Posted by: Necci – Aug 07, 2012
I don’t know about you, but I have been hearing a tremendous amount about 86 Reality for a while now. 86 Reality is a public access television show, airing Tuesday nights at 9 PM on Comcast channel 95, Verizon channel 37, and online at their website, which will attempt to cover all of the most exciting happenings in the RVA music scene right now. This unique approach to archiving local music is fascinating to me. Tonight, they debut their first episode, and I figured I should have a chat with the crew and learn what it is all about.
Where did 86 Reality come from? When did the project start and what were your initial motivations behind it?
We started talking about doing a show at the end of 2010, but it took a while for us to get everything together and do it. JK, Leo and I had just started living together and we were having a couple of beers. We were all expressing to each other in one way or another the feeling that as far as music media is concerned, it seems sometimes there's a lot of coverage that is either really bare--just like, "BAND X is playing at VENUE Y," totally Joe Friday coverage, no context or useful commentary whatsoever. Or on the other end of the spectrum, there's this dumb new media attitude that sounds like a snowboarding cartoon cat so it can entice advertisers, which means it needs to trade on some sort of sense of being cool, all of which we find very alienating and ultimately worthless. We felt like if we approached things from a more journalistic standpoint the show would essentially make itself--after all, anybody who spends any time here will immediately see there's about a half-dozen events on any night of the week to suit virtually any taste. We wanted to do something that was more focused on presenting the bands in a realistic way, without any bullshit clouding what they're trying to get across, and present that to people. It's probably impossible to truly, comprehensively cover everything happening here in town, but that's why we're open to submissions.
For the first crop of bands, did you approach them or did they approach you to participate?
We approached a bunch of acts one at a time and presented each of them with the schedule. We wanted there to be a lot of variety. After everybody picked a date, we asked each of the headliners to tell us who they wanted to play with, then approached all of those acts. Almost everybody said yes, which made it pretty simple.
Canary Oh Canary, appearing on tonight's episode
How did you decide on involving The Nile as a spot for the premiere parties? Also, what was the motivation behind premiering the episode then having said bands perform afterwards?
We were at Nile for a show right after beginning to get footage together; we had just secured the airtime on the station. Chris Pollard, who rules, was bartending and mentioned that his boss had just suggested to him he start programming Tuesday nights there. He mentioned that he was going to run some cheap drinks to get people to come out to the shows. We had already discussed having a live performance on the show and had just started nailing down who was going to do what episode. It seemed natural to take the next step and promote shows to go with the broadcast, so that people who might see the show on TV but might otherwise not know when and where this kind of stuff happens could have an immediate opportunity to come check it out. Plus, Nile used to be Hole In The Wall. It's a nice full-circle kinda opportunity to showcase how much cool stuff is happening here in that particular setting.
When I originally heard about 86 Reality, I had two modes of thought about how you might approach this--either go for an old school, punk feel akin to documentaries like Decline of the Western Civilization, Another State of Mind, or the Minor Threat DVD, or go for a unique space for a band to perform in similar to La Blogotheque. Do either of these examples feel like places that inspired the direction of the project, or do you think you took things in an entirely different direction?
The entire goal here is to showcase live performances from Richmond musicians in a way that is authentic. In some cases we will present stuff in a more intimate setting that we stage, but for the most part, everything on our broadcasts aside from the band that's playing live on the air will have been taped at an actual show. We definitely thought about Decline when we were getting started, but whereas Penelope Spheeris was forced to rent out spaces and simulate live shows because of how impossible it was to just go out and tape a band like Germs, we have the luxury of presenting stuff captured in a live environment, which is in our opinion the best way to experience music. Basically, what we're doing has almost nothing in common with a more narrative documentary, but we are making a conscious effort to try and behave like documentarians.
Just Plain Sounds, appearing on the August 21 episode
How long is the process of shooting and editing the footage? How does that affect how frequently you can do seasons of 86 Reality?
We started production on the first of June. A lot of this first production cycle has been about getting all the infrastructure stuff together to make the actual broadcasts take place--for example, to facilitate the band playing live at the top and bottom of the show, we have to run a video signal from our studio up the street and patch into the board at the public access station, crossing an intersection in the process. Now that we've got all the gear to safely do that, we can basically broadcast a live show from anywhere we can also get power and an internet signal. When you're showcasing music and you don't intend to cut stuff up too much, an hour of programming is actually not that much. Our job is just to make sure the bands get presented in a way they're happy with and to make sure there's a good variety of music that actually reflects what's happening here in town.
I would say that getting the pre-taped parts of the show cut together and onto a chaptered DVD for broadcast probably takes about 15 hours of work on its own. Digitizing and logging all of the footage we've shot is a 1:1 process--everything that we shoot is on VHS cassettes, which we sit and watch back, fix the picture through two hardware processors, then patch into the computer through a VCR with a USB output to be cut for time, have the audio optimized, and be converted into a format we can broadcast. I have a stack of tapes that's probably four feet tall sitting next to my desk right now. The average one holds about two hours of footage, so conservatively, it takes fucking forever. We've been out at shows shooting shoulder-mounted almost every single night or otherwise taping bands at Strange Matter/Nile all summer, and will continue to be, so it's a lot of running. Now that we've sort of got the rhythm of it down, we can work and edit the whole thing together a lot faster.
Bermuda Triangles, appearing on the August 28 episode
With your experiences thus far, how long do you think you will do 86 Reality for?
As long as possible. The guy who manages the public access station, Martin Stith, is a really positive person, and we've discussed the possibility of us popping back onto the station when he has dead time, among some other possibilities. I think that as it stands, the station is set up so that you're only supposed to do six weeks a year of any one show, so that folks have ample opportunity to get at the airtime, which we would love to see more people do! We are going to do as much stuff on there as possible. As it stands, after the show on September 11th, the next thing we're going to do is a live broadcast from Strange Matter on the 22nd, for the autumnal equinox, and that's going to be only on the web through our website, 86reality.com.
Outside of this project, is there anything else that you are involved with that you'd like to mention?
We're all in bands. Leo and I play in a band called Olde Shame where I'm the singer and he plays drums, Tony Lynch who plays drums in Bermuda Triangles is the guitarist in that, and Wilbo from Human Smoke (RIP) is the bassist. Leo's main projects are Flesh Control and Positivland, which he does with Wolfgang from Antlers. JK and I play together in Caves Caverns (I'm the drummer, he's the guitarist,) and JK is also the keyboardist in Lost Tribe and does a solo thing called Thieves of Shiloh. I think that's everything?
Tune in tonight at 9 PM!
Comcast channel 95
Verizon channel 37
Then come out to The Nile (309 N. Laurel St.) for the 86 Reality premiere aftershow, featuring live performances by Canary Oh Canary, Black Liquid, and Charlottesville's Manorlady. Doors open at 10 PM.
By Shannon Cleary