Decibels Film Festival is All Films About Music…and it’s Almost Here!

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The upcoming first Decibels Music Film Festival (hereafter, “dB Film Fest”) promises to be the music documentary version of a trip to Amoeba Music. The 25 films dB Film Fest will show both online and in-theater from October 27 to November 7, 2021 features such music genres as rave, synthwave, rap, fado, and jazz. They will see everything from a high school band reforming decades later for a gig in Japan, to an autobiographical musical about recovering from a suicide attempt, to Afghan refugee rock and rollers trying to do a concert in Afghanistan. They’ll even see a film about Kenny G (no kidding). Stuart, our Editor in Cheap, is particularly excited about Vinyl Nation, a documentary about the resurgence of vinyl records in the United States.

Who’s bringing viewers dB Film Fest? Why, it’s the insanely cool folks of SF Indie Fest. For those agonizing over the wait until February 2022 for the venerable Noise Pop Festival and its film sidebar, dB Film Fest might be what they need. After the DNA Lounge kickoff, viewers can catch some of the festival films via in-person screenings at the Roxie Theater or catch all of them online via Eventive. 

The Rise Of The Synths Poster

The live in-person part of dB Film Fest kicks off on October 27 with the premiere of The Rise Of The Synths at the DNA Lounge.  What do you get when you mix 1980s pop nostalgia with underground electronic music?  The answer is synthwave.  This documentary shows how this new underground music genre arose in the mid-2000s with the help of MySpace.  Drawing inspiration from such 1980s pop culture sources as movies, TV shows, and video games, music composers around the world have taken synthesizer-based music in new directions.  Viewers will have heard examples of synthwave if they’ve ever seen such films and TV shows as “Drive,” “Ready Player One,” “Stranger Things,” or “GLOW.”   Will future synthwave work be bigger and better or will it become grist for future muzak pieces?  Maybe some answers can be found in this film narrated by 1980s O.G. genre film director John Carpenter.

Another film helping to open dB Film Fest may make viewers momentarily wonder if the SF Indie Film folks have lost their minds.  It’s a documentary about the musically polarizing smooth jazz saxophone player Kenny G.  Fortunately, Listening To Kenny G comes from the far from lightweight SF DocFest Non-Fiction Vanguard Award recipient Penny Lane.  Her previous films include “The Pain Of Others” (a compilation of YouTube vlogs made by sufferers of Morgellon’s disease) and “Hail Satan!” (a look at the history of The Satanic Temple).  This new film asks viewers to consider their reactions to Kenny G’s music.  Is he a cultural touchstone?  Is he someone who successfully creates sonic wallpaper?  Or is the popular saxophone player yet another white person who’s prospered from stealing Black culture?  Lane’s not going for right or wrong answers, just digging into what people feel about this smooth jazz maker and why.

Watching the TV series “Reservation Dogs” will not prepare dB Film Fest goers for  learning about the heavy metal scene on Navajo reservations.  The documentary Rez Metal follows the fairy-tale story of the heavy metal band I Don’t Konform.  Lead singer Kyle Felter sent a band demo to Grammy Award-winning Metallica producer Flemming Rasmussen.  Who knew that act would eventually lead to these Navajo musicians recording their first album at an iconic Danish studio? 

Did you know there’s a punk scene in Jakarta, Indonesia?  As the documentary A Punk Daydream shows, young Indonesian punks may seek individual freedom.  But their subculture is stigmatized by both society and the youngsters’ families.  What’s the connection between these punks and the local traditional tribes which live in harmony with nature?

If you’ve never heard of Angelo Moore of the band Fishbone, then you’re culturally deprived.  Moore masterfully fused ska, punk, funk, reggae, and soul in his music.  Other people may have prospered off Moore’s musical ideas, but anybody worth their musical salt knows who deserves the real creative credit.  Now this preacher of nonconformity gets more of his cinematic due in the documentary ForeverMoore: The Angelo Project.

Rez metal

Holding the dB Film Fest Centerpiece slot is a documentary that comes fresh from the Mill Valley Film Festival.  Like A Rolling Stone: The Life & Times Of Ben Fong-Torres is a portrait of the legendary Rolling Stone magazine music writer and the publication’s first music editor.  But the film is more than an exploration of a key figure who helped establish rock and roll as part of mainstream American culture.  The viewer learns how someone born in San Francisco’s Chinatown with only a radio to link him to the outside world eventually became someone who hung with the likes of Annie Liebovitz, Cameron Crowe, and Sir Elton John.  

One of the things that made San Francisco a great place to be back in the 1990s were the weekly underground rave parties.  On weekends, young people would gather in abandoned warehouses, on the beach, or even the middle of nowhere to dance the night away to the music played by famous San Francisco DJs.  The locally-made feature film Groove did a great job of capturing this underground world on film.  Celebrate the film’s 20th anniversary by seeing once again this fictional recreation of one unforgettable rave and the two brothers changed by that party.

Bay Area vocalist and researcher Laurie Amat heard the theory that in 1939, the Nazis managed to convince people to change worldwide the standard frequency of the A tone from 432 to 440 Hertz.  This may sound like an innocuous alteration.  But that pitch, which is still being used today, would supposedly make the masses more aggressive and easier to manipulate.  Follow Amat’s journey to learn how much of that theory is true and how much is paranoid imagining in the documentary Oh, It Hertz!  Along the way, you might not look at broadcast sound the same way again.      

Is it possible to wage revolution while in exile?  In the documentary The Story Won’t Die, a rapper, a dancer, a visual artist, and a post-rock musician have all fled their home country as a result of the Syrian uprising.  They’ve relocated to different parts of Europe.  But they’re all united by their determination to use their art to resist the Syrian government from abroad. 

oh, it hertz!

Closing out the inaugural dB Film Fest is the documentary The Forbidden Strings.  It’s a portrait of a rock band so dedicated to rocking out that they’re willing to travel into the heart of a war-torn country.  Meet Arikain. By day, they’re a band of young Afghan refugees working as day laborers in Iran.  By night, they dream of becoming rock stars.  Part of that dream involves performing their first concert at the Bamyan music festival, which takes place in the homeland they’ve never seen…Afghanistan.  However, there are problems ranging from anti-music families to lack of financial resources to traversing a Taliban-controlled road to get to the music festival.

dB Film Fest has other offerings that will take viewers to such places as Lisbon, Japan, an anonymous Midwestern suburb, and even the International Space Station.  Come for the films, but stay for the experience of having your musical horizons stretched in entertaining ways.

(To order tickets for individual dB Film Fest films, go here.)

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Peter Wong

Peter Wong

I've been reviewing films for quite a few years now, principally for the online publication Beyond Chron. My search for unique cinematic experiences and genre dips have taken me everywhere from old S.F. Chinatown movie theaters showing first-run Jackie Chan movies to the chilly slopes of Park City. Movies having cat pron instantly ping my radar.