If anyone were to ask me, and I’m aware no one has, but if anyone did ask me what my favorite era for music is, I would say the 80’s. More specifically the music of the punk, post-punk, new wave, no wave, weirdo variety. So when I came upon the film Desolation Center, I was thrilled to see a celebration of some of my absolute favorite bands. Those being The Minutemen and Sonic Youth. I was even more excited to learn more about bands that I like but don’t consider myself incredibly educated about, which include The Meat Puppets, Redd Kross, Suburban Lawns, Savage Republic, Einsturzende Neubauten, and more.
“It was also bred out of necessity since the LAPD took a liking to shut down punk shows in the city under the authority of Chief Darryl Gates.”
What makes Desolation Center even better is the fact that it puts a spotlight on the oft-forgotten person in the world of music, which is the promoter. Stuart Swezey, who also directs the film, was the driving force behind a series of incredibly amazing concerts which took place in the deserts outside of Los Angeles, a boat in San Pedro Harbor, and a giant warehouse in Downtown L.A. He called his operation Desolation Center, hence the title. I think it’s incredibly important for people outside of music scenes to understand exactly how much goes into putting a show together, especially shows of this scale, on a shoestring budget. The shows in the desert required school buses to take groups of punks 2 to 3 hours away from home. Later iterations of the desert show allowed people to drive their cars, but one would have to drive to a certain checkpoint to get a stamp and receive directions to their final destination. It was all very mysterious and exclusive without being snobby. It was also bred out of necessity since the LAPD took a liking to shut down punk shows in the city under the authority of Chief Darryl Gates.
There is some mindblowing footage of the concerts, particularly Mojave Auszug which took place in August of 1984 in a canyon of the Mojave. Djeema El Fna, Mark Pauline of Survival Research Laboratories, Einsturzende Neubauten, and Boyd Rice all performed. Mark Pauline attempted to blow up the canyon, Einsturzende Neubauten used chainsaws and rocks as instruments, and Boyd Rice put a cinderblock on his stomach which was hit with a sledgehammer. All these performances against the backdrop of the desert at night make for an almost religious experience, which artist Skip King referred to it as.