Quite often, the very best music documentaries are those about artists or bands otherwise ignored by the mainstream. The real grassroots stuff, behind-the-scenes warts ‘n all stories focusing rather more on the flaws and frailties of the human condition. Which is precisely where Margaret Gordon’s oddball and frequently hilarious independent documentary about Christchurch noise merchants Into The Void fits. The film gained festival plaudits back in 2014 but is only now getting a more wide-reaching, deserved, DVD release.
For 25 years, from the late ‘80s through to 2014, Into The Void were mainstays of the Christchurch music scene. If not exactly as heart of the scene, then most definitely as life and soul of the many parties. The first thing we learn about the band is that they all like a drink. Or 12.
The second is that they’re far more comfortable playing live than they are in the recording studio. Whether on stage at the Dux de Lux or at Lyttelton’s Wunderbar, or within the confines of their now demolished (post-earthquakes) inner-city band practice room.
Across the course of that 25-year period, the band, originally a quartet that morphed into a sextet, released just two albums. An eponymously titled debut on Flying Nun in 1993, and a self-released follow-up some 11 years later. But that part feels almost superfluous to this story, and the really good oil here comes as each band member offers an insight into their lives together.
There’s vocalist Ronnie van Hout, a conceptual artist who now lives in Melbourne. Guitarist Jason Greig, a self-confessed metal tragic, and another artist, whose own unique area of speciality is creating “prints of darkness”. Drummer Mark Whyte, a sculptor and all round funny guy. And then there’s Paul Sutherland, an eccentric “turntablist” who seems perfectly comfortable with the fact that the rest of the band can never really hear what he’s playing. So long as there’s nobs and gadgets to fiddle with, he’s more than happy. That’s the original four, with Galaxy Records owner Dave Imlay (bass), and James Greig (guitar) – cousin of Jason – being later additions.
Gordon makes good use of archive footage of the band at various stages of its existence – from the early ‘90s through to its post-earthquake vintage – and near the end we see the band playing to a small outdoor evening crowd on a vacant lot. But not just any vacant lot, it’s the exact spot their precious band practice room once stood. It’s a special moment as Jason Greig’s final heartfelt solo rings out into the Christchurch night air.
Throughout the 70-minute documentary, we get tidbits of gold from various friends and contemporaries, among them members of bands like the Terminals and the Dead C. More poignantly there’s some classic footage of one-time band manager Celia Mancini (R.I.P.) who tragically passed in 2017.
More than any of that though, Into The Void is a story about a group of mates who just enjoyed each other’s company.
For 25 years. Drinking, smoking, falling over, laughing, surviving earthquakes, and playing music as loud as humanly possible.
Margaret Gordon offers just enough on each band member, so we feel as though we might know them by the end. At the very least, we all know someone just like them, and that’s the real triumph of this film.