This year marks the 30th anniversary of Athens, GA – Inside/Out, the documentary and accompanying soundtrack that captured a brief-but-fruitful moment in the legendary music community’s history. Nostalgic to many marking middle age, the performances and participating performers, with a notable exception or two, may be lost on younger audiences. Here’s a primer:
The Squalls – A bit older than its Inside/Out contemporaries, the Squalls incorporated true folk sounds and instrumentation into quirky power pop arrangements. The band long ago called its quits, but some of the songs, such as the fan favorite Elephant Radio, found new life in founder Bob Hay’s kid-focused project Noogeez.
Flat Duo Jets – Before the White Stripes and Black Keys, there were Flat Duo Jets. While this North Carolina act only called Athens home briefly, the guitar-and-drums duo made an indelible and lasting impression with its unhinged rockabilly blues.
R.E.M. – Inside/Out marks an interesting moment for the most famous sons of Athens. While certainly the most recognizable act in the movie and on the soundtrack, the band, yet to become arena rock staples, still faced a future far from certain.
That didn’t last long.
Love Tractor – A true Athens favorite, Love Tractor was the band R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills almost defected from R.E.M. to join. Unique in that it was almost exclusively an instrumental group, the band garnered a small legion of faithful fans based on the strength of its live performances and unique rock arrangements.
Kilkenny Cats – While Athens was building a reputation for producing acts that went jingle jangle, the Cats opted to embrace the power chord instead. The band’s engaging big hook rock made the band a loud local favorite.
Time Toy – Oddball, but infinitely danceable, arrangements, spoken word-style vocals and a paucity of recorded material meant Time Toy never had the kind of commericial success enjoyed by some of its Inside/Out brethren. That said, no band represented the art-for-its-own-sake ethos of Athens as fully as this local favorite.
Pylon – Although Pylon had officially disbanded – for the first of three times – prior to the Inside/Out experience, it was still very much a part of the Athens DNA. Cited as an influence by bands big and small, Pylon’s combination of dubby basslines, rock energy and art school originality provided a template for many of the Athens acts that followed.
Dreams So Real – Heavily influenced by the psychedelic sounds of the ‘60s and the Paisley Underground movement, Dreams So Real took a more studies approach to rock music. The result was a band that not only found some fame as a live act, but also became one of Athens’s more comfortable studio acts.
Bar-B-Que Killers – While most music fans looked north to Minnesota or toward urban areas such as Los Angeles and New York for its punk rock, Athens was well-represented by the incendiary Bar-B-Que Killers. A band both shocking and engaging, the band’s infamous live shows were equal parts party and call-to-arms.