It’s 1990 in Austin, Texas. The next decade will be a tipping point in the city’s metamorphosis from sleepy college town to major city. Beneath the increasingly slick exterior, though, a group of like-minded contrarians were reimagining an underground music scene. Embracing a do-it-yourself ethos, record labels emerged to release local music, zines cheered and jeered acts beneath the radar of mainstream media outlets, and upstart clubs provided a home venue for new bands to build their sound. And boy howdy, did the underground music scene produce some EPIC music videos.
We asked Greg Beets and Richard Whymark to curate a selection of music videos from the Austin underground music scene in the ’90s, a scene they document in the book A Curious Mix of People. Hitting shelves in October, the book is an oral history that tells the story of this transformative decade through the eyes of the musicians, writers, DJs, club owners, record-store employees, and other key figures who were there.
Mark your calendars, Austin! Come out to the Austin Central Library on Saturday, October 21 for the book launch event in partnership with The Library Foundation and featuring the authors in conversation with Laurie Gallardo and Carrie Clark!
10 Notable Austin Underground Music Videos from the 1990s
By Greg Beets and Richard Whymark
Before the democratization of production tools, making a music video for an unknown band without ample record company support was an extra-steep climb. From film to equipment to post-production facilities, almost everything about the endeavor was prohibitively expensive and/or difficult. Nevertheless, a bumper crop of rocking televisual delights emerged from Austin during the 1990s.
There were a few things in the water that helped facilitate this: a burgeoning community of local filmmakers that commingled with musicians and shared the same scrappy DIY sensibility; a large university with film students needing subject matter for class projects; and a cable TV franchise agreement that funded one of the most vibrant public access programs in the U.S. And then there was the Austin Music Network, a perennially underfunded enterprise launched by the city to promote local music that lasted in one form or another from 1994 to 2005.
Many of the most memorable music videos of the era were produced by a loose collective of local filmmakers who called themselves the Administration. Members included Heyd Fontenot, Kerthy Fix, Matthew Richardson, Walton Rowell, and John Spath. The group worked together on each other’s productions, finding spare film at the end of a day’s shoot here or open hours in an editing bay there to deliver the best-looking product for the lowest cost possible.
From live in-studio performances to a psychotronic short subject, here’s a quick survey of the nineties Austin music video landscape.
Director: Heyd Fontenot (1995)
Filmed late at night at a house on West Street near UT, Fontenot and producer Kerthy Fix visualize Sincola’s twisted pop sensibility through a series of titillating vignettes involving negligees, long johns, Barbie dolls, Vaseline, and light paddling. The video also features a slew of cameos from contemporary fellow travelers like Gretchen Phillips (Two Nice Girls), Darcee Douglas (Power Snatch), and Dotty Farrell (Swine King).
“Idea,” Sixteen Deluxe
Director: Walton Rowell (1995)
The video for this fuzz-pop rocket subtly captures all the charms of Sixteen Deluxe’s around-the-town sensibility. Vintage tube amps and distortion pedals share screen time with the band, who are seen performing in the windowed corner of a shabby old Austin rent house that has almost certainly since been razed or renovated with a price tag in the high six or low seven figures.
“Barf Baby,” Fuckemos
Director: Matt Richardson (1996)
John Waters once said having someone vomit while watching his films was like receiving a standing ovation. With that in mind, this gut-checker shot on location in the original Austin Emo’s bathroom earns curtain calls with multiple episodes of projectile spewing and a guest appearance from Blue Flamingo owner Miss Laura on drums.
“Who Is My Shman?” Fuckemos
Director: Bob Ray (1999)
Bob Ray’s 1999 movie Rock Opera reads like a fin de siècle document of a subset of cheap life in Austin revolving around music and marijuana. This tie-in video makes good use of the film’s tag, in which Miss Laura hosts a RuPaul-predating “drag race” in which contestants run from bar to bar doing shots. The late Chad Holt, the subject of Ray’s 2010 documentary Total Badass, also features prominently.
Director: Nick Smith (1995)
Despite their predilection for extreme prurience, Crust actually found the title of this song in a legitimate public health pamphlet about the nation’s most reported sexually transmitted disease. The video pays homage to the classroom scare films of the sixties and seventies with oversaturated hues to match the noise-rock trio’s eardrum swab.
“Karate,” (Live on “CapZeyeZ”) Squat Thrust
Director: Dave Prewitt (1998)
During the nineties, the best shot most Austin bands had at getting on television was through one of Dave Prewitt’s public-access shows. CapZeyeZ and rAw TiMe brought hundreds of bands into unsuspecting local living rooms. Few were as pungently fists-up as Squat Thrust, with Jimmy Bradshaw offering spandex-enhanced guitar heroics and the late Wade Longenberger on bass and tassels.
“Weirdo Song,” Ed Hall
Director: Heyd Fontenot (1995)
Before the 1996 murder of JonBenét Ramsey brought child beauty pageants into the wider cultural consciousness, you could often find them airing on local public-access TV. Fontenot recreates this vibe to such a degree that it’s hard to believe you’re not watching vaguely harrowing found footage. No extra commentary is needed beyond Ed Hall’s hypnotic, bottom-heavy squall.
“The Collegians Are Go!” The Collegians
Directors: Dean Collegian, PhD and Chuck Collegian, MA (1997)
Clocking in at 24 minutes, this is the “Thriller” of nineties Austin music videos. Shabby garage rock trio the Collegians go head-to-head with their three-piece nemesis Los Tigres Guapos while simultaneously doing black-and-white B-movie battle in Dallas against a zombie JFK roaming around Dealey Plaza. Filmed in Gerald Ford-O-Vision (no special glasses needed). King of the Hill fans: look—and listen—for a cameo from the late Johnny Hardwick.
“Not Turning Off,” Spoon
Director: Brett Vapnek (1996)
This backhanded celebration of insomnia is one of the highlights of Spoon’s debut LP, Telephono. Vapnek captures the disoriented wooze by alternating between grainy color and kinescopic black and white. The band is seen in performance and driving through the night. Extra credit to the director for including footage of Britt Daniel using a gas pump with a reeled numerical display, a location scouting feat of derring-do even back in 1996.
Director: Matthew Richardson (1995)
Here we find Starfish rocking themselves into contortions in the most natural of band habitats: a low-rent practice space. You can almost smell the stale beer soaked into the carpet as the camera catches glimpses of an Elvis tapestry and Kiss posters adorning the walls. If footage of the last proper porno theater in Austin doesn’t make you nostalgic, seeing a woman diving off cliffs into Barton Creek when the water is flowing will.