Mandy Stein was raised in rock. Her father was the founder of seminal label Sire Records. And her mother managed The Ramones. Aged just three, Mandy was attending sound checks in New York underground club CBGB. But it wasn’t until she discovered filmmaking at college in 1998 that she found a way to make her own mark on music’s cultural landscape.
When Mandy was in the final stages of her 2006 Ramones documentary, Too Tough To Die: A Tribute To Johnny Ramone, she heard that CBGB – the home of NY punk and her cultural birthplace – was to close its doors for the last time. “I was in touch with a lot of people in that scene like the photographers Bob Gruen and Roberta Bayley,” says Mandy. “They kept telling me, ‘You have to get down here’. Finally I got in touch with the owner of CBGB, Hilly Krystal, who has now passed, and he felt like I was the right person to tell the story because of my strong history with the club… It was kind of a match made in heaven.”
The resulting celluloid, Burning Down The House: The Story of CBGB, documented the rise and fall of the iconic watering hole situated in the Bowery neighbourhood of New York. Mandy was there at the very end. And it was after shooting the final three nights of Bad Brains’ shows with her fiancée, Ben Logan, that her most immersive project yet was conceived.
“The [Bad Brains] footage was so incredible that we showed it to the manager and said, ‘There’s something more here’,” remembers Mandy. “It was really great timing because they had just finished a new album produced by Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys and they were going on tour for the first time in almost ten years… All of a sudden we were on a plane heading to Woodstock for rehearsals.”
The DC-formed reggae, punk rock, hardcore crossovers – who started as a Jazz fusion band – are the band’s band, incredibly influential, but sometimes overlooked by the mainstream. “They’re unsung heroes,” suggests Mandy. “They’ve influenced countless people… But at the same time they’re not really as big as a lot of these people think they should be. A lot of that is because they were really ahead of their time.”
From hardcore bands like Minor Threat and Black Flag to MTV guys Dave Grohl and Anthony Keidis; from hip hop pioneers Beastie Boys to Sacramento dudes Deftones, Bad Brains have been a huge inspiration. They’ve also courted a fair amount of controversy and heartache along the way – rumours have circulated about HR’s mental health problems. So were they keen to smokescreen that while making the doc? “They didn’t hide anything from us,” says Mandy in praise of their openness. “And you know what? I think a lot of the controversy will be debunked.”
You can rent Bad Brains: A Band in DC on Vimeo.