday, there’s always been something intrinsically catchy, and often moving, in a band’s or singer’s biography; something archetypical going on, I guess. The “rock star” life pattern is (better: was) one of the most idealized in our society, at least, when it comes to narrate it: it’s the basic scheme of the rise to fame from nothing, connected to an emotional and free life style, and all the other clichés we know well; and this kind of pagan idolatry makes the identification process almost automatic in many audiences. But even aside from that, every band’s or artist’s career, seen as a whole, from a distance, it’s a kind of life’s metaphor itself: bold, uncertain and possibly experimental youth, followed by progressive growth (and maybe “settling”); maturity; decay (if not else, in popularity). Not unusually, the band’s or artist’s output and/or attitude follows, reflects and it’s a consequence of the age and life phase they finds themselves in.
That same arc, moreover, and probably not by chance, perfectly matches the structure that western culture attributes to a satisfactory narrative: introduction, (pretty long) development, conclusion. And especially the one prescribed for a movie script, if we stick to American school (that is probably the major producer of musical biographies): 15 min for intro, 60 min for development, 15 min again for conclusion, to make an average 90 minutes long movie. That’s probably why we’ve seen music biopics and/or docs in a movie form (till yesterday, again).
Now: two things are worth noting. First: this fascination works equally in a fictional movie or in a documentary: if the fiction has the plus of a more precise narrative control (and manipulation) of the material, from writing to editing, the doc outstands as genuine, for the intrinsic power of the real footage. Second: for this pattern to work, it doesn’t matter if the band is real or not (with mockumentaries brilliantly coming into the scene); even if a made-up, out-of-the-blue band can’t stand a chance against the one you grew up with, for reasons that go way beyond mere narrative dynamics, obviously.

And rock bands in web series

Coming back to scripted web series, something interesting turns out, inside this sort-of-biographic subgenre: the focus shifts from the entire life to a specific phase of the band’s arch; the band itself is typically not-so-famous (or not-so-gorgeous) or down-on-his-luck; and all the bands are fake.
It’s easy to understand why: big bands are a profitable subject, worth a movie investment; while real, active bands are more interested in behind-the-scenes (real) documentary web series, acting like marketing tools for, say, the launch of a new album (in an attempt to emulate YouTubers’ self-promotion power?).
Plus, fake bands can be built up from scratch to suit one’s purposes. And with the transmedia, social and interactive possibilities offered by the web, a further blurring of the line between fictional and real is possible, with the realistic effect is quite reinforced.
These bands’ stories, in a pattern we’ve seen many times, would be else way relegated to independent movie festivals; but on the web they can more easily find a life of their own and a proper audience.
So here they are. A bunch of quasi-music-bio-series you can find on the web. In tho parts, because today I feel generous.

Vintage sounds: Gemini Rising and Sparhusen

I’ve incidentally hinted before to the existence of a so-called “vintage” subgenre in web series. Excluding those series where vintage aesthetics are part of a broader creative and narrative approach, especially in science fiction, the “pure” form of this shows consists into mimicking and reproducing a typical oldie from TV or cinema (mainly from the seventies and, speaking about movies, sometimes even grind-house style).
There’s a couple of series that translate this process to the service of a fake band’s quasi-biography.
Gemini Rising were a minor and largely unknown American progressive rock band back in the Seventies, based in Levittown, Pennsylvania. Talented, but striving to emerge, at the time of their last album’s recordings they were still at the stage of semi-successful. Until they did disappear without a trace.
Years later, some documentary shootings dating back those days appeared. Yes, folks: we’re talking about found footage, here.
Led by (litigious, of course) brothers Robert and Richard McKenzie, the band struggled for its peculiar, ambitious vision, refusing to compromise to market laws, blending genres, showcasing confident and passionate performances, waving from folk to rock. And trying to survive mundane obligations like photo-shoots with “visionary” photographers.
As a series, Gemini Rising (2009) is written ad directed four hands by Gina Andreoli (also producer) and Christopher Marston, for their company Fugue Films (based in Bristol, Pennsylvania) and shot in Bucks County, PA. It’s a 2009 Webby Honoree.
Yet another mockumentary, sure; but the found footage approach allows for a wider lean towards drama (though some parodic elements are still there).
And, with the exception of the first episode (which is unbelievably bad in everything – was that deliberate?) the series, posing as original seventies material, is a quite skilled “false authentic”, adding much to the depiction of the band’s ordinary tribulations: aside from the evident digital photography, everything from hair stile to costumes to locations is quite believable.
Seven episodes among 5 to 30 (!) minutes, the web series has recently been re-uploaded on Blip and that’s the only place you can see it (DVD excluded).
A second season was planned, according to the official blog. So far, as usual: nothing.
The band is on MySpace and i-Tunes; and you can watch (forgetting about music history) the Star Child videoclip here and some live performances on YouTube.

Spärhusen were a swedish band (active between 1967 and 1974) producing a kind of “folk and roll” waving between muzak-like, vintage rock ‘n’ roll and some somber tunes. They were a pretty much serious act in Sweden, until ABBA came out and stole their fame. Since then, they’ve been labeled (much to their regret) “the almost great band of Sweden”.
Officially, two of the three original members died on a plane crash in the middle of the ocean, though their bodies were never found; the surviving member gave birth to a child, whose father is supposed to be one of the deceased. The plane crash is believed to be a hoax, though, to avoid the spotlight; this suspect is confirmed by a new song released, years later,  by a supposedly eponymous band sounding much similar to the original one.
Spärhusen is, creatively, an offspring of Hollywood veteran Illeana Douglas (who also impersonates the female singer) and it’s related to her mother web series, Easy To Assemble (already covered here): the band’s music is used as soundtrack and the band itself is a personal obsession of some of the (swedish) characters, Ikea employees. The band briefly appears in the series and in other shorts, but it’s primarily featured in a brief mockumentary/found footage called Triumph of Spärhusen (2009), that pretends to re-collect unreleased video material; it’s directed by Chris Bradley and Kyle LaBrache and features Keanu Reeves and CSI’s Wallace Langham.
Spärhusen were given MySpace and Twitter profiles; an official anthology CD was released. Out of fiction, the band has performed live in several occasions.
Last time I checked, videos were inaccessible (private).

[In the next article: comebacks and indie bands in web series]

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