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Meet the Canadian High School Teacher Who’s Making a Documentary About Grindcore

Featuring Repulsion, Napalm Death, Soilent Green, Fuck the Facts, Discordance Axis, and more.
December 20, 2014, 10:00pm

Photo courtesy of Doug Brown By day, Doug Brown teaches film studies and world religions courses at a high school in Toronto. At night, he experiences bouts of savage catharsis as an avid grindcore fan. The 31-year-old filmmaker/record collector, who speaks with a charming Canadian lilt, has an unquenchable thirst for blast-beats, screams, unholy riffs and lyrics about radical politics and human disfigurement. He’s listened to everything by grind pioneers Napalm Death, Repulsion and Carcass. He has an impressive command of Spanish goregrind. He speaks highly of emerging talents like Priapus and Water Torture. “Every single grindcore show that happens in Toronto and that has happened for the last decade, I’ve been there,” he says. “No matter how big the grind band that tours through, I know every single person that walks through the doors to go see it, because we’re all so dedicated to this.”

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For years, Brown has been building a collection of grindcore records and memorabilia. Now, he’s getting started on Slave to the Grind, a documentary that he says will tackle the history, culture and music of this brutal subgenre, which took root in the mid-80s and endures to this day as one of metal’s most extreme outposts. Lately, he’s been cementing plans to interview several dozen grind musicians, including members of Napalm Death and Scott Carlson from Repulsion. He's also just launched a Kickstarter campaign to get funding for the project, with hopes of venturing to Maryland Deathfest next year to capture the very first live show performed by drum machine-assisted grind greats Agoraphobic Nosebleed.

Grindcore may be a relatively niche concern, and Brown’s students regard his musical obsession with bemusement. “They all think it’s just gobbledygook and noise,” he says. Still, grind’s legacy and influence loom large, and he’s taking his endeavor seriously: “I’m a grind-head through and through, and I’m going to do this genre justice, because it needs to be done from somebody who truly understands it.” Speaking by phone earlier this week during a lunch break at school, Brown talked with me about his plans for the documentary and his personal attachment to grind.

Noisey: What made you want to make a documentary about grindcore?
Doug Brown: I was finishing up my last documentary. I did a film called Never Enough, which is on collectors and why they can’t stop collecting things. The reason I was making that film was because I have so many records. I’m a record collector with between five- and six thousand albums in my house. A lot of them are heavy metal, and over the last five years, 80 percent of what I’m spending my money on is very, very obscure grindcore things. It’s a personal interest, you know? So, one film kind of led into the next one. I realized that there was no definitive archival piece on grindcore. People like Sam Dunn, who did Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey and that Metal Evolution television show, have done a great job on showing the larger aspects of heavy metal and the big paradigms of what heavy metal is and why people like it. But in all of his Metal Evolutions show, there’s only like three minutes on grindcore, stretched throughout all those episodes. The word “grindcore” I think was mentioned once in his Headbanger’s Journey. There just needed to be something done on this visceral, chaotic genre of music that stands for so much and has so many roots in politics and so many amazing things.

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How much have you worked on the documentary so far?
I’ve only done seven interviews, and I have booked interviews with thirty-seven musicians. We’re very early in the stage of the game, but over the next four months we have a lot going on. Every two weeks for the next two months we’re releasing a different teaser clip, and since that first teaser clip, I booked twenty-five interviews in the last week, and the feedback’s been amazing. February 8th is when we drop our Kickstarter campaign to get our finishing money, which is what I’m calling it. That’s going to allow me to do a couple trips to some music festivals that have significant amounts of grindcore fans. One of them is Maryland Deathfest at the end of May, and then if all goes well and we exceed our goal, I want to go to Obscene Extreme in Czech Republic. We’re not asking for all that much money. We’re asking for $12,000, which is going to cover hard-drives and travel expenses just to those two festivals, and that’s it. And then we’re going to slave away on it for another year-and-a-half to two years, and then we’ll have a film.

What first attracted you to grindcore personally?
Every single person I’ve talked to has had a very similar entry point into metal, and oddly enoug,h it’s Metallica. When I was talking with the guitar player from Fuck the Facts, when I was talking with the lead singer of Soilent Green, when I was talking with even Dave Witte from Discordance Axis, they all kept mentioning their love for Metallica when they were a kid, but how that transitioned to something heavier. I went from thrash to a little heavier thrash, like Sepultura. Then I went from Sepultura to Cannibal Corpse. For me, it’s just the severity of the musicianship. You can’t push your body to play any faster than grindcore. What’s always been appealing for me in metal is it’s so self-aware. Metal musicians have this clear sense of, “I know exactly what I want to play, and I know exactly what I want it to sound like. I want to start borrowing and meeting other people that like what I like.” As I was listening to heavier and heavier things, I found that the most self-aware, the most visceral-sounding and the most violent-sounding thing is grindcore.

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Photo of Dave Witte courtesy of Doug Brown

When did you hear grindcore for the first time?
I was in high school, and I think, like a lot of metalheads who were buying records, tapes and CDs, I was looking at the liner notes of who everyone else was thanking. I was really, really into the Dillinger Escape Plan when they released Calculating Infinity, which is, I hate this term, but “mathcore.” I was probably fifteen or sixteen at the time. It was just absolutely amazing, and they were on Relapse. I remember thinking, “Oh, I gotta find more bands on Relapse.” So I was looking at all the thank-you notes, and I ended up stumbling upon the band Soilent Green. They put out so many amazing grind songs that borrowed from other genres. I guess my ears were just not trained enough to hear 30-second, all-blast songs, but I could hear, you know, a three- or four-minute grindcore song with tons of blasts, but also really slow, sludgy parts with tons of melody. I was like, “I love the juxtaposition of this.”

I kinda forgot about grind for a while. I got into progressive metal, and more and more death-metal. It was probably seven or eight years ago, and Brutal Truth was playing just after they reunited, and that’s when it just hit me again. I remember them having a chart paper onstage with twenty-five songs written on it. It was just flopped on the stage, at a huge festival, and everyone could see what they were playing next. It was just like a “I don’t give a shit” type of attitude. That really spoke to me. That day onwards, I can’t even tell you how many thousands of dollars I’ve spent on grindcore records. It’s a little absurd.

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What’s the most precious piece of grindcore vinyl you have in your collection?
I have a fully autographed test-pressing of the Harmony Corruption album by Napalm Death. I have a lot of neat little test-pressings like that. I have the very first Repulsion cassette demo that was probably handed out somewhere in Flint, Michigan. I got that on eBay. I’m really digging after things. Old promos and press kits, scribblings. As you can imagine, somebody like me that’s going from interview to interview, I’m totally nerding out. I got eight different Soilent Green things autographed by their vocalist Ben Falgoust when I went to go interview him.

So this documentary is also a way for you to get some autographs done, right?
I’ve been joking around with all my friends about this. I’m essentially making a film where I’m meeting my childhood heroes, and it’s not like I’m making a film on Bob Dylan and this is impossible. This is a very open and amazing community. Every single person that I’ve interviewed and contacted is just, like, “Yes! We want to talk more.”

What’s the grindcore scene like in Toronto?
When a tour comes through it’s great, but there’s not many grindcore bands. I can only think of one or two that are true grindcore. There’s a band called Homolka; their live show is one of the most intense things I’ve ever seen. Their lead singer, Max, spends all of his time on the floor. Like, he never stands on a stage. He just wanders around and bumps into people. I assume it’s really cathartic for him, and it’s quite a sight to see. In the Soilent Green teaser, he’s the guy that’s screaming and smashing his hands on the stage. There’s another band called Grotesque Organ Defilement, but they’re from Peterborough, they’re outside of Toronto. There are a lot of great grindcore bands a one-to-two-hour drive away, and they’ll come into Toronto, but in terms of pure grind, there’s only one or two in town. Would I like more grind bands? Yeah. There needs to be more grindcore bands here..but I think there needs to be more grindcore bands everywhere.

Peter Holslin pledges fealty to the grind. He’s on Twitter.