Gregory McLaughlin, Randy Rush - The Front
A pair of eye-opening, no-budget documentaries on the (surprisingly great) glam, punk, and new wave music history of Florida have surfaced. These documentaries, primarily focused on the 1980s hyper-obscuro bands of the Miami scene, are a window into a musical history that, probably because of its geographical distance from the rest of the country, has been virtually ignored.
Punk rock historian, and author of the excellent Crate Digger: An Obsession With Punk Records, Bob Suren, who is constantly alerting me to new old bands I’ve never heard, sent me a link to Greg McLaughlin’s You Tube channel—a veritable treasure trove of Florida new wave and punk history. And get this—most of it’s actually really great.
McLaughlin led The Front, an early ‘80s punky, new-wave-ish quintet from Miami, with a sound reminiscent of San Francisco’s The Mutants or John Foxx era Ultravox. These guys were legitimate outsider weirdos who could have been huge if they had been from New York or LA or, hell, even Athens, GA. McLaughlin’s You Tube channel is chock full of clips of The Front as well as other Florida bands that no one north of Tallahassee’s ever heard of. Most of these bands may have released one or two singles if they were lucky. The Front had two.
McLaughlin has collected a lot of this footage, as well as interviews, into two documentaries: Invisible Bands and The Front -The Band That Time Forgot. The former chronicles Florida’s DIY music history from ‘60s garage punk bands through ‘80s new wave, power pop, and punk. The latter deals more specifically with McLaughlin’s own band, The Front, but also delves into the ‘80s Florida music scene, with bands such as The Eat, Cichlids, Screamin’ Sneakers, and Charlie Pickett and the Eggs.
Both documentaries are charmingly “no budget,”—fun in spite of their utter lack of any production value. Both could use a lot of fat-trimming, and would benefit greatly from about 30 minutes worth of cuts each. I think this is a problem film makers often face when they are too close to their subject matter. The Front documentary loses focus about half way through and just starts including footage from loads of ‘80s contemporary local bands. Thankfully, all of the music (from a slew of unknown bands—“Killed By Death” greats, The Eat, are the most famous band featured, if that gives you any frame of reference) is fantastic, even if the document itself is overlong and disjointed. Some of the footage repeats between the two documentaries, and if you’re not a patient person you may find yourself wanting to skim around a bit, but the music is totally worth it. There are some major gems to be unearthed here.
More after the jump…