It all started when a 14-year-old German teenager discovered Kyuss. The heavy riffs of the Californian band opened the doors to a new type of music for the young man, and they were also the beginning of a journey into stoner rock. To him, the heaviness of Kyuss became inseparable from the exotic and warm California desert. This journey would bring him to the desert, and years later, he would bring that desert to the big screen under the name of Lo Sound Desert.
In 2005, filmmaker Jörg Steineck started to capture the fuzzy vibes of stoner rock on video. Studying Film in San Diego, he was just 3-4 hours away from Palm Springs. He couldn’t resist the call of the desert, so he took his camera and paid a visit to the cradle of stoner rock. More than 10 years later, in July 2016, Lo Sound Desert was released.
Welcome to Sky Valley
Why did it take so long? Many breaks happened during the production since Steineck was working on other projects and had to wait for a desert band to go on tour. However, he explains that one of the major reasons why it took so long to achieve the documentary was the difficulty to get into the desert rock scene. As he says, “in the beginning [he] felt there was a decent portion of mistrust which made it hard to collect footage or even talk to someone in charge”.
The key to unlocking the desert’s secrets was Mario Lalli, guitarist and vocalist of Fatso Jetson and Yawning Man. “He was one of the pioneers and very supportive of building up the scene, so it was easier and more essential to focus the story around him and his achievements rather than on that one desert band that has gotten famous”, explains Steineck. With Lalli as an ally, the filmmaker was able to interview most of the bands from the Desert scene. Most of them. Because one is conspicuous by its absence, and it’s the band that had started it all: Kyuss. To this day, it “still makes [Steineck] grind [his] teeth that the only band that can’t be heard in the film is Kyuss”.
The German filmmaker worked mostly alone on this project. Handling both the camera work and interviewing at the same time wasn’t always easy. Actually, according to him, “it just sucked”. However, now that doors were opened to him, being alone with the musicians helped him gain more intimacy; he explains that “people would rather talk in-depth than just recite general rock and roll slipslop”.
Go with the Flow
Being alone to produce and realize the documentary gave a DIY aspect to the movie, which fits with the music scene he was capturing. Steineck wanted to show a music scene with strong psychedelic rock influences, where people were organizing parties in the middle of the desert using gasoline-powered generators to provide electricity for the music equipment (parties were known as “generators parties” for this reason). The visual effects had to match with the desert sound and vibe. This is why the picture is rough and grainy. Steineck thought that the polished look wasn’t for the stoner rockers: “Fuck the slick and the effects. Of course, some people complained, because our perception towards digital video changed naturally with all the high glossy crap that is out there. I just thought I couldn’t describe a scene that was all about authenticity with slick and effects.”
Lo Sound Desert doesn’t only have the DIY aspect, it also has the DIY budget. In order to fund the documentary, Steineck initiated two crowd-funding campaigns, which covered about half of all expenses. But unfortunately, he couldn’t pay the requested music licensing fees to use Kyuss’ music. As he laments, “in the end, it wasn’t meant to be.”
Lo Sound Desert marks the first documentary focused on the Palm Springs scene and its generator parties. As the movie structure shows, some of the artists have stayed and others have left. And the latter have since brought stoner rock to the rest of the world.
Watch the last Zero Authority episode to see what we thought of Lo Sound Desert and to learn more about the thriving stoner scene in Germany.
Still haven’t seen Lo Sound Desert? What are you waiting for?!
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