What comes to mind when I say Dayton, Ohio? If you are a football fan, probably Ohio State’s Buckeye football team. Otherwise, visions of mountains and Lake Eerie probably danced in your head. I am willing to bet that excluding a handful of people, Ohio being home to one of the most innovative and fast-rising punk bands of the 1990s is not what you thought of. However, in Dayton, Ohio school friends Tim Taylor and Juan Monasterio bonded over their love of music and eventually formed a band.
The other two members were guitarist Michelle Bodine and drummer Tyler Trent; with Tyler on guitar, vocals, and keyboards, while Monasterio played the bass. Brainiac: Transmissions After Zero lovingly documents the band’s rise and their disbanding, after the untimely death of Tim Taylor in 1997. Taylor was undisputedly the creative force behind them, and his death caused fissures amongst the young adults that lasted for years.
From birth Taylor was surrounded by music, as both his parents were musicians. As a toddler, he loved to sit in his father’s guitar case and listen to him play. That appreciation for music stayed with Taylor his entire life. Therefore, once Brainiac began recording- a handful of singles to start- he could bounce ideas off everyone else in the band at an almost inhuman rate. It worked, as the band began to make waves. At first, just in the greater Dayton area but Monasterio took upon himself be Brainiac’s unofficial manager. So he started calling venues in other states and got them booked.
“…Ohio being home to one of the most innovative and fast-rising punk bands of the 1990s is not what you thought of.”
This led to a more significant following, which led to a record deal from Grass in 1993; roughly a year from when the band first got together. During their tours, tensions arose, especially when it came to Bodine; only partially because she was the only female of the group. Her job meant she couldn’t 100% focus on touring and the band, which got on the nerves of the others to some degree. While in hindsight, Monasterio regrets how he handled it and broke the news to his friend, he thinks it was ultimately for the best. John Schmersal joined as the guitarist, and the band released another record.
Throughout all this they played Lollapalooza, toured with Beck, Girls Against Boys, and Jesus Lizard, all the while writing and recording songs. Of course, being as young as they were, things were not always smooth, but they did care for each other. They acted out, especially during interviews and were a bit hard to get to talk. However, music critics, their contemporaries and idols all took notice, knowing that Brainiac was something special.
Then in the early morning of May 23, 1997, Tim Taylor was in a car accident. For years, family, friends, and colleagues were uncertain about what happened. After Taylor’s death, the band broke up, with none of the remaining members talking about it, with Monasterio admitting that he has avoided as much as possible.
“Seeing how the journey of making the movie reunited these old friends and helped them heal is inspiring.”
Director Eric Mahoney interviews Taylor’s mom and sister, the band member, who are rather excited to be reunited after all this time, as well as Janney, the record label employees, and several members of other bands that were in awe of Brainiac. This creates a full picture of the band’s life and their lasting impact. However, it also leads to Brainiac: Transmissions After Zero’s only flaw. The movie is broken up into chapters, each one titled after a different Brainiac song, with there being nine of them all totaled. One chapter is devoted to the creation of albums and subsequent touring for each record. That is three chapters that convey a lot of the same stuff.
Yes, Bodine leaving the band is a crucial moment, leave that in. However, Janney talking about his experience producing each release of theirs feels very repetitious. With that being said, even if you aren’t a fan of punk music (or this band in particular), the emotions are authentic and the ending, discussing Brainiac’s enduring legacy is sweet.
Seeing how the journey of making the movie reunited these old friends and helped them heal is inspiring. The sound design throughout the film is quite fantastic, with several design elements being lifted from portions of the band’s songs. Of course, the film plays a good number of their songs as well, and they are fist-pumping, headbanging goodness.
Brainiac: Transmissions After Zero is a little too long, but thanks to stylish directing and amazing sound design it still works. The interviewees are very candid about their screw-ups, as well as the moments they are proud of. Mahoney respectfully handles the emotional void left by Tim Taylor’s death, so the production never comes across as exploitative.
Brainiac: Transmissions After Zero (2019) Directed by Eric Mahoney. Written by Ian Jacobs, Eric Mahoney. Starring Tim Taylor, Michelle Bodine, Juan Monasterio, Tyler Trent, John Schmersal, Eli Janney, Linda Taylor, Steve Albini, Melissa Auf der Maur, Fred Armisen. Brainiac: Transmissions After Zero screened at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.
8 out of 10 Moogs