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Electric Purgatory (DVD Review)

23 Jan, 2010 By: Billy Gil

Prebook 1/26/10; Street 2/23/10
$19.99 DVD
Not rated.

Electric Purgatory’s subhead is “the fate of the black rocker,” but it probably should have been “how Fishbone got screwed.”

The documentary includes interviews with black musicians and journalists who discuss, in an enlightening way, how rock was spawned of blues and how subsequent developments in rock largely have roots in black music, with white musicians taking most of the glory. I was impressed the filmmakers were able to garner the rights to enough music to make the discussion work, including Jimi Hendrix.

The documentary focuses a lot of time on alternative-funk pioneers Fishbone, and the anecdotes are interesting, such as how the band was told they had to change their sound while touring at Lollapalooza while tourmates Red Hot Chili Peppers scored big with a watered-down version of their sound.

But I wish Electric Purgatory went a little deeper into how black musicians have been held back by promoters, record executives and corporate radio. The best thing the documentary does is give airtime to some voices and music that are often overlooked, such as Eddie Hazel (Parliament-Funkadelic), Living Colour, Bad Brains and Shuggie Otis.

I would have liked the film to focus more on the positive impact black musicians have had on artistic music — mentioning Linkin Park and 311 doesn’t help. It’s great to see ?uestlove (The Roots) and Cody Chesnutt get their deserved time, but there are a host of black musicians in independent music making acclaimed and beloved music right now, such as Lansing-Dreiden, Res, Oxbow, Solange Knowles (sister of Beyoncé) and, most glaringly omitted, magazine-cover stealing TV on the Radio.

And why no praise for hip-hop, the most revolutionary and successful new genre of music since punk rock, or a discussion of successful, unclassifiable hip-hop/rock crossover acts such as OutKast, who basically are the Prince of their generation? Not to mention Cee-lo (Gnarls Barkley), Mos Def (Black Star), Erykah Badu and N.E.R.D.

There’s a good point made in Electric Purgatory about how difficult it is to sustain an audience for black rock music. Hopefully this documentary will help more black musicians find and keep the audiences they deserve.

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