Desolation Center | Chicago Reader

Desolation Center

Before outdoor music festivals became corporate-sponsored backdrops for Instagram influencers, the LAPD’s crackdown on punk rock in the mid-1980s led to a series of shows outside of the Los Angeles bar scene. It proved highly influential to attendees like Coachella producer Gary Tovar and Lollapalooza creator Perry Farrell. This documentary from director Stuart Swezey covers the origin, nature, and aftermath of these guerrilla sets—three in the southern California desert and one on a boat—with an abundance of bracing home videos, photographs, and eye-witness accounts. Swezey, also a key organizer of these events from 1983 to 1985, booked a range of performance artists and under-the-radar musicians to play to a DIY movement marked by experimentation and rebellion. He dubbed the enterprise "Desolation Center," he says, "because that's how I was feeling about my environment, at that point in time." This electrifying period was short-lived and remains largely unknown to the mainstream public, but Swezey's film confirms that his scene's flame is still burning. Featuring interviews with members of the bands Black Flag, Swans, Meat Puppets, and more.

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