I’ve always found it a bit frustrating just how little attention a lot of pioneering musicians get from the music press. Every year the major music magazines and documentary channels wheel out stuff concerning the usual suspects like Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Doors and Nirvana while other equally important bands and artists’ stories are lost in the annals of history. For me it’s always refreshing when something like Autoluminescent comes along and sheds some light on a often overlooked artist like Roland S Howard.
Despite widespread acclaim from contemporaries such as Sonic Youth‘s Thurston Moore, My Bloody Valentine‘s Kevin Shield and “ageing alternative rock star” Henry Rollins, Howard received very little praise from critics. Howard often spent most his time in the shadow of those he played with notably Lydia Lunch and Nick Cave further adding to his plight of being overlooked. Despite widespread fame escaping him Howard’s influence on alternative music is undeniable. His discordant and twisted style of guitar forever changed music paving the way for a lot of unconventional and experimental players to be taken seriously. Prior to his death Howard finally received some of that elusive acclaim with his excellent 2009 solo album Pop Crimes.
After enjoying Dogs In Space director Richard Lowenstein’s documentary on the early days of Melbourne’s punk scene We’re Living On Dog Food (which can be found on the extras on Umbrella’s great 2 disc set of Dogs In Space) I was eager to check out Autoluminescent to see if he did as much justice to Howard’s story.
The documentary didn’t disappoint at all and is a well crafted comprehensive look into both his life and work. Autoluminescent is one of the best documentaries of its type I’ve seen in quite some time. Unfolding in chronological order beginning with his involvement with The Young Charlatans, The Boys Next Door and their eventual transformation into The Birthday Party. The documentary then moves onto Crime & The City Solution, his work with Lydia Lunch, These Immortal Souls and his solo output.
Autoluminescent is a frank recollection of the events that shaped Howard’s life with no sugar coating the hard times of drug addiction, depression and crushed hopes. Interweaved between these recollections are readings from Howard’s unpublished manuscript entitled Etceteracide which was definitely a nice touch. The thing I enjoyed the most about Autoluminescent was how it had a good balance of music and archival footage. Too often these kinds of documentaries talk more about the music than actually playing any. Lowenstein has mixed it just right without favouring one over the other instead using both effectively to compliment each other. I dug how we got to hear Howard’s take on events from both during the time as well as from the time of filming. Quite sombre at times but enthralling throughout Autoluminescent was an excellent watch.
Needless to say this is essential viewing for fans of Howard’s music. A candid and respectful eulogy to one of music’s unique visionaries.
* Retail release not reviewed, extras are unknown.
Autoluminescent is available on DVD from Umbrella Entertainment.