Black Joe Lewis as seen in the documentary ECHOTONE. Picture courtesy Reversal Films. All rights reserved.

Echotone (2010/2011)

Opened: 09/09/2011 Limited

reRun Theater09/09/2011 - 09/15/20117 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

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Genre: Music Documentary

Rated: Unrated


Internationally known as 'The Live Music Capital of the World,' Austin's music culture has led it to become one of the world's most sought-after destinations. As nearly two dozen high-rises pop up throughout the city amidst economic downfall, how does the working musician get along?

Featuring Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, Belaire, Sunset, The Black Angels, Ghostland Observatory, Dana Falconberry, The Octopus Project and other Austin favorites, this lyrical documentary provides a telescopic view into the lives of Austin's vibrant young musicians as they grapple with questions of artistic integrity, commercialism, experimentation, and the future of their beloved city.

Directed by Nathan Christ and photographed by Robert Garza, Echotone is a cultural portrait of the modern American city examined through the lyrics and lens of its creative class.

Director's Statement

Austin, Texas, is known worldwide as the "Live Music Capital of the World." But what exactly does this mean?

Echotone documents Austin, Texas, over the course of a turbulent year, in which the city's vibrant music culture was being put into question by everyone from the mayor to the working musician playing her first show. We picked up our cameras a few days after the recession hit and just months after the city council organized the Live Music Task Force to 'deal with' what they called the "live music crisis."

Unlike many music documentaries that place the main characters in the context of success or failure, Echotone re-defines the very question of success and artistic integrity. We follow bands as large as Ghostland Observatory, who have made a living solely off of their music without the help of a major label. On the opposite side of the spectrum are ATX cult icons Belaire who, despite their infectiously catchy sounds, refuse to make a dime off their music if they don't have a direct hand in every aspect of production. Then there's Black Joe Lewis, who we captured right as he signed to a major label. By day he is a wage slave, delivering fish, and by night he is a soul revivalist, inciting young fans to throw themselves on stage.

The hero's journey of the film is Bill Baird's, whose popular band Sound Team was signed to Capitol Records and then dropped when the record industry changed in 2007. Bill starts on the bottom, throughout the film, re-discovers his muse, and forms a new band, Sunset, on his own terms.

In 1979, UCLA graduate Penelope Spheeris and a film crew took their 16mm cameras into the ruinous streets of the so-called L.A. punk scene. In her documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, Spheeris depicts a world in a state of near-anarchy, as groups like X, Black Flag, and the Germs blur the lines between rage, politics, poverty, and music. The beauty of her particular form of documentary lies in its confrontation with a particular moment in history, when the future seemed unwritten. Unlike later documentaries about the same period like American Hardcore, Western Civilization is not looking back on an era with rosy-colored glasses. It is made by a fan wanting to dig deeper not only into the music itself, but the surrounding sociological factors, the press, and the upheaval of the American identity proper. It feels unsafe, volatile, alive. The film acts as a primary influence for ours.

Echotone gathers rare interviews with the city's developers, press, fans, managers, skeptics, and independent record company owners to form a tapestry, a collective protagonist. Because the story of the changing city mirrors the internal growth of the musicians we follow, the film tells not only a fascinating story about the way of the modern artist, but reveals a street-level POV of the kaleidoscopic world of Austin, the Live Music Capital of the World.

-- Nathan Christ, Director