Tag Archives: Einstürzende Neubauten

Punk Rockers Experience Desert Oasis at ‘Desolation Center’ By Sandra Carr

The Desolation Center documentary took audiences back to the early days of the LA punk-rock scene during its screening at the Florida Film Festival. The film was directed by the Desolation Center’s founder Stuart Swezey who provided moviegoers with a chance to see punk-rock band performances in the desert more than 30 years ago on the big screen.

Swezey’s innovative concert experiences are also considered the precursor to Coachella and the Burning Man music festivals.

Coachella

The Coachella music festival is held at the Empire Polo Club, a 78-acre polo club in Indio, California in the Coachella Valley near Palm Springs, California. Image courtesy of Coachella.

Burning Man Festival

The Burning Man festival is an annual, nine-day gathering in the desert that includes artistic performances, installations and live music. Image courtesy of Burning Man.

Desolation Center Movie Poster

The Desolation Center screened during the 28th Annual Florida Film Festival. Image courtesy of the Desolation Center.

Being a punk rocker in Los Angeles during the 1980s wasn’t easy. The City of Angels’ law enforcement weren’t fond of teens and young adults who had a mohawk haircut, colored locks, wore black attire and listened to anti-authoritarian and politically-charged punk-rock music.

Members of the punk-rock subculture were looked upon as outsiders or troublemakers, but in reality they were misunderstood artists, creatives, dreamers, musicians, writers and decision makers of the future.

Mohawk

Punk rockers hung out on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, California during the 1980s. Photo by Kevin Panet of the Melrose Avenue in the 80’s Facebook page.

Punk Rockers on Melrose Avenue

Punk rockers ruled Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, California during the 1980s. Photo by James Baker of the Melrose Avenue in the 80’s Facebook page.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) appeared at punk-rock concerts when there wasn’t a disturbance. The police activity also caused tension between law enforcement and the punk-rock community. Many concertgoers felt that the police instigated fights with the punk-rock scene, so they could make arrests.

LAPD

LAPD officers stand outside of the Hollywood Palladium waiting for The Ramones and Black Flag concert to end on Nov. 17, 1984. Photo by Gary Leonard.

Folks living in LA at the time consider this era as LAPD Chief Daryl Gates’ reign of terror. Many of the punks felt he was a tyrannical puppet master holding the strings and causing unnecessary chaos.

LAPD Chief of Police Daryl Gates

Daryl Gates was the Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department from 1978 to 1992.

Swezey was a punk-rock music enthusiast who was fed up with LAPD harassing fans at concerts. He wanted to make a difference and give fans and musicians a safe haven for concerts. He came up with the name Desolation Center for his venture, which displayed his feelings of despair in the punk scene. He scouted out remote locations for out-of-town shows. With the help of Bruce Licher of Savage Republic, Swezey organized his first concert at Soggy Dry Lake, a lake bed near the Joshua Tree in the Mojave Desert. The concert was called the Mojave Exodus, which included performances by the Savage Republic and Minutemen on Saturday, April 24, 1983.

Mojave Exodus

The Desolation Center’s first concert, Mojave Exodus, occurred on April 24, 1983 in the Mojave Desert. Image courtesy of the Desolation Center.

LA punks embarked on a mysterious and adventurous journey as buses transported them to the Mojave Desert.

Buses

Music fans traveled on school buses and experienced a punk-rock field trip to a concert in the Mojave Desert. Image courtesy of the Desolation Center.

Besides the concert being situated in a secluded utopia, there were hiccups during the first Desolation Center concert. The bands needed to block out the sand and wind, so the best solution was placing socks on the microphones and parking the buses behind the them to create a windbreak. The buses came to the rescue again when the generator powering the public-address (PA) system started to run out of gas.

Mojave Exodus2

The Desolation Center provided punk rockers with an opportunity to experience concerts in the Mojave Desert’s scenic and serene ambiance. Photo by Scot Allen.

Savage Republic

The Savage Republic performed during the Desolation Center’s Mojave Exodus concert in the Mojave Desert. Photo by Dan Voznick.

Minutemen

The Minutemen performed during the first Desolation Center concert in the Mojave Desert. Photo by Bob Durkee.

Swezey took his second desert DIY experience up a notch in the Mojave Desert near Mecca, California. The Desolation Center’s Mojave Auszüg concert, which occurred on Sunday, March 4, 1984, featured avant-garde, experimental German band Einstürzende Neubauten, noise artist Boyd Rice and the machine performance-art collective Survival Research Laboratories.

The explosive concert featured Einstürzende Neubauten banging rocks on metallic surfaces and oil drums and Survival Research Laboratories attempting to blow up a canyon cave along with having its Mad Max-looking mobiles drive around in the desert.

Punk Rockers2

The Psi Com band’s lead vocalist Perry Farrell (later the frontman for the alternative-rock band Jane’s Addiction) and drummer Aaron Sherer attended Mojave Auszüg on Sunday, March 4, 1984. Photo by Mariska Leyssius.

Desolation Center

Einstürzende Neubauten became one with the desert during the band’s Mojave Auszüg performance. Image courtesy of the Desolation Center.

Boyd Rice

Noise artist Boyd Rice was one of the opening acts during Mojave Auszüg. Image courtesy of Mute Records.

Survival Research Labs Photo

Mark Pauline (pictured on the left) and his Survival Research Laboratories crew create machine art that shoots flames and blows up things that get in the way. Image courtesy of Survival Research Laboratories.

Three months later, the third Desolation Center concert, Joy at Sea, left the barren desert for a vessel voyage in the San Pedro, California harbor. Fans experienced a concert on the water before concert cruises were popular! The show, which occurred on Friday, June 15, 1984, featured the Minute Men, Meat Puppets, Points of Friction and Lawndale.

Joy at Sea

The Desolation Center’s third concert was Joy at Sea. Image courtesy of the Desolation Center.

Joy at Sea Banner

Sailing with punk-rock music fans during Joy at Sea. Photo by Ann Summa.

Joy at Sea Bands

Pictured from l-r: Curt Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets and D. Boon of the Minutemen at Joy at Sea. Photo by Ann Summa.

The Desolation Center’s final Mojave Desert gig, the Gila Monster Jamboree, featured the Sonic Youth, Meat Puppets, Redd Kross and Psi Com on Saturday, Jan. 5, 1985. During this show, fans drove themselves instead of relying on buses to transport them to the concert, but stopped at checkpoints along the way.

Gila Monster Jamboree

The Gila Monster Jamboree was the final Desolation Center concert. Image courtesy of the Desolation Center.

Sonic Youth goes ballistic during its desert performance, Redd Kross dresses down and rocks out and punk-rock fans have an opportunity to see Perry Farrell perform with his Psi Com band before it disbands and becomes Jane’s Addiction. Farrell organized Lollapalooza as a touring music festival, but after a six-year run, it’s now based at Grant Park in Chicago, Illinois.

Lollapalooza

Lollapalooza is a music festival conceived and created by Jane’s Addiction lead vocalist Perry Farrell. Image courtesy of Lollapalooza.

Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth

Sonic Youth’s bassist Kim Gordon performs in the desert. Image courtesy of the Desolation Center.

Sonic Youth

Sonic Youth have a rockin’ time in the desert during the Gila Monster Jamboree. Image courtesy of the Desolation Center.

The film from start to finish flows well and tells the wonderful story of the four Desolation Center concerts with classic footage and interviews by Swezey, band members and concert attendees.

The desert punk-rock concert concept was ahead of its time. It took a lot of guts and determination for Swezey to make his dream a reality.

Swezey participated in a question-and-answer session after the film screening. I had an opportunity to ask him if he would change anything and which band he wished had performed during one of his Desolation Center concerts.

Stuart Swezey

Desolation Center’s founder Stuart Swezey directed the documentary about his desert-destination concerts. Image courtesy of the Desolation Center.

“I wouldn’t have had attendees drive themselves to the Gila Monster Jamboree concert because I felt like it changed the vibe and slightly detracted from the overall atmosphere,” said Swezey.

As far as the bands go, “I would have enjoyed seeing and booking the Butthole Surfers because the group’s performance would have been incredible with fire in a desert setting,” he said.

Butthole Surfers

The Butthole Surfers are on Swezey’s Desolation Center band bucket list. Image courtesy of the Butthole Surfers.

Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming DVD releases, featuring footage and extras from the Desolation Center concerts in the future.

Music fans will love the Desolation Center documentary because it’s punk-rock history melded with timeless tunes that make you want to go back and experience the music by land and sea.

 

 

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