NORTHWEST PASSAGE: The Birth of Portland's DIY Culture: A film by Mike Lastra

Film / Video Reviews
NORTHWEST PASSAGE: The Birth of Portland's DIY Culture: A film by Mike Lastra
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Apr 9, 2007, 06:17

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NORTHWEST PASSAGE: THE BIRTH OF PORTLAND'S DIY CULTURE: A film by Mike Lastra; Self-released, 2007

Smegma thereminist and record producer Mike Lastra's film Northwest Passage documents the very beginnings of the Portland, Oregon D.I.Y. punk scene. With a great deal of archival footage he shot himself from '79-'83, Lastra reveals some very important historical footnotes. More importantly, he makes a positive statement on the nature of musical communities at a time when all such movements are endangered by the sheer number of bands and the overwhelming commodification of indie-rock culture.

Because Lastra is an audio engineer, the sound quality is exceptional, even if the lighting and camera work occasionally leaves something to be desired. Still, this is edited well and wouldn't even exist if not for an extraordinary sensitivity to the importance of the burgeoning scene and a lot of well-leveraged cable access experience and equipment. Better yet, all song performances are complete, never cut short or overlaid by narration.

Footage of The Wipers, Poison Idea, and Smegma are interspersed amongst modern interviews with folks from Dead Moon, Napalm Beach, and much lesser known local acts like the Neo Boys and Lo-Tek. There are also seminal performances by Dead Kennedys and The Bags shot during early tour stops in the northwest.

Most of the bands in this film are barely remembered even locally. But the fact that these dozen bands were the very people that got together, rented rehearsal spaces, made records, and threw shows at a time when playing covers at bars was the only other option… is a truly inspirational look at something that happened in every major city in America at that time. Most of those scenes simply weren't documented in the same way, and for that, we have Mike Lastra to thank.

And the footage of Smegma playing face-melting noise rock years before Sonic Youth started will make you reevaluate your no wave history in about sixty seconds flat. Lastly, a very special thanks to Kurt Cobain for namedropping my personal favorite Portland band ever: Hitting Birth. [Northwest Passage]

-Nathan Carson

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