East Bay punk documentary perfectly paints the picture of a vital music scene

No good music scene is defined by one band, one sound.

Nor is it defined by the music, itself — it’s the people, it’s the audience, it’s the venues, it’s the promoters, it’s the labels, it’s the other artists, writers and photographers and even the moments and shows that all contribute to make it something notable, lasting.

Think London in the ’60s, New York in the ’70s, Toronto in the ’80s — hell, even Seattle in the ’90s, while often described with one word, had a certain amount of diversity to it.

So it is with Corbett Redford’s important and spectacularly entertaining documentary Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk, which has one screening Saturday, Sept. 23 as part of the Calgary International Film Festival.

It tells the history — the birth, growth, growing pains and explosion — of a scene that birthed such notable acts as Green Day and Rancid, but does so by setting the table with all of the hows, whys and whoever elses being a way bigger part of the story and film than those two products themselves.

Beginning with the late-‘70s arrival of punk to California with bands such as the Angry Samoans and San Francisco legends the Dead Kennedys, it then crosses over to the East side and towns such as Berkeley, Oakland and the surrounding area in the early ’80s.

Perhaps it speaks to the importance of how those in the punk community in general view the subject matter and its history, or perhaps it’s because Turn It Around was executive produced by the Green Day boys, but there are an incredible amount of names and voices willing to sit down onscreen and help paint the picture as balanced, honestly, vividly and completely as it is.

Everyone from Rancid and Green Day, DK frontman Jello Biafra, DC giant Ian MacKaye of Fugazi, Riot Grrrl Kathleen Hanna and NOFX’s Fat Mike to Metallica’s Kirk Hammett and GN’R’s Duff McKagen sit down to chat, with the godfather of American punk, Iggy Pop, narrating the entire thing.

But those big names, while obviously giving the film a certain sense of cred, never overshadow the contributions from everyone else involved with the film.

Just as much time and importance is placed on the influence of acts including Operation Ivy, Neurosis, Deadly Reign, Avengers, Crimpshrine, the Mr. T. Experience, Pansy Division, Isocracy, the Sweet Baby Jesus, Yeastie Girlz and Econochrist.

As for supporting cast, Redford also sits down with or discusses all of the other bands and characters who contributed to the scene, including: Tim Yohannan, the man behind radio show and zine Maximum Rocknroll and one of the driving forces behind the Berkeley punk institution, the Gilman Street Project; Larry Livermore, who started up the Lookout Records label; Kamala Parks, who helped book the first tours out of the bay for local punk bands; writer and zine-maker Robert Eggplant; photographer Murray Bowles, who documented the scene with his camera lens; and volunteers, supporters, skateboarders and all of the other people who contributed.

And the filmmakers visually make it a compelling story to watch, moving from straight talking-head shots into archival footage — with the newer interviews treated to look like the old VHS tape playbacks that they lead in and out of — also turning black-and-white photos into new B&W sitdowns before morphing into trippy animation, directed by Rancid’s Tim Armstrong. (Whatever you do, do not miss the animated opening credits to Turn It Around.)

Again, the narrative is a fascinating and fast-paced one (despite its two-and-a-half-hour running time), with a great deal of time spent on moments that built and helped coalesce it into a community, events such as important gigs, including one featuring Fugazi, the Beatnigs, Yeastie Girlz and Crimpshrine, as well as one MDC show that saw the more accepting punks of Gilman Street beating the shit out of a group of invading skinhead punks.

It’s a fantastic and vital document that could easily have turned into a vanity project for Green Day, with some brief portions seeming like that’s where it might very well be headed, but it never, ever happens.

They know that this doc isn’t about them. It’s about a scene. An important scene. One that they were only but a part of.

Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk screens Saturday, Sept. 23 at 9:30 p.m. at the Globe Cinema as part of the Calgary International Film Festival. For tickets and information, please go to

Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at