Reunion at The Birthday Massacre

I was the source of the Birthday Massacre bootleg. That’s not really a secret. Far more interesting is what it reminds us about technology.

Back in 2006, I was seeing a band called The Birthday Massacre (TBM) on tour regularly. I mean, like clockwork. A few friends and I would meet all around the world at shows. It was a fascinating group of unemployed/freelance/miscreants. I had a fancy little web company and detested college. I traveled with a mysteriously wealthy girl who sported snakebites. There was an aspiring doctor, a few hot Canadian girls, and this weirdo with a top hat & roller shoes everyone called “Bootleg Greg.” Sure, why the fuck not.

I like to think it looks like a grind house movie. Let’s stick with that.

We got to know each other really well through these spontaneous encounters in various cities. None of us really liked playing tourist on the road. I don’t remember so much as going for lunch — instead we’d sit around in hotels and parking lots outside venues carrying on for hours. The group wasn’t just TBM fans but also tech and film enthusiasts. We began experimenting with different ways to record the band live, and one of the more successful occurrences was the footage I recently returned to.

This was less than a decade ago, but it’s amazing how different technology was then. YouTube was barely functional, and their video quality was even worse than it is today (if you can believe that). The site was also entirely clips. No one was using it for web series or films. There were two major problems: users didn’t have fast enough connections and high quality equipment was still relatively expensive.

Chibi (singer), Aslan (bass)

In this moment before the video revolution, we captured a show. TBM didn’t have any full-length performances online; they barely had videos of full songs. I wanted everyone to see this band that inspired me to make things. Many people on the forums couldn’t go to shows like we did, and they were just as diehard as anyone. We wanted to share the experience with them. Maybe the Internet wasn’t ready for a high quality video database yet, but we knew it was just a matter of time. We were impatient.

The Dream

We had built a fan site, and started exchanging and posting videos on it. At the time it was still just a song here or there, but the videos looked less terrible than YouTube’s live clips. Our idea of a video archive was slowly turning into a reality, and we were all becoming more ambitious. I wanted to push the quality even further. There was still a divide between Internet video and real concert film. I wanted the kind of DVD you’d buy at a Tower Records.

Man, would my younger self be happy reading that. DVD at Tower Records. As it turned out, what I worked on next outlasted both DVD and Tower Records.

I had decided to make a concert film without knowing anything about film making. I thought, “It’s like our little bootlegs, just bigger.” I had lots of footage, but at that point I’d never edited or made anythign resembling a movie. Every day the technology became more accessible though, and if there was anything I knew it was technology. Would being a programmer make me a better editor? Maybe not, but it made learning through trial and error much faster. At that point, it was just a matter of persistence.

I wasn’t working with much. I had miserable sound and one camera angle—not exactly the makings of a concert film. On top of having no clue how to edit, I was dealing with a single continuous shot. I knew that I wanted this to play as if it was seamless, but there were pieces I wanted to cut and hide. The end product needed to feel polished. I would later come to realize editing is always this kind of creative problem solving. There was so much to do, but it was starting to look like a neat list of engineering problems. It felt like something I was capable of.

I locked myself away for a week and did nothing but edit. Actually that’s a lie…I took breaks from editing to watch the special features on Robert Rodriguez DVDs. Rodriguez always did so much with very little time or budget, he was a perfect companion as I stumbled through my first edit. He gave me my fake multicam idea, which was the key to everything. I continued to refine and develop the method as I worked.

Video Kid

When the DVD was finished, I made 25 copies and numbered their individually-drawn covers. I wanted the DVD to look professional, but I didn’t want to look like I was trying to sell it. I gave the copies to the band and put a “making of” video online. People loved that little video. Their manager encouraging me to post the concert, and the reaction was awesome. I was getting comments about the concept, comments in other languages from countries where TBM had never even played. I was also getting a lot of weird sexual comments about the singer’s feet. The Internet is a fascinating place.

Michael Rainbow. That’s his legal name. My legal name is Eric Thirteen. He was born with his.

It’s been nine years since I shot that hidden-camera style footage and learned how to edit. Today, YouTube is filled with bootlegs and cell phone videos. I wasn’t alone in my completionistic need to document and database. I came across the videos late last year and noticed people are still watching them. On a giant site with infinite HD recordings, people are still watching my little amateur bootleg. I decided to take some time off from my other projects — I’ve since started working in film — and revisit the footage I first learned on.

Walking with Strangers

That was last week. I locked myself away again, now armed with a better understanding of color and sound. Truth be told, the editing’s all the same skills. I’m in FCPX now, but anyone having a flame war about software doesn’t really understand editing. It’s not about the scissors, it’s about what you do with them. I don’t even really have to say that, right? The technology has learned how to stay out of our way more then ever before. It’s beautiful.

I went back to the very ideas I had back then, and polished them with everything I’ve learned. I put together a high resolution recreation of the original paper bag cover, complete with my crappy rushed sketch of their logo (I can’t believe I drew 25 of those front to back by hand). I dusted off TBMChicago.com and posted my fresh little bootleg for free.

I haven’t talked to my counter-culture-Canadian-band friends in some time, but I’d like to think this would make them smile. I’m so thankful to have had them as the unwitting launch board I needed into the film industry. Also, thanks for not suing me you guys.

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