Reviews

A Hundred Dollars and a T-Shirt

Shaun Huston

This documentary underscores that zine culture is made by interactive communities of readers and creators, all of whom bring distinctive sets of purposes, interests, and passions to their work, reading, and sharing.


A Hundred Dollars and a T-Shirt

Director: Rev. Phil Sano
Cast: Franco Ortega, Greig Means, Moe Bowstern, Ayleen Crotty, and Keith Rosson
Distributor: Microcosm
MPAA rating: Unrated
Display Artist: Joe Biel, Rev. Phil Sano
First date: 2008
US DVD Release Date: 2008-02-19

Like the best of the zines it celebrates, A Hundred Dollars and a T-Shirt (AKA “A Documentary about Zines in the Northwest U.S.”) is, at turns, rough and elegant, but always sincere and passionate. The collective of people who created the film, which includes Joe Biel, Rev. Phil Sano, Basil Shadid, Steev Hise, Peter Green, and Shawn Granton, are fans and insiders to the zine world, and to Portland, Oregon's zine culture in particular, but that doesn't keep the film from being accessible to non-insiders or those new to zines.

A Hundred Dollars is divided into seven major sections: “What is a zine?”, “Where do zines come from (history of zines)?”, “Why do people make zines?”,”How do you make a zine?”, “Being part of a zine community,” “Zines in the Northwest,” and “Where have zines taken us and where will they go next (future of zines)?”. Each section includes interviews with a variety of zine readers/ fans/ makers. The documentary also includes footage of the 2003 Portland Zine Symposium, Reading Frenzy, a bookstore in downtown Portland that specializes in zines and independent media, and the Portland-based Independent Publishing Resource Center where zine makers can find advice, inspiration, education, and work space.

As emphasized in the film’s opening section, zines tend to be individual, or at least idiosyncratic, productions. By contrast, A Hundred Dollars is a collective work. This is partly reflected in the widely varying quality of audio and video on the DVD. Some interviews are marred by static, while others are clean and perfectly audible. Some video is washed out and grainy, while other sections are more vibrant and clear. These kinds of “imperfections” may turn off certain audiences, but they do give the film a subject-matching cut-and-paste aesthetic.

Even though video and audio quality varies, a certain unity is created by what appears to have been a common set of questions for interview subjects. Interviews were also consistently shot at medium-wide angles and with a static camera. As the talking head has come to dominate documentary filmmaking, audiences have become accustomed to seeing interviewees from different angles, particularly in close-up or head shots. The approach taken for A Hundred Dollars literally holds its subjects at a distance, but in return viewers get to see zine makers and fellow travelers in their larger contexts of, mostly, work and home. Eventually, as the people become familiar, don't be surprised if your eye starts wandering to walls, worktables, and the like, all of which offer some additional insight into the world of the film.

One reason that talking head documentaries often show their interview subjects from different angles is to create visual interest from shots of people who are basically still, and usually seated. A Hundred Dollars accomplishes this same end by building its narratives from a larger than usual pool of informants. This strategy not only succeeds in keeping the film moving, but also underscores that zine culture is made by interactive communities of readers and creators, all of whom bring distinctive sets of purposes, interests, and passions to their work, reading, and sharing.

Less successful in this regard are the occasional, and seemingly random, “reenactments” of certain stories and anecdotes. Individually, some of these work well enough to add interest and humor to the film, but on the whole, the effort is undercut by the casualness with which it is used and produced and by less than clear transitions that distract from the points being made.

In addressing the question of zine communities, and Portland’s in particular, the documentary does an excellent job of showing the diversity in interests and motivations among creators, readers, and advocates. A critical discussion of gender that takes note of sexism, and even misogyny and violence towards women, adds to the film’s complexity, but it also opens a door to questions of difference and conflict that, aside from gender, the filmmakers choose not to walk through.

The interview subjects in A Hundred Dollars are overwhelming white. The film also points to zines and zine makers interested not only in gender, but also sexuality, and yet there is no discussion of that issue within the community. It might be reasonable to assume that people who spend their time producing countercultural media, and who embrace marginality, would not be subject to the same social norms regarding race, ethnicity, and sexuality as the dominant culture in which they are located, but the film includes an explicit admonition not to make this assumption when it comes to gender. It is hard not to ask questions about other forms of identity and whether there is racism and homophobia at work in the zine community just as there is sexism and a certain degree of male dominance.

While Portland has become more ethnically and racially diverse over the past 20 years or so, it not only remains a largely white city, but white to the point where it is easy for those in the majority to believe that race is not an issue without being called on it very often. Maybe things are different in the zine community and maybe they aren’t. Maybe the filmmakers simply went where their subjects took them or maybe they consciously chose not to ask about race (or sexuality). In the end, for whatever reason, A Hundred Dollars does not address these questions. Indeed, at one point, the community’s perceived demographics are described as “young and middle class”, while the seemingly obvious third term, “white”, is left out.

A second issue that is broached but not substantively addressed is the influence of personal computers and the internet on zine making and zine culture. There is one minor discussion of desktop publishing and zine design, and another of how online communication is distinct from handwritten, or typed, communication, but how these different media interact is left to the side. It’s easy to think, and A Hundred Dollars implies, that social networking sites, blogging, online photo and videosharing, the read/write web in other words, has had an impact on the number, quality, and incidence of zines and zine makers. These various media can be and are used for similar kinds of personal expression, but all have different points of entry and appeal to different tastes and personalities. At the same time, the zine world and the online world are hardly separate. This is an area ripe for close examination, but not in A Hundred Dollars.

To be fair, these criticisms should be kept in perspective. I mention issues of difference and other media mostly because the filmmakers also chose to address them. Seen from a different perspective, these aren’t so much criticisms as testaments to how effective A Hundred Dollars is at sparking interest in its subject.

I received “Version 2.0” of the documentary to review (there’s already a version 3.0). This iteration of the DVD includes two commentary tracks, additional material, and a production information page, including contact information.

The first commentary track features co-director Joe Biel and Alex Wrekk, who helped with the production. Biel and Wrekk share their personal reflections on the making of the documentary and on some of the people and events it features, as well a few notes on the differences between the first and second editions. On my copy, the second commentary was mostly garbled, muffled by the primary soundtrack, which was itself distorted by reverb.

The “additional material” consists of scenes that did not make it into at least the version of the film under discussion here. One of the selections, “camera breaking”m is notable for how it seems to account for why one of the documentary’s more prominently featured subjects mostly appears only in voice over.

It should also be noted that the documentary includes original artwork by Cristy Road and music by J Church and Defiance, OH!

A Hundred Dollars is replete with stories of people who became part of the zine world because they, or someone they know, happened to stumble across someone’s publication and it helped them through a rough time or motivated them to start their own project. The documentary seems made to promote its subject in a similar way and for that reason I would recommend it most strongly to those who can place it into a group or organizational setting; librarians, teachers, and community organizers, for example. Those are the kinds of environments where people are most likely to “stumble across” the film and be subsequently moved or inspired to read or create.

People already involved with zines will enjoy the film for the chance to see and hear from authors and as another way of connecting with their comrades in independent media. Above all, A Hundred Dollars and a T-Shirt is a good example of an insider story told well and in an open and inviting way.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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