Sure, San Francisco had an early and notable punk scene, with “star” bands like the Dead Kennedys and Flipper, but across the water in the East Bay was another, scrappier scene. Geographically, it ran from Oakland through Berkeley and north to the smaller hamlets like El Sobrante, Pinole and Rodeo. And while the East Bay didn’t have the flash of a big city like San Fran, it did have cheaper real estate and bored teenagers eager to move their backyard bands into any venue. It also had an influential punk zine, Maximumrockandroll. All this came together in the late 1980s to form, among many other things, two lasting entities: 924 Gilman Street, an all-ages, straight-edge cooperative music venue; and the mega-selling band Green Day. (Members of Green Day produced this film, but they also share footage and tales of their earliest incarnations as teenage punk musicians.)
Corbett Redford’s documentary lays out the narrative of the scene in a two-and-a-half-hour documentary that takes a number of detours into assorted side stories, including zines, legal battles, skinheads, Miranda July, tape comps, girl bands, booking woes and record labels. Plenty of scenesters share stories, like Lookout Records’ Larry Livermore; folks from dozens of bands, large and small; and community members who helped Gilman function. The scene was well documented with DIY media, so there is plenty of archival audio, video and photos.
Despite the grubbiness of the scene, the film has a rosy nostalgia that is an inevitable by-product of middle-aged people looking back at their hilariously awesome weirdo salad days. But there’s a solid case for respect: Not only did Gilman help birth a couple of big bands, but even more importantly, it codified and maintained for decades what we now take for granted as DIY safe spaces for folks to find artistic expression and community. Back in the day, Gilman was nicknamed “the church of punk,” and this is its testament.__