KEXP Suggests: Brainiac: Transmissions After Zero at Northwest Film Forum 10/4

KEXP Suggests
Janice Headley

Brainiac are so cool, Luke Skywalker (aka actor Mark Hamill) donated money to the Kickstarter to help this film get made. 

The Dayton, Ohio band touched many lives. Trent Reznor cites their sonic output as an influence on Nine Inch Nails. Cedric Bixler and Omar Rodríguez-López of The Mars Volta point out how Brainiac lives on in the sound of bands like Blood Brothers, The Locust, At the Drive-In, and The Faint. Even Chris Walla, formerly of Death Cab for Cutie, looked to Brainiac during his work on the Narrow Stairs album.

Brainiac: Transmissions After Zero tells the story of this often-overlooked but enormously influential band, whose career was sadly cut too short when their charismatic frontman Tim Taylor died in a freak car accident. Director Eric Mahoney is a former Daytonian himself and brings a reverence and sensitivity to the tragic story. (But, as the poster points out, "it's not a story about tragedy.")

Brainiac formed in 1992, right around the time Nirvana's Nevermind changed the terrain of mainstream music. The film illustrates how unique Taylor was, growing up in a musical family, playing in a jazz band with his dad as a teenager, and even as a child, garnering the attention of the neighborhood kids with backyard renditions of Cheech & Chong routines. As Brainiac, the band stood out against the grunge explosion with their pawnshopped Moog synthesizers, abundant use of feedback, and Taylor's nonsensical lyrics. They found influence in the erratic rhythms of fellow Ohioians Devo, the noise of Sonic Youth, and the energy of The Nation of Ulysses.

The band were on the precipice of "stardom" (or what classifies as stardom in the indie rock world). While their first two albums were released by Grass Records, they had been snatched up by Touch & Go for their third (and final) release Hissing Prigs in Static Couture. They toured with Lollapalooza and were subsequently invited to open for Beck. When record companies went scrambling to find the "next Nirvana", Brainiac was a sought-after commodity, but days before signing a major label contract, Taylor crashed his green 1977 Mercedes Benz less than a mile from his house, having been poisoned by carbon monoxide. 

Remaining band members — Juan Monasterio, Tyler Trent, former guitarist Michelle Bodine, and most recent guitarist John Schmersal — offer poignant and hilarious stories of their time in the band. Interviews with Taylor's mother and sister are particularly heartwrenching and heartwarming, at the same time. Other luminaries who speak to the brilliance of Brainiac include Steve Albini, Melissa Auf der Maur, Mogwai’s Stuart Braithewaite, Cedric Bixler-Zavala of The Mars Volta and At the Drive-In, Fred Armisen, Matt Berninger of the National, Jim O’Rourke, The Jesus Lizard’s David Yow, and many others. 

Brainiac: Transmissions After Zero will be screening for one night only at the Northwest Film Forum on Friday, October 4th. More information and tickets available here.

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