New documentary highlights NYC recording space BC studio, making its Philly debut at PhilaMOCA

Martin Bisi | photo via
Martin Bisi | photo via

Back in the early ‘80s in New York, the early hip-hop scene was evolving in the Bronx while no wave and experimental jazz groups were making noise in the East Village. But the only place where those two disparate worlds met was in the labyrinthine basement of an old factory building along the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. For more than thirty years, this space has been the home of BC Studio, where producer Martin Bisi has charted the evolution of NYC’s underground music scene(s), recording such disparate artists as Sonic Youth, Afrika Bambaataa, Swans, Cop Shoot Cop, Herbie Hancock, John Zorn, and Helmet.

The space is the subject of a new documentary, Sound and Chaos: The Story of BC Studio, which will have its Philadelphia premiere on Monday at PhilaMOCA. The screening will be followed by a Q&A and liver performance by Bisi.

Bisi co-founded the studio with bassist/producer Bill Laswell in 1980 as a home for Laswell’s amorphous band/project/production team Material, with funds contributed by Brian Eno. It has since become a destination for artists of a more experimental bent and can be found in the credits for albums that would seem to have nothing else in common other than Bisi’s presence – Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit,” Sonic Youth’s Bad Moon Rising and Evol, Naked City’s Torture Garden, and most of Swans’ best work.

“I don’t turn down any opportunity to talk about what I do or what I have done,” says Bisi about agreeing to the documentary. “A lot of musicians have an entrenched taboo about self-promotion. Fame is sort of a bad word for artists, but unless I’m a little more famous than I was three weeks ago, then I’m not having a career.”

Directors Sara Leavitt and Ryan C. Douglass were working on short internet videos and in the market for a longer project when they met Bisi through a mutual friend. “When we heard about all the stuff that had happened at his studio and all the albums that had been recorded there, it seemed like a good story,” Leavitt explains.

Many of the artists who have recorded in the studio over the years are interviewed for the film, including Laswell and members of Sonic Youth, Dresden Dolls, Swans, and Foetus. But more than the history of a single studio, Bisi insists, “This is a story about New York City. I feel very passionate about New York City and believe that it has an amazing chemistry for a lot of complex reasons. I’ve been saying for a decade and a half that it takes more to break New York City than closing down a punk rock bar on Bowery.” Continue reading →