Filmmaker Stuart Swezey, writes and directs a documentary feature film about an untold story of a DIY (Do-It-Yourself) music and art festival that captured a rare 1980s radical youth population of Southern California in DESOLATION CENTER. The events documented in this historical archival piece of the 21st century alternative culture was the pre-curser to more recent known festivals of the arts like Burning Man, Lollapalooza and Coachella. The individuals and groups that have come out of these early beginnings include Sonic Youth, Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Swans, Einstuerzende Neubauten, Redd Kross, Survival Research Laboratories, Savage Republic and more.
Interviews and rare performance footage come from Swezey's personal library which he documented since he was the creator and principal organizer of the Desolation Center concept. The events were risky and often reckless but it portrayed Los Angeles' early punk scene and the on-going harassment of the local police. Swezey's DESOLATION CENTER was a creative idea to take city-trouble to a different location where trouble didn't need to exist but where freedom could prevail to enjoy music, art and people of like minds, heart and soul.
Inspired by Werner Herzog's film Fitzcarraldo where one goes to great lengths to build an Opera House in the Amazon Jungle to see if it would attract like minds; Swezey thought the idea could be duplicated with people making pilgrimages from Los Angeles to the Mojave desert for one-day events.
The first on Swezey's event schedule was called Mojave Exodus. They advertised and people had to sign-up in advance because whoever was going to attend would be transported by school bus loads to a remote location in the Mojave Desert. Crazy? Yep! The people who showed up were enthusiasts of punk and industrial music and recall their personal experience as "earth-shattering" and "life-changing." Three more Desolation Center shows transpired: Joy at Sea took place on a ferry boat in the San Pedro, California harbor; Mojave Auszug and Gila Monster Jamboree returned to the desert location attracting crowds and performers well outside the state of California.
Swezey says, "DESOLATION CENTER takes a look at the 80s underground culture while it was still under the radar of the mass media." A Vice article explains, "The magic of the shows is that never had a chance to become diluted by money or time: they were raw, they were real, and, most importantly, they were completely original."
Swezey adds, "The story of the Desolation Center events is told collectively by eyewitnesses who were participants whether as musicians, artists, organizers or attendees." He continues, "Through the film, I explore an almost lost subcultural story that can also be a catalyst for future generations to question assumptions and carve out new possibilities even if only for a fleeting moment in time." Swezey's DESOLATION CENTER is now a story told for the annals of US music history for all time.