N.Y.C. concertgoers capture footage for new DVD
Aaron Harris/canadian press
Almost two years ago, the Beastie Boys handed video cameras to 50 fans before a Madison Square Garden concert and told them to go wild.
The result, after a year in the editing room, is Awesome; I ... Shot That (the dots replace a deleted expletive), a concert movie the band calls an “official bootleg,” which makes up what it loses in picture quality with the sort of wild, unpredictable energy you can only get from a few thousand people in a room.
Sitting with the band — Adrock (Adam Horovitz), Mike D (Mike Diamond) and MCA (Adam Yauch) — in a downtown hotel the day after the DVD’s release, I marvel that half of those 50 New Yorkers didn’t just disappear with their cameras into the subway.
“I resent that,” says Horovitz, perhaps only half joking. Like any three people who’ve worked together for over two decades, they defy easy transcription, talking over each other and finishing sentences.
“My guess was I thought there’d be about five in the subway, never heard or seen from again,” adds Diamond, “but actually they all brought them back. I won’t say it was strange, but it was not my expectation.”
The concert over, they were faced with well over a hundred hours of footage to sift through. “First thing that I said was I didn’t want to have anything to do with that,” insists Horovitz. “That’s really what I said.”
“That’s when Adam got locked out of the editing room,” adds Diamond. “I was locked out, too, which was fine.” The majority of the actual work was done by Yauch, who has directed many of the band’s videos under the pseudonym Nathanial Hörnblowér. He divided the footage between three editors, who handed in three different rough cuts from which he painstakingly assembled the final film.
The final product is a raucous hymn to cheap technology, and the sort of technological democracy that inspired so much of hip hop and techno, created DJ culture, and powered the downloading revolution that’s violently transforming the music industry. “Cheapness aside,” says Yauch, “whether it’s cheaper or not you still have to spend all that time in post-production figuring out how to put it together.
“But there’s something cool about the attitude of somebody who’s not a trained camera person. They’ll turn the camera on themselves and start singing the lyrics or filming their friends.”
Twenty years ago, I was assigned to cover the band as they promoted their blockbuster License To Ill record with a series of club gigs. In the dressing room before the show, they did their best to live up to their image, bouncing off the walls, when Diamond suddenly sat down and muttered to himself, “Sometimes I have to get so stupid to do this shit.” I recall this to the band, as a way of saying that they’ve far outlived their early expectations.
“See, I resent that as well,” Horovitz says quickly. “So Mike, what are you saying about us? Are we unwise?”
From Paul’s Boutique, their groundbreaking but initially confounding follow-up to License To Ill, they carved a unique place for themselves out of a grey area between hip hop, rock, punk and club music, mostly by taking over total creative control of their music — certainly not the career expected from the three jokers who rode a giant inflatable penis onstage during the License To Ill tour.
“You say that as if it’s a change,” says Yauch, “but that’s really how we started out. If you look at our first punk record, we put together the cover ourselves ... ”
“We do all our ads ourselves ... ” adds Horovitz.
“So it’s kind of like maybe we took a bit of an excursion with License To Ill,” says Yauch, “or we had too much involvement with a lot of other people, and we had to get back to what we were doing.”
“Overall I think we’ve been extraordinarily lucky,” Diamond says. “We had that kind of success with License To Ill, which was a blessing and a curse, but it gave us the ability to make what we wanted to make. People have really left us alone, since they didn’t really understand what we were doing.”