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A BAND CALLED DEATH Rockumentary Trailer

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A new rockumentary claims that before the resurgence of the punk movement with the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, a band called Death preceded those bands as the first punk band. 

A BAND CALLED DANCE DEATH chronicles the 70s band formed by three black teens from Detroit who couldn't get a record contract in the era of disco and Motown, but they have recently been discovered by a new generation. Check out these little gem that is currently available for download at the official site for the film at drafthousefilms.com/film/a-band-called-death.  The film will also be showing at select theaters throughout the summer. For dates and theater locations, go here drafthousefilms.com/now-playing.

 

Synopsis

Before Bad Brains, the Sex Pistols or even the Ramones, there was a band called Death. Punk before punk existed, three teenage brothers in the early '70s formed a band in their spare bedroom, began playing a few local gigs and even pressed a single in the hopes of getting signed. But this was the era of Motown and emerging disco. Record companies found Death’s music— and band name—too intimidating, and the group were never given a fair shot, disbanding before they even completed one album. Equal parts electrifying rockumentary and epic family love story, A Band Called Death chronicles the incredible fairytale journey of what happened almost three decades later, when a dusty 1974 demo tape made its way out of the attic and found an audience several generations younger. Playing music impossibly ahead of its time, Death is now being credited as the first black punk band (hell...the first punk band!), and are finally receiving their long overdue recognition as true rock pioneers.

Directors’ Statement

When we originally set out to make A Band Called Death, our intention was to document an important missing link in the genesis of Punk Rock music. What began as a film about a band ultimately became a 40 year history of a family, a tale of the bonds of brotherhood and a journey to musical enlightenment. Our “rockumentary” grew into something much more, something that transcends the music. And, at the forefront of this untold story was an innovator, a man who had a vision and the conviction to stick to that vision. Even when his beliefs jeopardized the band's success, he stayed true to his ideals and his brothers stayed by his side. This man was David Hackney, and it was through his tenacity and belief in the band that we found the core of our story. David predicted that the world would come looking for his music someday. We’re just happy and honored that we were there to document it. - Mark Covino & Jeff Howlett

Production Notes

DEATH LIVES!!!:

How Three Brothers from Detroit Changed the World in 1973... and No One Noticed Until Now A Band Called Death is a documentary 42 years in the making. It’s one of the most unlikely true stories you’ll ever hear, and one of the greatest triumphs in rock history. Detroit, 1971. Teenagers Bobby and Dannis Hackney had watched as their brother David became overwhelmingly possessed by rock n’ roll. The dawn of the the new decade had brought a massive shift in youth culture, and its shrieking feedback and cosmic consciousness had reached all the way to the Hackney home. The boys had already dabbled in playing funk music, but David convinced Dannis and Bobby that they could channel the same lawless chaos of favorite acts like The Who, Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones. After they attended a particularly thunderous Alice Cooper performance, the Hackneys’ group “Rock Fire Funk Express” would gradually transform into an entirely different band. A band called DEATH. The name was confrontational, but David’s intent was simply to acknowledge mortality as part of the greater human experience; a component of our existence. Following the premature passing of their father, David explained that the name was exceptionally powerful because “death is REAL.”

This was just one of his countless visionary viewpoints, all of which carried through in the band’s lyrics, aesthetic and unprecedented style. And while most of the music was set at impossibly aggressive tempos, Death’s messages were fueled by a nigh-metaphysical search for truth rather than simple delinquent rage. Unfortunately, that distinction was often lost on friends and family, who steeled themselves in preparation for the band’s deafening daily practice sessions. Earl Hackney recalls covering his ears downstairs while his younger brothers blasted out their “white boy music.” Passing neighbors would stop and marvel at the commotion coming from inside. But the trio was undeterred, and eventually shaped their sound into something tight, compelling, and formidably unique. Death’s rampaging drive was clearly “punk”... despite the fact that the Ramones or the Sex Pistols were still years from striking their first power chord. Armed with a home-recorded demo, Death set out to various local studios and landed at the front desk of Groovesville Productions.

The Motor City had already enjoyed a well-documented legacy of musical innovation, but when Groovesville’s Brian Spears first heard the Hackneys’ tape, he instantly recognized it as something impossibly new. An agreement was reached and the band soon laid down their debut album at Detroit’s historic United Sounds studio. The recording was a masterpiece. The only problem was that it remained almost completely unheard. Label executives would tear open the submission envelope, see the band’s name and immediately discard the demo. After months of these unwarranted rejections, mighty record mogul Clive Davis reached out to the group with an offer... if they agreed to change their name. David flatly said no and the deal was off. The band chose integrity over accessibility, and were eventually handed their recordings by Groovesville and sent on their way. Death soldiered on. The Hackney brothers managed to finance a tiny pressing of 7” singles, which they sent to various radio stations. But closed-minded station programmers couldn’t handle the band’s sound or name, and the Death record simply gathered dust. By 1980, the brothers found themselves without options or cash. Instruments were pawned and the three of them relocated to Vermont as family rather than as a band.

During their first week there, David was hit with a surge of initiative and stapled Death flyers around the city of Burlington, but police assumed the posters had something to do with “a black gang” and tore them down. This was the final insult for Bobby and Dannis. After years of disappointment, they had no battle left in them. David’s ever-present creative fire manifested once more in Vermont when he convinced his brothers to form a religious rock group called The 4th Movement, but that album’s failure signaled the end of the trio’s collaboration. David urged them both to return to Detroit and continue Death, but Bobby and Dannis had settled down and started families, and David headed off alone. Death’s emblem had always been a triangle representing the three Hackney brothers, and that triangle was now broken. Unable to ignore their musical leanings, Bobby and Dannis formed a reggae group called Lambsbread. They maintained regular contact with David, whose return to Detroit had been followed with a descent into heavy drinking, punctuated with occasional bursts of productivity. But without Death as his primary outlet, David was adrift and slipped further into a reclusive state. Years passed.

At a rare family get-together, David took his visiting brothers aside and told them it was of the utmost importance that the Death recordings be stored safely. He passed the tapes to them, said his goodbyes, and Bobby and Dannis returned to Vermont with their musical history in hand. This would be the last time they saw David, as he would succumb to cancer in Or so they thought. Over three decades after their 7” album was unveiled (and ignored), recordings began to surface. By 2008, Death songs were being distributed and downloaded online, and their self-released 45 was selling for nearly $1000 on eBay.

Bobby and Dannis remained unaware until Bobby’s son was struck by a song that had been making the rounds at parties. Partly because of its power and intensity... and partly because he recognized his father’s voice screaming through the speakers. When questioned, Bobby was floored. How could someone have possibly heard those forgotten records, and why would anyone care? Interest grew like wildfire. Collectors went rabid, the recordings were pulled from the attic, and it wasn’t long before Chicago record label Drag City caught Death fever. And so 33 years after it was recorded, Death’s debut album “For the Whole World to See” finally hit the shelves. Critics and consumers were faced with the hard truth: A trio of African-American brothers in Detroit had basically invented punk rock years before it descended on New York and England. And they’d played it better than the bands that followed ever would. Bobby and Dannis were amazed that the group’s ultimate destiny had finally been realized (even if it was a few decades behind schedule). They enlisted their Lambsbread collaborator Bobbie Duncan to complete the trio, and set out on tour, bringing Death’s music to thousands of new fans, all the while celebrating their brother David’s memory and unparalleled vision.

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