Burn to Shine 6 ignites the past

Atlanta music documentary captures a moment in time

In 2004, Trixie Film, helmed by Washington, D.C., music scene staples director Christoph Green and producer/Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty, began releasing their seminal Burn to Shine documentary film series. They went from city to city filming bands playing one song each in a condemned house. Later, they captured the house’s demolition or burning. Then local musician Lee Tesche saw that Atlanta had the talent to warrant its own chapter in the series, and “wanted people to know these awesome bands.” He pursued Green and Canty with a simple strategy: “Blowing smoke and harassing them until they agreed to come,” Tesche says. “And it worked.”

On July 29, 2007, a day that Green remembers was “so hot that everyone was pouring out sweat,” Atlanta music legends, and legends to be, came together to film in a dilapidated green house at 54 Moreland Ave.

The job of curating the lineup fell into Tesche’s hands. He chose bands he loved “and wanted to watch play. I wanted people outside Atlanta to pay attention,” he says.

Artists he wrangled to play included Shannon Wright, the Selmanaires, the Liverhearts, Snowden, Carbonas, Black Lips, Deerhunter, Mastodon, Delia Gartrell, the Mighty Hannibal, All Night Drug Prowling Wolves, and the Coathangers. Calvin Johnson even made a surprise visit, but only because he was in the neighborhood and wanted to check it out.

For the Coathangers’ drummer Stephanie Luke, when asked to play, the answer was an easy yes. “We wanted to be a part of that once-in-a-lifetime grouping of musicians.”

Burn to Shine Vol. 1-5 are moving documents of influential American indie rock — the Chicago installment in the series (Vol. 2) features performances by bands such as Tortoise, Shellac, and Wilco. The Portland installment (Vol. 3) features performances by the Thermals, Sleater-Kinney, the Decemberists, and more.

Green says Vol. 6 is his favorite installment of Burn to Shine so far, and features the most consistently great performances.

The film captures not only Atlanta’s leading acts at the time, but inadvertently captures a glimpse at the start of the housing bubble bursting. It was also a time that saw the end for beloved indie label Chicago-based Touch and Go Records.

Touch and Go was the distributor for Burn to Shine that, Trixie Film’s website says, succumbed “to the plague that is stealing music in this new computer-worshipping unethical world.”

People stopped buying records, the economy tanked, and this moment in Atlanta music history was shelved.

The house location on Moreland Avenue was never developed, and now stands in the shadow of wholly new construction that recently demolished “the yellow house,” an Atlanta house show fixture for years. Cole Alexander from Black Lips may have the distinct honor of being the only musician to play in both houses.

Since then, Tesche’s enthusiasm for Atlanta music has spread beyond the city limits. Records by the Mighty Hannibal and Mastodon wield influence far and wide, and the Coathangers continue to impress. “They were so new it was controversial to add them to the film,” Tesche says. “It’s amazing that they’ve become such an institution.”

Tesche “wasn’t in any bands at the time of filming,” but has since joined post-punk acts Lyonnais and Algiers. The success of Algiers and his continued love of the film helped make Burn to Shine 6 a reality. Algiers are touring with the film and its producers to promote its release up and down the East Coast. Tesche glows when talking about heading out on tour with Green and Canty, the latter of whom he says was “one of my idols growing up.”

Tesche calls the film “a time capsule,” and Luke from the Coathangers says it’s “a snapshot of a special time and place.” Either way it’s an endearing legacy of what Atlanta can and continues to create, a music scene that supports and builds off of each other, and a group of people struggling to make something beautiful in a world that is forever changing.