Putting on punk shows in Los Angeles in the early 1980s became near to impossible with the lack of venues and police harassment of those events that did manage to find one. So a young promoter, Stuart Swezey, took bands like Redd Kross, the Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Sonic Youth and their fans out to the Mojave Desert, where he created his own under-the-radar scene. Now, 35 years later, Swezey’s documentary film Desolation Center proves this magical musical interlude actually took place. Swezey talks to Richie Unterberger about the film, the time it documents and the future possibilities.

In Werner Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo, an early-twentieth century Irishman valiantly struggles to stage an opera in the Amazon with Enrico Caruso. In the early 1980s, a young Los Angeles promoter embarked on a quest almost as fanciful: to hold punk, post-punk, and industrial music shows in the Mojave Desert. And not in an officially sanctioned, gaudily marked site, but in remote outposts beyond the points where paved roads ended. Even after getting picked up at Los Angeles airport with a driver specifically missioned to deliver the band, Redd Kross got lost on the way to their desert gig, barely making it to their spot on time.

And unlike the fictional opera production that brings Fitzcarraldo to its finish, these ’80s avant-rock events actually happened. The setting was as unlike the dank downtown clubs in which these shows usually took place that you’d wonder if they really did happen, if not for the surviving evidence in photos and shaky video footage.

The big inspirations were LA avant-rockers Savage Republic—not as big a name as the most celebrated acts who’d play the desert shows, perhaps, but a very respected and influential band on the local underground scene.

About 35 years later, the desert shows—as well as an equally unlikely “Joy at Sea” aboard a boat in the San Pedro harbor, featuring the Meat Puppets and the Minutemen–are documented with more detail than anyone thought possible in the new film Desolation Center. Directed by the events’ original promoter, Stuart Swezey, it’s built around an abundance of vintage lo-fi film clips and audio, as well as recent interviews with many of the musicians and participants. Indeed, almost all of the surviving notable performers contribute recollections, including not only some Minutemen and Meat Puppets, but also key members of Sonic Youth (though not Kim Gordon), Einsturzende Neubauten, Savage Republic, Redd Kross, Perry Farrell (then part of his pre-Jane’s Addiction group Psi-Com), and industrial/performance art group Survival Research Laboratories.

Joy At Sea, 1984. SS Cormorant – by Steve Housden

Now well into middle age and veterans of hundreds if not thousands of shows, the musicians (and indeed the numerous audience members and organizers who also have screen time) often still speak of these happenings with a sense of awe. How were these sort of anti-Magical Mystery Tours pulled off, with loads of punks and edgy rock fanatics literally bused into the desert? With only the most basic of equipment and staging and without official permits, though it didn’t stop some of the acts from bringing explosive pyrotechnics?

“There wouldn’t have been a discussion about getting permits and all that stuff,” admits Swezey today. The authorities “would have just said no. It was easier just to do it, and not ask permission. Because the other choice was not doing it.”

Yet in some ways, they had no choice but to do it, considering the difficulty in putting on punk shows in LA in the early ‘80s, especially those that involved some combination of music, confrontational performance art, fire, and hazardous special effects. As the first part of Desolation Center makes clear, LA-area police were often eager to shut down punk shows and harass both the performers and the audience. Just finding a place to play and assemble could be hard, even if the relatively small crowds and way-underground acts posed no substantial public health threats. That’s part of what drove Swezey into putting on shows in his early twenties.

“I think all of us have horror stories worse than anything that actually is in the film,” he observes. “Like some event where the police really cracked 14-year-olds’ heads with batons. If you’ve read the book City of Quartz by Mike Davis, there’s a whole chapter about how the LAPD was basically guys who learned counterinsurgency training in Vietnam. Even in the early ‘80s, I think they were applying a lot of that mentality, sort of a zero tolerance point of view, to punk rock.

“I think people from other cities, it’s hard for them to wrap their head around. ‘Cause some of the bigger punk scenes like San Francisco, New York, it wasn’t something that people worried about as much. LA is a different place than it was then. It was pretty redneck. A lot of the kids growing up in places like the Inland Empire and Orange County, even in North Valley, attitudes were pretty intolerant of anything that was a little bit different, radical, or bohemian.”

For youngsters with a growing interest in the radical rock underground, it wasn’t always easy to get with the in-crowd, whether because of obstacles for underage attendees, high ticket prices, barriers from smug insiders, or some combination of the above. As a teenager, Swezey gravitated toward the more accessible Brave Dog, near the much more famous Atomic Cafe club in downtown LA.

Minutemen with Perry Farrell at Joy At Sea, 1984 – by Ann Summa

“We used to go there, and there was no checking IDs,” he said. “Like you paid $5 and could have all the beer that you wanted. I don’t even think their events were listed anywhere, but they had amazing things. I felt like that was the way things should be. I remember Christian Death played, and [performance artist] Ron Athey was being crucified while the band was playing, blowing my teenage mind.”

LA is a different place than it was then. It was pretty redneck. A lot of the kids growing up in places like the Inland Empire and Orange County, even in North Valley, attitudes were pretty intolerant of anything that was a little bit different, radical, or bohemian.

When Swezey started to put on his own events under the Desolation Center banner in downtown LA, he was determined to cut down on the elitist elements of typical Hollywood shows, even punk and underground ones. There would be no guest lists. In the words of their Statement of Principles, they “would not solicit any press coverage for Desolation Center events. We feel that local press coverage in music has become self-serving and upholding of mediocrity. Therefore, we refuse to court the favor of self-appointed dictators of ‘cool.’”

The gigs wouldn’t even be advertised in the LA Weekly, the city’s leading alternative paper, and the common stepping stone for both bands and their surrounding scenemakers to get noticed. But even these shows had their share of hassles, and Swezey began thinking of moving out of the scene altogether.

Mojave Auszug 1984 – by Scot Allen

This “noisy but also transcendent music – going to see it in a nightclub always felt like a little bit of cheat,” he feels. “Like, this is cool, but how much cooler would it be if it didn’t have to be in this environment? Why does it always have to be this way? That’s kind of the challenge I gave myself. How could we enhance this experience after seeing this music live? Maybe by changing the setting.”

But why the desert? The big inspirations were LA avant-rockers Savage Republic—not as big a name as the most celebrated acts who’d play the desert shows, perhaps, but a very respected and influential band on the local underground scene. By 1983, they were well on their way to moving from the quasi-noise/banging-on-metal-objects soundscapes of their early outings into more atmospheric spooky, largely instrumental works using otherworldly drones and unconventional guitar tunings. Their shows were just as offbeat, guitarist-percussionist-bassist Ethan Port sometimes destroying bookshelves onstage or burning trashcans full of pampas leaves. Such hijinks were guaranteed to make promoters and authorities like fire marshals (not to mention some wary attendees) uneasy. They were at least somewhat easier to get away with in the desert, where the chances of damage to property and injury to onlookers were somewhat diminished.

Swezey goes as far as to propose that “if not for that particular era of Savage Republic, maybe I never would have thought of going out to the desert. There was just something very specific about the sound those guys were doing. It had sort of a Middle Eastern feel. It had a spaghetti western feel, even though they were banging on metal and using these sort of atonal Glenn Branca guitar tunings. Listening to [their 1982 album] Tragic Figures and driving through the desert—that’s when the eureka moment happened.”

Savage Republic’s Bruce Licher had already found an isolated spot in the Mojave Desert while scouting locations for a possible experimental film, memorably described by Licher in Desolation Center as “Lawrence of Arabia meets Eraserhead.” “That’s how he found that dry lake bed, the soggy dry lake where we put on the show,” says Swezey. Savage Republic would play the first desert show on April 24, 1983 with the Minutemen, then just starting to make a heavy mark on LA’s punk scene, though like Savage Republic they were already branching out from their noisier beginnings. “The Minutemen would play anywhere,” he adds. “So it was, like, ‘oh, the Minutemen have to be in the desert.’ But what a great bill. I knew they would be down if there was some hardships, obstacles or whatever.”

Savage Republic performing at Mojave Exodus 1983 – by Scot Allen

There were plenty of those, starting with the sheer logistics of getting legions of fans out to the desert in the first place. School buses were deployed to take the largely adolescent or just-post-adolescent crowd from LA to the desert, film clips in the documentary giving the impression that not all of them knew quite what they were in for when they signed up for the journey. Plenty of stares welcomed the pink-haired, spike-haired, oddly (by 1983 standards) dressed passengers when they made food and rest stops on the way. Their rewards were shows not quite like any other they had witnessed, or for that matter that the bands had played.

“When you have no security, no stage, just a circle of sand, it does take away a lot of the sort of trappings that I associate with rock,” states Swezey. “Not that I don’t love rock music and Led Zeppelin and things like that. But we were trying to do something completely different. If you’re playing music for these people, you want to feel connected to them, I think. So the change in the setting created a stronger connection. In the film, both Curt and Cris Kirkwood from the Meat Puppets were talking about how just being out in the desert with the Joshua trees around and full moon created a more altered state of consciousness kind of feeling for them, as well as the audience.

“I also think the idea of punk rock originally, to me as someone who was an observer in high school, was that these guys weren’t supposed to be rock stars. They were supposed to be at the same level, ideally, as the audience members. It’s almost like a folk music kind of thing, where Johnny Lydon was just a kid in London and he could get up, and he could have a band.

Crowd at Mojave Auszug 1984 – by Scot Allen

“In truth, it wasn’t necessarily how it became,” he concedes. “I was surprised with [Einsturzende Neubauten’s] Blixa [Bargeld]. This didn’t completely end up in the film, but he actually said that he didn’t like the fact that it leveled the relationship between audience and performer,” Stuart laughs. “There was no backstage. He said that the stage is like a sacred space, and he wasn’t able to really ever not be ‘on,’ because people were just around all the time and wanted to hang out.”

Einstürzende Neubauten “Mojave Auszüg” Performance, 4 March 1984, presented by Desolation Center, Mojave Desert, California

Einsturzende Neubauten shared the bill with Survival Research Laboratories and Savage Republic offshoot Djemaa el Fna for the second Desolation Center desert concert in Box Canyon on March 4, 1984. It was the most industrial of the events, and in some ways the riskiest for both the audience and the performers. Neubauten’s Alexander Hacke and musician/performance artist Boyd Rice offered a piece where Hacke hit Rice with a sledgehammer while Rice lay on a bed of nails, a cinderblock on his chest offering both protection and amplified noise. SRL wrought its characteristic havoc with totem poles from disused appliances, filled with chargers set off by a shotgun.

How were these sort of anti-Magical Mystery Tours pulled off, with loads of punks and edgy rock fanatics literally bused into the desert?With only the most basic of equipment and staging and without official permits, though it didn’t stop some of the acts from bringing explosive pyrotechnics?

Swezey now acknowledges the possible dangers involved in such pushing-the-envelope scenarios, some of which he wasn’t even aware of at the time. “One of the things that shocked the bejeezus out of me was when [SRL mainstay] Mark Pauline started talking about that metal plate flying ten feet over people’s heads. I really didn’t know that until we interviewed him.” SRL also tried to blow up a huge boulder in the canyon, though as one observer wryly notes in the documentary, “the desert won anyway. He never was able to blow up the boulder, so nature beat him in the long run.”

Setting off explosions at Mojave Auszug 1984 – by Matt Heckert

“There’s something really cool about using fire,” Swezey continues. “When Einsturzende Neubauten played a regular venue the night before at Perkins Palace [in Pasadena], they were having miniature Molotov cocktails and throwing flames out there, and the curtain caught on fire. It is a little unsafe, when you look back on it. Ultimately the potential is there for people to have gotten hurt, or a stampede even, which you don’t really want to have happen. Out in the desert – yeah, sure, things could have gone wrong. But the potential is a lot less. It gives you more scope to kind of do things that are a little bit hazardous in an indoor setting.”

Einsturzende Neubauten had such a determinedly urban sound and stance that some might have found the desert the least likely place you’d get to see their act. Yet in Swezey’s view, “As long as you’re using the environment in an interesting way, it doesn’t always have to be a perfect setting. The primalness of their music kind of was enhanced by the desert. But it was also the fact that you associate them with this very urban setting of Berlin. Now you have them in this other setting, and it becomes this different experience.”

And considering how unlike the Desolation Center shows were to the rock festivals of the late ‘60s, there was one similarity that might surprise people: acid trips. One of the funniest scenes in the documentary has a woman pleading over the PA, “Can the girl who brought Redd Kross here come up here?…You got lost with us. My acid is in your car, it’s an emergency.” As Swezey chuckles when remembering Redd Kross’s driver/manager (Carmel Conlin, interviewed in the film) and her time with the band, “It was a short stint.”

On a more serious note, he adds, “the psychedelic drug intake was not obvious to me when I first started doing the shows. It wasn’t really practical, given the responsibility that I had. But there were other people I know that were like, ‘We’re going to the desert? Of course we’re gonna trip.’ I still had a side of me that was kind of like, ‘Okay, drugs are for hippies. We’ll just have a few beers.’ I was more into that mindset. If you’d asked me, ‘Hey, are you gonna drop acid and go see Sonic Youth,’ I wasn’t that guy. Yet “by the time of [January 1985’s] Gila Monster Jamboree, I did feel like ‘Oh, well, if everybody else is gonna be tripping, I wanna be tripping too.’”

Sonic Youth at the Gila monster Jamboree 1985 – by Bob Durkee

Before the Gila Monster Jamboree supplied a finale of sorts to the desert events, Swezey put on another unconventional show much closer to home. On June 15, 1984, a whale-watching ship was chartered for the Minutemen, the Meat Puppets, Lawndale, and Points of Friction to play aboard in the San Pedro harbor, about thirty miles south of Hollywood. It had special significance for the Minutemen, who though formed in San Pedro had a tough time playing their hometown.

“I always thought of Joy at Sea as a vindication of the Minutemen,” says Swezey. “Instead of them having to go to Hollywood to be accepted, we made the Hollywood hip press and people like that come to San Pedro.”

As I write this, I’ve just seen the Meat Puppets play to a several-thousand-strong crowd thirty-five years later, at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park. It seems inconceivable to fit an audience for a Meat Puppets performance onto a relatively modest-sized boat, even given the band were just starting to make their transition from hardcore punk to a more accessible brand of alternative country-rock or cowpunk. But as Stuart emphasizes, “All of that culture – it was a lot of outsiders and misfits getting together and finding this sense of community. There weren’t that many of us. That’s why I was able to do these shows, because you would go see the Meat Puppets at the Cathay de Grande [club in LA] or something, and there’d be fifty people there. It just made sense that we’d rent a boat and really, would there be more than 300 people that would even care? Probably not.”

“I always thought of Joy at Sea as a vindication of the Minutemen,” says Swezey. “Instead of them having to go to Hollywood to be accepted, we made the Hollywood hip press and people like that come to San Pedro.”

Surviving audio from the ship-show captures the Meat Puppets evolving from their roots as a band that, as Swezey puts it, generated “noise music with guitars.” Their mutation into a more melodic and accessible act might have displeased some of their pure punk followers but doesn’t surprise Stuart in retrospect. “Bands were pushing themselves to really evolve at a somewhat fast pace then,” he points out. “I think opening for Black Flag, touring with Black Flag, as the Meat Puppets, it almost became like an audience-baiting thing to be less and less like the hardcore bands. I would say the Meat Puppets more than anyone really took that on.

“On a night-by-night basis, they suffered for it. They got spit on, they got shit thrown at them. They got all of that abuse. Imagine going out and opening for Black Flag back then, when you had all the most sort of lunkhead jock-type people into hardcore and doing what they were doing. I think it also sort of shaped them, in terms of kind of a ‘mellow but fuck you’ attitude at the same time.”

The desert shows seemed to be on the way to getting established as an annual event after the Gila Monster Jamboree on January 5, 1985. As befits an act from desert-rich Arizona, the Meat Puppets played, as did Sonic Youth, Redd Kross, and (for one of their last shows with Perry Farrell) Psi-Com. Yet this was also the point when Desolation Center finally attracted the attention of authorities, Swezey getting a letter (shown onscreen in the documentary) from the Bureau of Land Management.

“The conversation I had with the BLM ranger, he was like—‘well, how many people do you have out there?’” remembers Swezey. “I said 200, even though obviously there was more like 500. He said, ‘If it was a motocross event, we would have charged you guys $2 a head. So let’s make it $400.’ For me that was kind of like, ‘Okay, I’ll settle!’ I knew that was the lowest I was gonna get away with. He could have hit me with vastly more penalties and it could have been really something difficult for me to deal with. So I think they were trying to give me a break. A lot of it was, ‘You guys should go back out there and pick up all those beer bottles. We’ll kind of look the other way in terms of other things that you did that were in violation of federal law.’”

Mojave Exodus 1983 – by Scot Allen

Four-hundred dollars might sound like a bargain, but it was a lot of money in the mid-‘80s for a guy in his mid-twenties living month to month. “That would have been several months’ rent, and if you’re already paying rent and gas, it’s like, where is this gonna come from? But I do think it does show the sort of spirit [in the] community back then. It wasn’t very long before the Minutemen and other bands, like the Nip Drivers and Lawndale, said ‘Yeah, we’ll do a benefit.’ It was kind of like painless for me, ultimately, because I just went to [Los Angeles venue] the Anti-Club, we had $400, and that was that.”

The Gila Monster Jamboree would be the final Desolation Center desert show, but not just because of the $400. “It was more that the federal government had found me and were sending me these warrants and stuff like that. It did make me feel like, I’ve gotta figure out how to do this legally, legitimately. And I wasn’t really ready to sort of do that. Or I could just say, ‘Let’s call it a day.’ At that point in time, I was more interested in not just being the desert show guy. I liked them, it was great, but I kind of felt like after Sonic Youth and the Meat Puppets out in the desert, how is it going to get any better? Maybe I should just quit while I’m ahead.”

Swezey soon went on to found bookstore and publisher Amok Books, later getting into film and television as a co-producer of the rave/DJ culture documentary Better Living Through Circuitry and working at the SyFy channel. He began thinking of documenting his own history after Joerg Steineck’s 2015 film, Lo Sound Desert, took a look at the whole desert rock scene that had mushroomed in the decades since Desolation Center.

In Chinatown getting ready to head to Mojave Exodus 1983 – by Mariska Leyssius

“I didn’t really know that scene at all,” he admits. But “people [kept] saying that it all started with your desert show. It was partly the desire to make my own documentary as a director, and then realizing that my story was actually important. And at a certain point, if I didn’t do it, nobody was going to.”

As director and producer, Swezey was in the unusual position of being a key figure in his own documentary. “I just knew I wanted to tell the story of these events. I tried to strike a balance. Not calling too much attention to myself, ‘cause I really felt it wasn’t just about me at all. But at the same time, when we would show earlier rough cuts, people were like, ‘Where’d you get the idea of putting on shows? Where’d you get the idea of the desert?’ It became important to put that into the film. I think I learned over time how to kind of put together the things that were interesting from my personal slant with all the other things that to me were fascinating as well.”

Unlike many films documenting concerts ranging from the Newport Folk and Jazz Festivals to countless recent rock extravaganzas, there weren’t hi-tech cameras and sound technicians filming and recording the original events. Was Swezey surprised by how much he was able to assemble?

“Absolutely,” he responds. “One person I have to credit for helping make the film work, is Bob Durkee. [Co-producer] Mariska [Leyssius] and I had started a Facebook group just to share her photos and see if any other things would surface. One day we got a message from Bob, and he’s like, ‘you know, I recorded all of your shows on my Sony Walkman, and it sounds pretty good.’ He’s a giant tape-swapping guy, and [has an] amazing archive of stuff. Especially for that first show, the fact that we actually have [Minutemen guitarist-singer] D. Boon’s voice, and we have the original recordings of Savage Republic, is pretty significant.

“I didn’t know really the degree to which things had been documented. There was these situations where maybe somebody was supposed to record things, or where the tape got lost, or things like that. And then come to find out in the course of working on the film, when I could really focus on it, that there really was great footage. Like the Joy at Sea show, I didn’t even know this guy Eureka Mike had been there with his camera. I just knew about the footage that had been lost, which somehow got lost by SST [Records, then home to the Meat Puppets, Minutemen, and Lawndale] and will never see the light of day.

Minutemen performing at Mojave Exodus 1983 – by Daniel Voznick

“And then the audio – especially when the Meat Puppets are playing – it was just completely unusable. But then I had Bob Durkee’s audio, so we were able to now digitally put things together. A lot of it has been a giant collage of getting the best stuff and combining it together so that you have a more enhanced experience.” Some of it came from yet less likely avenues: “I actually downloaded the part where [a woman] says, ‘My acid is in your car.’ All that stuff was on the Meat Puppets site that [the band’s drummer] Derrick Bostrom maintains. He had it up there as FLAC files. It’s been very fortuitous that these things did exist.”

Swezey’s at the ready with another example of how luck and persistence plays a part in finding archival material before it disappears for good. “The guy who shot the Einsturzende Neubauten show, most of that footage that we used, the color footage, is Gary Walkow. He was very generous about offering that I could use his footage. He was like, “I have this 12-minute short film, and you can use anything.’ I knew enough by this time [to ask], ‘Can I have your source tapes? Like everything that you shot.’ He goes, ‘I don’t have that stuff.’ He told me that there’s a guy who had a factory in Rancho Cucamonga who actually financed this short film, that was his producer. He said, ‘Maybe he’ll have the source tapes.’

“I went out there, and they’re in this corner of this chemical factory. There’s a stack of three-quarter-inch tapes. He goes, ’It’s really good that you got here when you did, ‘cause I’m about to move my factory to South Carolina, gonna throw a bunch of stuff out.’ So all that stuff we digitized. It was kind of exciting to see how much there was.”

Even one of the key interviews “didn’t happen until after we had already had our world premiere in Copenhagen, and our US premiere in Slamdance [film festival] at Park City. Coincidentally, [Perry Farrell] was in Park City with his wife, and wanted to come to the screening. He saw the film, and I think he felt like, ‘I’d like to be in this. I’d like to be part of this.’ I think it brought back a lot of memories of people that were his close friends then, and events that were really important to him. When he agreed to do the interview, about a month later, we ended up having a chance to tweak some other things in the film.”

Looking back on the Desolation Center events thirty-five years later, is Stuart disappointed they didn’t become more of a regular occurrence, whether organized by him or someone else? “I don’t really look at it as people didn’t pick up the ball,” he replies. “Some of the early desert rock guys were hardcore kids that lived out in that area. They started renting generators and playing all night in the desert, dropping acid, and getting more into a kind of heavy rock, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple kind of a vibe.

“So I think things did continue. It just wasn’t the way I did it. I mean, no one ever brought people out in school buses again. I know that it was decades before somebody tried to put on another show in San Pedro harbor. Apparently they didn’t pick the right kind of boat, and it just didn’t go that well.

“If there’s anything I regret, it’s the things that have become so corporatized, and that people don’t do more things under the radar. But I think there’s things always going on. You and I might not be aware of ‘em. Maybe it’s not exactly the perfect music from my point of view. But I kind of feel like I was ready to pass the baton to someone else. I did need to take a break from doing shows in order to figure out what I was gonna do next, which became Amok Books.”

It’s possible to see Desolation Center as an ancestor of much huger and longer-running events with an exotic setting, like Coachella and Burning Man. One of Burning Man’s co-founders, John Law, testifies to its influence in the Desolation Center film. As Swezey notes, in the mid-to-late 1980s, the first Burning Mans “were on a beach in San Francisco. Then the police shut that down. It became clear that either they were gonna have to stop, or they could do it somewhere else. And he had the idea of, let’s take the Man out to the Nevada desert.

“Now, where does that idea come from? Well, any number of different things. But part of it was because he had been a volunteer of Survival Research Laboratories. Not in 1984, but a few years later, he was contributing neon art, and helping out with shows. That’s where he heard about SRL being out in the desert, and the [Desolation Center] shows in general. So he said yeah, that was an inspiration to me. Like ‘let’s take the Man, burn it out in the desert.’ I think in the early days, they were a lot more connected conceptually.”

Still, as Swezey stresses, he never had a Woodstock-sized festival in mind. “It’s kind of like saying to a 19-year-old now, ‘Oh, do you want to do Coachella?’ It was totally on a scale that I had no concept of ever trying to do. What I knew was that when I was in high school, you could go to the Hong Kong Cafe and you could see the Germs, or the Brave Dog and see Christian Death or the Bags. I just liked the small scale. That was always my point of reference. The idea of doing a giant show in the desert, it seemed almost counterproductive. The same with the boat. I couldn’t have imagined a bigger boat being better, somehow.”

D Boon of Minutemen watching Curt of The Meat Puppets perform. Joy At Sea 1984 – by Ann Summa

However, as he’s getting ready to prepare a DVD version of Desolation Center and a book commemorating the events, “I want to do a new desert show. I think that it’ll be small-scale, and there are ways to do it. I’m not going be on BLM land, but I think we’ll have the buses involved in some way. I want to give it a shot. I don’t know that I want to get back into doing it on a regular basis, ‘cause it never really was that for me. But I want to do it once, just almost as a proof of concept, just to see how would it be similar, how would it be different. I do know that there are things that go on in the desert in the same area, whether they be DJ-type events, or with bands. I think it’s totally doable.

“We probably have to have certain kinds of precautions, and I wouldn’t want it to feel the same as in the ‘80s, when I was in my early twenties. It’s good to acknowledge that things are different. I support anything that takes people out of that more structured environment, whether it be the festivals of today, with the wristbands and VIP passes and all that, or whether it be the old stadium rock that I think we were all wracking against.”

Whether he or someone else tries something similar, he adds, “it doesn’t have to be [in the] desert. We screened in Detroit, at the Third Man record store, where they have that pressing plant stuff, which is really cool. I was a little worried about, ‘what are people in Detroit gonna think of this LA story?’ Because there’s so much more urban decay and grittiness back there. They loved it. They were like, ‘I know an abandoned factory where we could do shows. And there’s a place in the Upper Peninsula.’ That’s what I want. I don’t people to fixate on the desert. That’s not really the most significant thing.”


Stuart Swezey

Desolation Center will premiere at London’s Doc’n’Roll Festival on November 16