3 August 2010

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1991: The Year Punk Broke (dir. Dave Markey) chronicles Sonic Youth’s European tour of that year with Nirvana. The film is less a concert film and more an exposition of several groups who would soon break into the mainstream consciousness: also featured are Mudhoney, Dinosaur Jr and Babes In Toyland, with Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore acting as ringleader. There is, however, documentary film of many of the group's playing live, channeling the visceral energy of a musical movement about to hit the worldwide consciousness.\r\n

The Grunge explosion that Nirvana’s Nevermind would initiate just weeks after the tour ended brought vast commercial success, and an iconic status to many of the participants, particularly Kurt Cobain. His star shines brighter now, more than 15 years after his death, than it ever did while he was living and recording. As with any fallen idol he has become something of a folk-figure in Rock, in the same way Hendrix, Morrison and Sid Vicious have. His drug addiction and early death casts a somber light over the group’s career.

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What is refreshing about this documentary is seeing Cobain and co before they became megastars, relatively unknown and just loving life, touring with a band they clearly adore. Film-maker Dave Markey’s tour-diary is available here and offers further insight into the excitement, and boredom of a tour:

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I board the Sonic bus, am handed a tour itinerary and climb into my bunk and fall asleep. Wake up six hours later just in time for sunset in Wales. See a huge castle that looks like it’s a thousand years old. There are a few movies on the bus, most notably “This Is Spinal Tap”.