Musical underbelly
Bob Fass (front), subject of Paul Lovelace & Jessica Wolfson’s RADIO UNNAMEABLE in his WBAI studio with Abbie Hoffman. Picture: Robert Altman.

On John Lennon's classic 1971 album Imagine, there exists, in the midst of otherwise gentle-spirited and often humorous songs, one particularly cranky tune called Gimme Some Truth, in which Lennon snarls: "I'm sick and tired of hearing things from uptight, short-sighted, narrow- minded hypocrites . . . All I want is the truth/just gimme some truth."

The song was a call-out to condescending politicians but it was also a general lament against sycophants and chauvinists and all the "straights" of the world who preferred to be lied to rather than to hear an unpalatable truth. Despite himself being a multi-millionaire, Lennon's lyrics still suggested a passionately rebellious underground spirit.

It's a fitting title, then, for RTR FM's first music documentary festival, in which nine very different films celebrate outsiders, rule- breakers, the marginalised and the unheralded of the music world.

What you won't get with any of these films, screening this weekend at Luna Outdoor, is the type of sanitised, PR-controlled vanity exercises that pop stars such as Katy Perry, Beyonce and One Direction are fond of foisting on their fans.

These are warts-and-all studies - not just of musical achievement, but also of musical failure. From punk to grunge to hip-hop, from Aboriginal reggae to death- metal, Gimme Some Truth is an excursion into the underbelly of the music industry.

The festival kicks off with Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton, a feature- length documentary on underground hip-hop label Stones Throw Records. Based out of Los Angeles and founded by DJ Peanut Butter Wolf, the label has some pretty heavy- hitting fans - even the much-maligned Kanye West makes a brief appearance - and has built a reputation for discovering and developing new artists who draw more on the early 80s hiphop of De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest than the harder-edged gangster rap that dominated the 1990s.

Another highlight of the program is Radio Unnameable, a tribute to legendary New York DJ Bob Fass, whose program first aired on American radio station WBAI in 1963. Fass has had a remarkable radio career but it hasn't all been smooth sailing. Throughout the 1960s, Radio Unnameable became the program most closely associated with the American counterculture, featuring interviews with the likes of Abbie Hoffman, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg and even members of the radically militant Black Panthers.

The program is now commonly referred to as the first piece of "free-form radio", an eccentric melange of talk-back debate, live music, political speeches, poetry recitations, and sometimes long silences or, conversely, the cacophony of multiple conversations.

All this was fine and dandy in the permissive and experimental 60s, but the 1970s were a different kettle of fish. Fass stepped down in 1977 over management demands to tone down the left-wing political content of his program, and did not return until 1982. Still going strong more than three decades later, Fass has been described as "a midwife at the birth of the counter culture".

"Counter-culture" is a phrase tied to the heady days of the 1960s. It was later replaced by the idea of "alternative culture", an all-embracing term for anyone who didn't observe the rules of mainstream society. "Alternative music" could mean anything from punk to grunge to death metal.

A Band Called Death traces the brief but impactful history of a Detroit group now regarded by many as the first black

punk band (if not the first punk band - in existence between 1974 and 1977, they predated the Sex Pistols or The Ramones).

On the Australian front, Blokes You Can Trust documents the life and times of "yobbo punk" band The Cosmic Psychos, a band Pearl Jam and Nirvana both cited as an influence, while Wrong Side of the Road, first released in 1981, fictionalises the tumultuous times of Adelaide-based Aboriginal bands Us Mob and No Fixed Address, who had a loyal local following but often found themselves on the wrong side of the law.

Nostalgia buffs will love Frydey at the Hydey, a low- budget paean to the now-defunct North Perth live music institution The Hyde Park Hotel, while lovers of hard rock will undoubtedly be drawn to Such Hawks Such Hounds, a comprehensive survey of American metal, drone and psychedelic rock since the 70s.

Gimme Some Truth: RTRFM's Music Documentary Festival is at Luna Leederville from Friday until Sunday. Check rtrfm.com.au or lunapalace.com.au for the full program.

The West Australian

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