You may be wondering what an interview with a musician is doing in the Film Threat fold. After all, Film Threat is movies and music is… the stuff in movies. Well, Reverend Beat-Man, as anyone who is familiar with him will know, is different. He is an independent spirit in a world of American idols and hip hop artists all vying for who can be the more pampered Beverly Hills housewife. He’s been in movies (“The Road to Nod”), a subject of a documentary (“Voodoo Rhythm: The Gospel of Primitive Rock ‘n’ Roll”), and now has a DVD of music videos (“Reverend Beat-Man: Surreal Folk Blues Gospel Trash Vol. 3”) available to the masses. His label, Voodoo Rhythm Records, is one of the most unique on the planet, and chances are you’ve never heard of it.
So why is he here? Film Threat is a celebration of independent movies. Reverend Beat-Man is a celebration of independent music. The two, as many people realize, often go hand in hand. If you like indie movies, you’re probably not too satisfied with what the major record labels are offering. The good reverend wants to promote that independent spirit in music and movies, and wants people to watch his DVD so that they can see things from his side of life. Here’s to hoping it succeeds.
“Oh man, do you wanna write a book?” Reverend Beat-Man laughs when I ask for his “story.” Beat-Man, who was born in a small town near Bern, Switzerland in 1967, laughs a lot.
“I [have] lived my life with full pleasure. I went up to the highest mountain and down to the deepest point in the world … and myself. I had a safe childhood and fantastic parents. We did play in the forest and on the lake.” It was the standard happy upbringing, but then the teen years changed everything.
“[At] the age of 13 my bigger brother found out that he wants to wear women’s clothes more than men clothes and starts [to] listen to strange music … punk, industrial, new wave. Of course, I like that new sound from Berlin as well and we swapped tapes with Berlin. And I liked women’s clothes, too. My brother found out that he was a drag queen. I found out I was a rocker.” Beat-Man’s father gave the boy a guitar and as Beat-Man describes it, that was “the end.”
“After that day I played the s**t out of that thing. My parents didn’t like that so much I think, so I moved out and started recording on my tape deck and released [music] on tape.” By 1986 Beat-Man had formed his third band, The Monsters, which Beat-Man describes as the “real thing.” The Monsters is still going today (and I like the band so much I got a tattoo on my arm of some of the art used on one of the band’s press releases). “We are worse than ever,” Beat-Man says. “Loud, nasty, out of control garage punk was and still is the word.”
The Monsters isn’t Beat-Man’s only project, however. “I formed so many bands I cannot even count them anymore. But [I] still do Beat-Man. That’s my one project besides The Monsters, and it’s more gospel and blues oriented.”
If you see the Beat-Man DVD you’ll notice a lot of the videos and songs revolve around women. “I never really had big luck with my gals,” Beat-Man explains. “The latest one I did love the most — she was the light of my life, but the break up was a torture. All that stuff made me write many, many songs. Not only sad ones. A lot of fun ones, too, and visionary as well. I have two kids and those two kids are the most important thing in my life. After doing garage punk for so many years I wanted to tell what I feel and what I did see in my life. After a bigger accident in 1999 and the [loss] of my voice I saw the light, and felt that someone said, ‘Now go on and do whatever you wanted to do.’ So I’m here now telling the people about the heavy ups and downs in life and that life can be awful and beautiful at the same time and at the end we have to be thankful for what we have.”
Beat-Man’s music isn’t exactly universally accepted. Enter Voodoo Rhythm Records. “Nobody wanted to put out my music,” Beat-Man states, “so I did it myself.” On tour he saw a lot of other bands in the same situation. “I thought maybe my music is s**t because nobody wanted to put it out, but no. I saw so many incredible bands such as the Dead Brothers, or King Kahn, Roy and the Devil’s Motorcycle. They had the same problem. Then I found out there’s a problem with the music industry. They don’t put out things that is not a trend, or it’s not [going to be] a big seller. But I did. I put out records actually nobody wants to buy but that I think they are important.” He describes that as music that gives you a kick in the a*s and pushes you away from the mainstream into your own “very special universe.”
“That’s the idea behind my label,” Beat-Man beams. “I do it very special in my own way. I’m sure this is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a small step into your own world as well, and I hope there will be more people who are not scared of losing their face while doing their own thing.”
Music isn’t the only feather in Beat-Man’s very unique cap. As seen in his new DVD and in “The Road to Nod,” he’s also a bit of an actor. “I started about 15 years ago,” he remembers, “with playing in theatres over here in Switzerland. In little roles and main roles. I did play Orpheus, for example, [in] a play written by Jeremias Gothelf (the Swiss Goethe). The latest role I had was Popeye the Sailor Man in a silent play.” If you’ve seen and heard Beat-Man, you know how perfect he is for that role. Quite frankly, he is Popeye with a guitar instead of a can of spinach. Though why the play was silent is beyond me because he sounds like the guy, too. “That’s my favorite play so far,” he says. “Very funny, and my son loved it.”
Beat-Man’s role in M.A. Littler’s “The Road to Nod” is something he is also very proud of, though he throws his praise the director’s way. “If you are not familiar with Marc’s work, you definitely have to check it out. He’s a fantastic film noir guy from Germany [and] South Africa.” Littler also did the documentary “Voodoo Rhythm: The Gospel of Primitive Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which has plenty of screen time with Beat-Man. Beat-Man, while happy to be the subject of a documentary and honored to be in the fictional “The Road to Nod,” isn’t exactly thrilled with acting, however.
“I don’t feel very happy in acting, and I hope nobody will ask me for more acting. It’s totally not my thing. I’m a musician and a live performer with my music. I’m not an actor at all.” With Beat-Man’s aversion to acting, it needs to be asked why he did a DVD of music videos where he is the prominent star.
“It’s a stupid idea. After the break up with a girl I had so many songs in me to let out, and I had songs for two albums. [Because] they all kind of fit together and came from the same place I wanted to put ’em out all together, but two records was not enough. I wanted to do a trilogy because I like that word so much and I didn’t know about a band in this time who did a trilogy. So I had this idea to make a video clip to all the songs on volume one and two, or a short movie ’cause there are a couple of spoken word songs on it as well.” Beat-Man, as is usual with him, set out to do this himself. As he began filming the first video he discovered that filmmaking wasn’t exactly his calling, so he decided to ask his friends for help.
“I had a huge response,” he explains. “Everybody wanted to be a part.” As anyone who works in film knows, however, money is always an issue. Beat-Man wanted to find a sponsor, which would allow him to pay the directors, but most of the people he approached with the idea thought it was “crazy.” As it turned out, Beat-Man had zero financial support. “But the directors still wanted to do it,” he continues. “[They] liked the idea, so everybody was working for free. I had some travel costs and did pay some food. All in all the budget was something like $1,000 for everything.”
If there were budget problems and restraints, it’s not apparent in the final product. The DVD is as smooth as any major label music DVD, if not moreso considering the circumstances and style in which it was done. Each director brought his or her own taste and artistic bent to the project, resulting in videos that look and feel different, yet all fit together quite well. According to Beat-Man, that was the idea.
“[It’s] the single individual [counting] more than everything else, and it proves at the end you can be your own and still be part of everything. Everybody behind a camera has his own story to tell… except if they were too long in film school [they would all] look the same. But not with my directors. I had given them the songs on a CD and they decided what song would fit the best to their style of filming. I told them that they can do whatever they want. They can do a normal clip or something very special, and they did. I was on the telephone or mailing with all of them — some more, some less — and we were talking about the idea, and I was traveling to different places. We were eating together and it was wonderful, but a very time [consuming] period.”
One of those directors was the previously mentioned M.A. Littler. Littler is a huge fan of Beat-Man and the music on his label, so it was natural that he would be included in this project. The director, as witnessed by his work, has his own unique vision that is also easily accessible. I actually believe he is part of the next wave of big directors, so I had to ask Beat-Man what it was like working with man.
“Marc is fantastic,” Beat-Man repeats. “He is a music and film fan. He wants to express himself, and he’s young and [has] his eyes wide open. He has no money at all, but he has a vision. Sometimes he wants too much and is disappointed when the feedback is little, but he learns, and — yes — one day he’s gonna be the man. This can be tomorrow or in 40 years. Nobody knows. If he [keeps] on going his own way then that doesn’t matter anymore. It’s the way that he’s going, and he’s filming his way, and that is beautiful. Check out ‘The Folk Singer.’ A blast! I hope one day he will have another small role for me or use my music. I’m very honored with his work.” Apparently Beat-Man would suppress his desire to stay out of the world of acting if Littler were involved.
Voodoo Rhythm Records is a musician’s label. Because of that and the fact that it is a foreign label signing acts that aren’t groomed by the music industry, Voodoo Rhythm Records has not exactly taken America by storm. Not even in the underground. The DVD seemed like the perfect way to get new fans as it is visually appealing and can easily convert those who get their new music fixes on YouTube. Unfortunately, things aren’t turning out that way.
Beat-Man has Get Hip in Portland, Oregon doing distribution for him, but he understands that what he is doing isn’t “big buck music.” As he describes it (and I would agree), “it’s from fans to the fans.” “I don’t actually sell a lot in the US,” he admits. “I was trying to get a bigger deal [so] that it would be possible [for a] wider branch of people to get my stuff, as I know through the mails and post that I get there must be a lot of people interested in that. Some would take some some of the stuff, but that doesn’t work with my philosophy. You take everything or nothing, ’cause I think I can help younger bands a lot with that idea. I normally sell a lot of my own stuff, and when people see [that Mama Rosin] are on Voodoo Rhythm as well, [they may] check ’em out. With that I did [broaden] their horizon.”
I find it ironic that a label which does American-style rock/blues/garage/swamp music isn’t more popular here. Beat-Man, though, does not let this lack of enthusiasm from American music fans damper his spirits. “You know I love the USA,” he says. “The leaders are sometimes a bit crappy, but I meet the most interesting people over there. It’s a wonderful country, and with wonderful women as well. I already thought to open up an office in [Los Angeles] with label and agency and all that stuff. That would be great. We’ll see what the future shows us.”
Does that future hold plans for any future Beat-Man DVDs, or DVDs from any of the other bands on the label? It does. According to the musician, there are plans for a full-length film about a reverend super hero. “I have connections to Sandro Klopfstein — he did ÔDon’t Stop to Dance’ [on the DVD] — and with a porn movie company. I try to get a concept finished or a great idea, but nothing sure yet. With the label I’m working on to put out M.A. Littler’s movies on DVD, but I’m stuck about the financial question,” he laughs. As for other future plans, Beat-Man has some very specific things in mind.
“[I] just came back from Istanbul and going next week to Norway, so I’m traveling a lot lately, and I think I need that. I have to find myself, and I’m searching for a woman. I wanna share all that stuff with someone. I’m bored doing all myself. That’s the biggest goal to do now. I found some amazing new bands. The Movie Star Junkies from Italy, or Pirate Love from Norway. They are two new Voodoo Rhythm bands, and they are the complete burner! In February I actually wanted to go to New Zealand and Australia to tour, but my son don’t wanna let me go, so I need a bit more work on that as well. I do a lot of merchandise at the moment. Crazy Voodoo Rhythm bolo ties, belt buckles, t-shirts and [we are even] working on a record player … a Voodoo Rhythm record player. I’m dealing now since a half year with a Japanese company. It’s kind of tricky … and complicated.”
Voodoo Rhythm Records is unlike any other music label I know of, and I know about a lot of them, as my writing career began in music journalism. The recent DVD is actually one of the best music video DVDs I’ve ever seen. (You can read the full review on this site.) I expect nothing but greatness from Beat-Man and his label, and I have yet to be disappointed. Beat-Man, despite his opinion, has a screen presence, too. His brief role in “The Road to Nod,” is memorable, and it is obvious that he and Littler share some kind of artistic connection. Unfortunately, the rest of the world seems oblivious to all this. The label isn’t a household word, and Beat-Man dominates in relative seclusion. For a record label in Switzerland to put out American music better than American labels do (take for instance Zeno Tornado and the Boney Google Brothers CD, which is billed as “dirty dope infected bluegrass hillbilly hobo xxx country music”) is unheard of. Quite frankly, I’ve never been this enthusiastic about a label or the bands on it. The fact that they are such underdogs makes it even more of a cause to me, and it is my intention to draw attention to this label with my praise of the Beat-Man DVD, which proves that the music only tells part of the story. These videos are visually arresting and will open American viewers’ eyes to some great new foreign film talent and some incredible music. Spend some time at www.voodoorhythm.com and try to prove me wrong. Remember, though, the first hit is free and addiction is quick to follow.