Posted June 18, 2020 by Jeff in Flicks

‘Desolation Center’ Doc Depicts Birth of the Modern Music Festival

Desolation Center
Desolation Center

The documentary film Desolation Center tells the untold story of a series of guerrilla music and art performance happenings in the ’80s that inspired the birth of contemporary festival culture including Burning Man, Lollapalooza and Coachella.

Originally released in November 2019, the film features interviews with punk and post-punk luminaries with rare performance footage of Sonic Youth, Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Perry Farrell, Redd Kross, Einstürzende Neubauten, Survival Research Laboratories, Savage Republic and more.

On June 23, the film will be available digitally everywhere, and the producers are giving people an added incentive to order early. They are giving away a Desolation Center button and sticker for every Apple TV/iTunes pre-order, plus a chance to win a signed movie poster or a massive merch bundle. See below and visit for complete details.

“At a time where we need it most, Desolation Center celebrates radicalism at its finest,” says Mat Levy of the digital distributor Passion River Films. “From the music, the movement, and the ultimate legacy these events have forever left us, we are absolutely thrilled to be a part of bringing [director] Stuart Swezey’s groundbreaking story (that critics and audiences already love) to an expansive audience that will hopefully be inspired to create something wonderfully disruptive for the love of artistic expression.” 

Swezey, the organizer of the original events and co-founder of Amok Books, says the film tells the true story of how the “risky, and at times even reckless, actions of a few outsiders were able to incite seismic cultural shifts.”

“Taking the music that I found so inspiring and placing it into the wide-open spaces of the California desert or on a boat in the industrial wasteland of L.A. Harbor became a personal challenge for me,” he says. “The story of the Desolation Center events is told in the film by eyewitnesses who were participants whether as musicians, artists, organizers or concert-goers.”

Rolling Stone called it “a series of important but overlooked shows — nothing like it has been attempted since” and the New York Times christened it the birth of the modern music festival.

Desolation Center has screened at the European CPH:DOX Film Festival in Denmark, Sheffield Doc/Fest in the UK and the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. It brought home Audience Awards at SF Indiefest and Chicago Underground Film Festival and was a selection of the 2019 Smithsonian Year of Music, Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC. It has screened in over 60 cities in North America.


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].