Movie of the Week: ‘Electric Purgatory: The Fate of the Black Rocker’

Once a week, we’ll pick out one of Fancast’s many full-length free feature films to spotlight. Sure, you’ll check out the big stuff like Coffy, Life and Duel at Diablo, but the smaller movies need shout-outs, too.

The movie of the week is Electric Purgatory: The Fate of the Black Rocker, which is extremely relevant to Black History Month as it profiles the struggles that seminal rock, funk and punk bands like Fishbone, Living Color and Bad Brains have fought through while trying to establish careers in the historically white-dominated genre of rock music. Watch this powerful documentary below, and then check out our interview with director Raymond Gayle, in which he pulls absolutely no punches in talking about what’s wrong in today’s black music scene.

“Blackface just gets replaced by diamonds and Bentleys, but it’s still shuckin’ and jivin’.” – ?uestlove of The Roots

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Q. What would you say to someone sitting down to watch this film for the first time, knowing nothing about it?
Raymond Gayle: I would tell them to leave their perceptions about the music industry at the door and to be prepared to get an education in label politics and be exposed to black artists that refuse to participate in minstrel buffoonery that is so prevalent in urban music today.

Q. Can you talk more about what you see as wrong with the current black music scene, and how the artists you’re profiling counteract those problems?
Raymond Gayle: If you examine the most of the mainstream artists that are selling millions of records they all have something in common. They either sold drugs (50 cent, Jay Z), have a murder charge pending (Gucci Maine, Beenie Segal) a gun charge (Lil Wayne, TI) or assault charges (Chris Brown, R Kelly). The perception is that you have to be from the “street” or be “real” to find acceptance. ?uestlove has a quote from the movie where he states, “Blackface just gets replaced by diamonds and Bentleys, but it’s still shuckin’ and jivin’.” The artists featured in Electric Purgatory defy this because it goes against the very thing that got them into music. Emphasis on the music part! Sure, these bands want to make it big and sustain a career, but not at the cost of selling their souls or in this case livelihood for success. The irony being that the black community doesn’t support them fully due to the fact that many in the community feel that rock music is “white” music. It was important for me to give a historical account on the many significant contributions black musicians had on the rock landscape.

Q. What inspired you to get involved with this scene and make this film?
Raymond Gayle: I’ve always been a fan of the bands like Fishbone, Bad Brains, Living Colour, and 24-7 Spyz. Their music resonated with me as a youth growing up in a racist high school in the South. I always wondered why those artists never hit the stratosphere of success as say Nirvana, U2 or even the Red Hot Chili Peppers who used to open up for Fishbone. Were they given the same “push” as the aforementioned bands?

Q. How did the project come together? Was it difficult to get this film off the ground and into production? What were the major challenges?
Raymond Gayle: I just started talking to some of the brothers after shows. I met Dr. Know of Bad Brains when they came to town and began discussing the many obstacles the band faced and the challenges of being such an eclectic band. From there I met Angelo Moore of Fishbone, and pitched him the concept of Electric Purgatory. He told me to meet him in LA for a show and so began the journey. I contacted the Black Rock Coalition and they put out an all call for willing participants to be interviewed in New York and Los Angeles. The major challenges were of course finding the funding. Most of the non-profit entities that funded the arts were adversely affected by 9/11 and Enron so it was tough. The grants that were offering assistance denied me. I was at my lowest point when I lost out to a 13 year old horror filmmaker for the Texans Filmmakers Fund.

Q. Who was your favorite interview? What was the most startling revelation you heard?
Raymond Gayle: I guess my favorite interview had to be with ?uestlove of the Roots. He’s just so down to earth and was very accommodating. We’re both avid Prince fans so it was nice to hear his Prince stories. It was interesting to find that the Roots are in a similar predicament with hip-hop. Since they don’t subscribe to the coonery and ghettodom that is required to be successful, the Roots have never achieved the financial success worthy of their musical talents. I would learn later on that he did the interview after receiving word that a member of his family had passed. Made me love the brother even more.

Q. Have there been any big new developments since you finished the film in the careers of your subjects? Have you kept in contact with them?
Raymond Gayle: As a matter of fact, members of 24-7 Spyz, Fishbone, King’s X, and Sound Barrier have formed a Super Group called A.N.M. (Anti N***** Machine). Living Colour just dropped an amazing new CD last year called Chair in the Doorway. Bad Brains latest CD was a triumphant return to form. Fishbone continues to tour tirelessly around the world. I stay in contact with many of the guys through Facebook and Twitter. Vernon Reid will tweet me every once in a while. I’ll call Jimi Hazel every now and again to see what’s poppin as well as hang out with Angelo Moore when Fishbone comes through town. I consider all of them my brothers.

Q. Are there any particular scenes you like the best, or that you think audiences should really take note of?
Raymond Gayle: My favorite scene is the Prince guitar solo on “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad.” That was from the Dirty Mind Tour. Dude was on top of his game for sure. Still is. I recently tweeted that Prince’s Super Bowl Performance was hands down the best ever. The original cut of EP had the solo at 3min. My wife made me cut it down. She was the voice of reason during editing. I could watch that performance for days. Prince needs to stop playing around and release all of his old tour performances. If anything, it would make people like Justine Timberlake run for cover. Of course the “Problems Facing The Black Rocker” Section would be critical for viewers to get the overall message of the film. There is a lot of truth in that section.

Q. Was Prince involved with the production?
Raymond Gayle: He was with me in spirit. I went through several of his subordinates to get him involved but to no avail. You don’t get in touch with Prince. He gets in touch with you. I’ve been told that he dug the film. The fact that he hasn’t tried to sue is also a good sign. He is very careful of his image and how he is presented. I wanted to make sure I did him justice in the film. He is a hero of mine almost like a brother I never had.

Q. How about any scenes that were particularly challenging to shoot?
Raymond Gayle: The Backstage interviews were the most challenging to shoot. For the Vernon Reid interview, we went straight from the airport to the venue and didn’t get to him till after the show. It was chaotic backstage and sound was an issue but it all worked out. Vernon was a good sport about the whole process. I remember having difficulties with Cody Chesnutt’s handlers in Austin. I had arranged for the interview weeks in advance. When we arrived after making the 2-½ hour drive from Houston, his people were brushing me off and delaying me. I guess they were expecting some MTV or Michael Moore type crew. Thankfully Cody was COOL. He saw what was transpiring and put an end to that nonsense with a quickness.

Q. What would you say is the overall message you’d like people to take away from the film?
Raymond Gayle: I want people to come away from this film with an appreciation for the artists and to get a different perspective of the music industry. To shine the light on the “hierocracy” if you will. I also wanted to speak directly to the artists themselves. I wanted these guys to understand that we (the fans) need them to make music and continue to inspire us. On a fanboy note, I’m hoping more collaborations like A.N.M. will spawn from this film because at the end of the day, it’s about the music. Can you image if Fishbone, Living Colour, Bad Brains, 24-7 Spyz, were to headline a tour with Prince and Lenny Kravitz? I can dream, right?


Check out a lot more of these groundbreaking musicians at

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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