Film and TV

Denver Punk Reunion for Wax Trax Doc: Jello Biafra, Al Jourgensen, Groovie Mann

Jello Biafra, of Dead Kennedys fame, as seen in the documentary Industrial Accident: The Wax Trax! Records Story.
Jello Biafra, of Dead Kennedys fame, as seen in the documentary Industrial Accident: The Wax Trax! Records Story.
The Denver Film Festival's November 9 and 10 screenings of Industrial Accident: The Wax Trax! Records Story have turned into an industrial music and punk-rock reunion of epic proportions.

Joining director Julia Nash on the first night, a Friday, will be two outsider icons with Colorado roots: the Dead Kennedys' Jello Biafra and Ministry's Al Jourgensen, as well as Frankie Nardiello —  better known as Groovie Mann, a founder of My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult. Everyone other than Jourgensen will be back for the second session on Saturday evening — and as a bonus, Biafra will spin post-screening DJ sets at the Lion's Lair both nights. The details are below.

Denver Film Festival artistic director Brit Withey calls the unlikely outsider-rock summit he helped assemble "super-unique. It's pretty amazing that we're going to have all these people who haven't been together for a very long time."

How long? Mark Skillcorn, the husband of Julia Nash, who directed Industrial Accident and is the daughter of Wax Trax co-founder Jim Nash, told Withey that this might be the first time Jourgensen and Nardiello have connected in person "for something like twenty years."

The connection between Denver's Wax Trax stores, at 638 East 13th Avenue, and the Chicago retail outlet and label of the same name is explained in "Hometown Boy Makes Bad," our 2003 profile of Jourgensen. In addition, the article includes Jourgensen's description of the time he spent living in Colorado, his ties to the Boulder-born Biafra and a 1977 Denver appearance by the Ramones that wound up having a big impact on music here and beyond, as seen in the following excerpt:

click to enlarge Ministry's Al Jourgensen during a segment from the documentary Industrial Accident: The Wax Trax! Records Story. - YOUTUBE
Ministry's Al Jourgensen during a segment from the documentary Industrial Accident: The Wax Trax! Records Story.
Fortunately, Jourgensen's recall of his formative years is considerably better. He was born in Havana, Cuba, and raised in Chicago by a family affluent enough to afford a second home in Breckenridge. When he was nine years old or so, he began accompanying the clan on skiing vacations, and several years later, he says, "My parents got tired of the rat race in Chicago and moved to Frisco."

This transition was a rocky one for Jourgensen. "It was a freaky thing going from a concrete jungle to, you know, nature. But it was a real big part of my growing up. If I'd stayed in Chicago, I probably would have wound up in jail or something."

Instead, he spent the hours after school piloting a truck for his father, who owned a Montgomery Ward department store. The job wound up supplementing his musical education in unanticipated ways. "At the time, I was listening to a lot of Brit rock and Kraut rock — Hawkwind and Pink Floyd and Can," he says. "Then I started getting a lot more into the country aspect. I'd be driving over Hoosier Pass to Alma, delivering washers and dryers, and the only radio stations I could get were ones that played country. And I'm not talking about achy-breaky, licky-dicky shit. I mean old country — stuff I don't think I would have been exposed to in Chicago.

"It wasn't my choice to listen to that," he goes on, "but I finally started getting used to it. I'd be like, 'Well, I guess this ain't so hick. It's pretty cool.' I understood the subtleties of it, and it kinda stuck with me."

Beyond Jourgensen's trademark cowboy hat, the tangible impact of these C&W sessions on Ministry's sound is tough to quantify. Simpler to peg is the impact upon him of a 1977 gig by the Ramones at Ebbets Field, a long-defunct Denver venue. "It was definitely a life-changing moment," he notes. "It was the difference between listening to music and feeling the music. I felt like I'd been punched in the fucking ribs after that show. I'd never seen anyone plow through a set like that, and to this day, that's the one thing we borrow from the Ramones. Ministry doesn't fuck around and talk to the audience and do the rock babble-dribble. We just go about our business and nail these songs: one, two, three, bam, bam, bam!"

Ebbets Field wasn't exactly packed on that evening. "There were, like, 25 or 30 people there, and half of them were hecklers — cowboys who were like, 'Hey, punk!'" Jourgensen remembers. Even so, the gathering included several people who'd become important to him in life and music — chiefly, Jello Biafra, the Boulder resident destined to front the Dead Kennedys, and the late Jim Nash, who founded Wax Trax, a record store that remains one of Denver's true pleasures. Biafra and Jourgensen subsequently worked together in bands like Lard. For his part, Nash later sold the Denver branch of Wax Trax in order to open a similarly monikered outlet in Chicago that eventually spawned the groundbreaking label of the same name. Wax Trax Records put out Ministry's debut single, "Cold Life," its 1984 album Everyday Is Halloween, and loads of music by Jourgensen side projects such as the Revolting Cocks and 1000 Homo DJs, also featuring Biafra.

"That show was insane," Jourgensen continues. "We never talked; we didn't even know each other. But these were people I wound up working with for the rest of my life."
Shortly thereafter, Jourgensen relocated to Chicago, where he worked at the Wax Trax store and label and performed in the pre-Ministry band Special Affect with Nardiello.

Here's a rare clip of Special Affect.

According to the Denver Film Festival's Withey, the upcoming Denver visit by the threesome happened "in a very hodgepodge sort of way. I loved the film when I saw it, and I've been talking to Julia Nash for quite a while. We knew we wanted the Denver screening to be special, and we ran through a lot of scenarios," including appearances by people in the film.

The first name that came up "was Jello," he continues. "He's from here, his mom still lives here, and he comes back here a lot. So they approached him and figured out if the dates worked and got him to commit." The pair of Lion's Lair shows were a bonus.

At that point, Withey admits, "we thought we were done. But then last week, I got a call from Mark, Julia's husband, who is handling a lot of the details with the film. They had spoken to Al Jourgensen, and he said he might be interested in coming, but only if Frankie would come, too. Then they talked to Frankie, and he said, 'Yeah, I'll come, too.' It all came together super-fast."

For Withey, this combo triggers memories of his early days in Colorado, during the late 1980s. "When I came to town, that block had Wax Trax and Imi Jimi and FashioNation, and it was such an important time for so many of us. It was a golden era, and to have all these people here is going to be an explosion of remembrance. It's a pretty special thing."

Industrial Accident will screen at 6:45 p.m. Friday, November 9, and 9 p.m. Saturday, November 10, at the Sie FilmCenter, 2510 East Colfax Avenue. Click for more details or to get additional information about the Denver Film Festival, which gets under way on October 31, and Jello Biafra's Incredibly Strange Dance Party! at the Lion's Lair on November 9 and 10.