Try This At Home’ suggests just that

Try This At Home
Friday 9:15 p.m.
Guild Theatre
Southwest Park and Taylor

The music and art scene of Olympia, Wash. has long existed in a place uniquely its own in both the Northwest and the world. Revered by some for continuing to function independently of and challenge corporate alternative culture, ridiculed by others for its snobby scenesterism and indie aesthetic, it certainly cannot be ignored. “Try This At Home” attempts to address both sides of this legend and more importantly, suggest that Olympia might not be so unique and that any community committed to expression can carve a niche for itself and be home to a varied and exciting art and music scene.

Although the film was released in 2001, much of the footage presented was filmed in 1997 at Olympia’s YoYo a GoGo festival. YoYo a GoGo was a multi-day festival staged in Olympia attempting to showcase bands from around the world that functioned in independent and challenging ways. That, at least, is my interpretation because the event was never explained in the film – the organizers offered no revelations and the narration is only made up of interviewees who aren’t identified. This gives the event an air of excitement and mystery and allows the festival and the town to reveal itself slowly, open to the viewer’s interpretation.

The documentary opens with a series of shots of the Northwest surrounding Olympia and voiceovers of some of the participants explaining where they came from and how they had traveled. It is a collection of participants who have flown and train hopped, rented cars and hitch hiked. Finally the camera finds a sign: Welcome to Olympia – An All American City, and a participant is asked the perennial “is rock dead” question.

“No,” comes her reply, “just crappy rock.” With that the scene shifts to the stage and Washington, D.C.’s livewire punk/funk agitators the Make Up playing music as exciting as one is ever apt to see.

This is both the problem and the success of this film. The interview segments are never completely fleshed out and there is a large amount of assumption on the filmmakers’ part that the viewer has an understanding of post-Nirvana music politics and the often esoteric debates that occur within “indie” rock circles. Like many attempts to document underground culture with these sort of assumptions it has an insider feel. Although it is trying to invite outsiders in, its main focus is speaking to the converted. However, it is hard not to get excited about the film when the music segments are shown. The performances are immediate, inviting and need no context to rock.

The collection of performers and performances are first rate. The aforementioned Make Up and their front man Ian Svenonius are nearly as much fun to watch on video as they are live, Olympia’s Tight Bros From Way Back When light things up with their take on rock and roll while fellow Olympians the Need rock and challenge. In fact watching the all-boy Tight Bros and their straight ahead AC/DC approach juxtaposed with the Need, an outspoken lesbian artcore duo, says more about why Olympia is special than many of the interview segments. It is the air of acceptance and the width of the playing field that has been carved that makes it more than just a small town that has turned boredom into fuel for an internationally known scene. There is a feeling of closeness.

The feeling begins to sink in among interviewee’s complaints and praises that this was a magical time for many of the participants in Olympia’s scene, and the scene is not as exclusionary as many think it is. The film closes with many of Olympia’s central characters talking about moving on and reinforcing that creativity can happen in any town – and wondering which town will be next.

The film also includes footage of a local flavor. A segment with Elliot Smith sharing the stage with Quasi is fantastic and the footage of profoundly influential Clackamas band Dead Moon in worth the price of admission alone.