Director discusses capturing Sonic Youth's extraordinary 2007 Glasgow show and why it's taken so long to come to light
Within the space of a week in August 2007, Glasgow audiences were treated to three extraordinary shows of classic American independent rock, as Louisville, Kentucky's Slint and New York City's Sonic Youth both appeared on the stage of the sadly departed ABC on Sauchiehall Street. It was the former group that director Lance Bangs was in Glasgow to work with, but while they were in the city he ended up shooting a film with Sonic Youth, as well; a film documenting the performance in full of their breakthrough fifth album Daydream Nation (1988), which will receive its premiere at this year's Glasgow Film Festival.
'When I was a teenager I would see Sonic Youth perform in a venue called City Gardens in Trenton, New Jersey,' says Bangs of his first interaction with the band, on the phone from Athens, Georgia. 'I started shooting Super 8 and 16mm films of their shows, and I worked with a lot of acts that were colleagues of theirs, like Nirvana and Pavement. In 1995 they headlined the Lollapalooza festival, and I shot a bunch of footage during that tour.'
Shortly afterwards, the filmmaker Spike Jonze was commissioned to make a music video with Sonic Youth and given access to Bangs' collection of footage of them. 'We compiled it together and shared the directing credit on the video for 'The Diamond Sea' in 1995. That was very generous of them … Prior to that I'd just been a personal filmmaker, making my own films in the early 1990s, and after that I started working professionally in music video and with bands.'
Since then, Bangs has become one of the most prolific makers of music videos, live films and artist documentaries of his time, working with names including REM, Moby, Fatboy Slim, the White Stripes, Arcade Fire, Green Day, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and many others (he's also an award-winning commercial director). In the meantime, the footage he shot during those two shows didn't so much languish as take a long, steady time to come to fruition.
'Over the course of their life, Sonic Youth were not a very nostalgic band,' says Bangs. 'Generally they would make a new record every year and perform new material, that was the thing they were most interested in, so it was unusual to see them agree to the challenge from Don't Look Back (a concert strand of the late All Tomorrow's Parties festival, which pioneered the trend for bands revisiting classic albums in full) to perform these songs. They had to go back and listen to the original record, to songs that had never really been performed live, and isolate guitar parts on the master tapes in order to relearn them.'
This short run of Daydream Nation dates was made even more difficult by the fact that most of their original, customised gear had been stolen from a tour van in California in 1999. 'It was an album which saw the band playing longer structures with more complicated intros and outros, and interesting lyrics that have some literary, almost science fiction imagery,' says Bangs. 'This gave it a landscape of its own, and it was an interesting place to go and spend some time. The amount of preparation they had to put into playing that material, it focused them to rethink it and take those songs into an interesting format.'
His own involvement with the filming really was just down to the coincidence of being in the same place at the same time, with a local crew quickly engaged for the shoot, although Bangs is no stranger to Glasgow; he's a friend of Mogwai, has directed videos for Belle & Sebastian, and has visited with his wife Corin Tucker's band Sleater-Kinney. The delayed completion and release has been partly down to Sonic Youth's 2011 split (at the same time as Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, the couple at the centre of the band, separated), but largely down to concern that traditional music DVD outlets like Tower Records appear to be dying out; a streaming release is in the planning.
'Once we hit the 30th anniversary of the release of Daydream Nation (in 2018), we realised there was interest in showing the footage and traveling around doing these events,' says Bangs, who will be in Glasgow with the band's drummer Steve Shelley. 'We've been touring the United States with it, but not playing it in its full form, which we've been saving for the Glasgow Film Festival premiere. It's been a fun way to travel to cities that we enjoy and catch up with people in different areas, and to talk to them and show them what we made.'
Daydream Nation is at Glasgow Film Theatre, Sat 23 Feb; Lance Bangs in Person is at Glasgow Film Theatre, Sun 24 Feb. Part of the Sound & Vision strand of Glasgow Film Festival.