Monday, July 20, 2020

Sohrab Habibion: Hardcore punk videos, 'Creem' doc and Savak on tap/ Feature story

Sohrab Habibion in action. (Aaliyah Deacon photo)

By Andy

The Kid$ For Ca$h monetary situation probably wasn't plentiful when the Burke, Virginia, hardcore punk band was active in the mid-1980s, but guitarist Sohrab Habibion possessed something that would amount to musical gold in his hands years down the line.

A cache of Beta videotapes that the then-15-year-old shot of bands like Government Issue, Marginal Man, One Last Wish, Dag Nasty and much more are currently a hit in the hardcore realm of the Internet. Approximately 70-75 sets have been digitized and a cluster of them are featured on Habibion's You Tube channel. For now, some of those Beta tapes sit in the Washington DC Public Library's punk archive with a hard drive of the digitized versions on the way.

"Honestly, I had no business doing it," Habibion said with a laugh a week ago on the phone from Brooklyn. "I did not in any way intend to document these things, and I never watched them after the fact, either. I would make copies for the bands if they wanted it. I would find a way to duplicate it."

When Habibion's mother's grandmother passed away, she inherited some cash and bought her son a video camera so Kid$ For Ca$h could initially shoot their gigs at the local community center. Mom also stepped in and sponsored the gigs as the adult signing the paper for the shows to proceed.

After the Kid$' instruments were retired for the night -- or when they weren't on the bill -- Habibion became the camera man of the scene. The camera was bulky and there wasn't a tripod in sight.

"I had it on my scrawny 15-year-old shoulders," he said with a chuckle.

Habibion on the left.

For a few decades, those tapes were nestled in a box in Habibion's parents' DC home before documentarians James Schneider ("Punk The Capital") and Scott Crawford ("Salad Days") came calling to unearth those gems and put them to use in their films. Hell, while you're at it, fire them off to Dave Grohl's production company Roswell Films since the man hammered the drums for Mission Impossible and Dain Bramage on those tapes. The good folks at Roswell digitized the whole lot, so that's another plus in this hardcore past-to-present trek.

"I think the cool thing, honestly, is the music subculture, that this many years later there are still enough people interested in it. I can put up a video of a One Last Wish show and there's 2,000 people out there who wanna actually (see it). That's a testament to the bands and I just happened to have the capture," said Habibion, noting that while editing a set by DOA, he was literally transported back into his teenage body to be blown away again.

Bands like The Hated and Moss Icon have been lifted from virtual obscurity more than three decades later thanks to Habibion's tape treasury.

"Now the people who are watching these videos, the enthusiasm that they have of the bands is so outsized compared to when they were an actual active band, so that's pretty interesting, too," he said.

It's a time-travel experience for Habibion every time he steps into his editing chair.

"There are the ones from the community center that are so sort of deeply ingrained in me: from my mom sponsored the show, it was all my friends we were in the band together or other bands, kids from the high school, so all these things that are tied into those. So when I see that, I literally can remember the texture of the carpet and the sleek wood-paneled walls and the painted cinder block by the bathroom. All those things I remember in a very visceral way," he added.

Following his Kid$ For Ca$h and teen videography days, Habibion unleashed his guitaristry and vocals in Edsel and the Obits, and his current unit Savak released a pair of singles in June and July. He describes Savak as a rock 'n' roll band that has snatched up bits of post punk, late '70s power pop and even non-rock music along the way. There are no restrictions, as long as the band feels comfortable welcoming different styles into their domain.

Habibion can tread a musical path from punk to hardcore to psychedelic to Appalachian to Italian folk.

"There's just these kind of like endless little threads that you can follow, that for me make it exciting to be a music fan," said Habibion, noting that the hardcore scene was the crucial terrain for his musical life to begin taking shape.

Habibion at home in Brooklyn. (Carol Diuguid photo)

Thirty-five years later, Habibion has paired up with one of his former video subjects, guitarist Michael Hampton of One Last Wish and other critical DC punk bands, to write soundtracks for films -- including Crawford's recent "Creem: America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine" documentary -- and commercials. Habibion continues his ties with the past by joining the staff of Akashic Books, founded by Johnny Temple of Girls Against Boys, as a designer and video editor.

Habibion said the "Creem" documentary is a fun ride and he was glad to see the crazy bunch of characters involved in bringing the magazine to life. Hampton supplied some music for "Salad Days" and Crawford wanted him and Habibion involved with his latest venture. They ended up using about 25-30 of their pieces in the flick.

"It's a pretty fast-paced movie. There's a lot of edits and so you get a lot of little riffs, and cut to the next scene," Habibion said. "It was cool. It's always fun to hear stuff that you've done in a different context. We'll write this stuff and record it at Michael's house, and then to actually see it on a screen in a movie theater is pretty fun."

When the duo hooks up for soundtrack sessions, they'll utilize electric and acoustic guitars, plus Habibion has added clarinet and saxophone while Hampton and his daughter have mixed in piano and cello, respectively. Sometimes they'll go electronic, and once a filmmaker was keen on just using reverb and delay tracks from their guitar work.

"We really do try to find the balance between doing the thing that we're asked to do and giving our own voice a little bit. Michael has a very distinctive guitar style, so if and when it's appropriate, play a guitar thing on top of whatever we're doing," Habibion said. "It's a cool challenge, it really is. It's a little bit like a crossword puzzle where you get little clues and you sort of have to figure out the missing pieces."

Habibion says with a laugh that he'll occasionally ask Hampton to dig back into his One Last Wish repertoire and give a quick riff tutorial to Habibion.

And there's not a Beta videotape anywhere near the scene.

No comments:

Post a Comment