Echotone, a study of the lives of working musicians in Austin’s rapidly gentrifying downtown, was the winning feature at this year’s Northside DIY Film Competition; it has its encore screening on Friday at Rooftop Films, along with winning short Daud (whose director Joel Fendelman, we interviewed earlier today). Director Nathan Christ answered a couple of questions over email this week.
What was the impetus for the film?
It was a story born out of necessity. I didn’t know any of the musicians before filming, but I knew the stories they had to tell were not only reflective of Austin, but reflective of the larger music industry as well. When a dozen-plus high-rise condos began sprouting up all over Austin’s downtown music district it became clear that the livelihood of these musicians and the venues that incubated them was at stake.
To what extent did you seek out musicians to fill out Echotone’s story, and to what extent were you looking more closely at people you already knew?
I knew none of the musicians in the film beforehand except for Machine. They’re the band that records the construction sounds and turns them into music. Beyond that it was a process of discovery with all the other musicians, in that I came to know them and their stories literally on camera. With over 300 hours of footage logged I had to choose the musicians with the most compelling stories.
I know that SXSW specifically, and the music scene in general, is an enormous moneymaker for the city of Austin—in what ways does its success trickle down? In what ways does it not?
The year we made Echotone, SXSW 2010 brought $119 million into Austin’s economy; to give one definitive answer would be to miss the complexity of it. I can say many people in the indie film and music community don’t enjoy that income boost as the money really changes hands amongst established players. While it’s an opportunity for some, a multitude of local musicians are left in the lurch. But as Louis Black, the founder of SXSW, says in the film, SXSW was never about supporting local musicians or unsigned bands.
Can you tell us a little about the Echotone miniseries you’re working on? I gather it will explore similar issues in other American cities—how much time are you able to spend immersed in each city and its culture?
You are catching us at the start of what we hope is a marathon in which we chronicle the music cultures of Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. As I write this I am knee-deep in the Chicago scene, and the story here is proving to be every bit as relevant and the bands every bit as exciting as the experience we had in Austin.
We’re currently fundraising to expand the story as well into Los Angeles and New York over the next year.