Brainiac: Transmissions After Zero
by Hope Madden
It’s been an ugly few days, and while we reel from our country’s 251st mass shooting, this one painfully close to home, it’s a good time to remember that Dayton, Ohio is an amazing town teeming with fascinating, resilient people.
Eric Mahoney knows that, which explains why he returned to his hometown for this second documentary, this one on the Nineties indie punk force Brainiac.
The adjective used most frequently in Mahoney’s rock doc Brainiac: Transmissions After Zero is “weird.”
Fitting, really, for a film that dives into the brief and electric career of Dayton’s pride and one of the most innovative and surprisingly influential indie bands on the young scene.
Haven’t heard of them? Now’s your opportunity.
Don’t just take it from Mahoney. Take it from Hole’s Melissa Auf der Maur, The Mars Volta’s Cedric Bixler-Zavala, The National’s Matt Berninger, Fred Armisan and tons of others who still mourn the loss of this genuine and unique and weird presence in music.
Filmed 20 years after the freak accident that took the life of the band’s songwriter and main creative force, Tim Taylor, Transmissions After Zero makes itself comfortable with those who knew him best: his mom, his sister, his band.
Mahoney’s timestamp of a picture offers a refreshing break from the Behind the Music style of so many rock docs—partly because Brainiac’s trajectory ended days before signing with a major label.
What results is a candid look at what happens to the rest of the band, dealing not just with grief but also with the abrupt end of their forward progress, the end of their dream.
The film, in the end, is less about Tim Taylor himself and more about the band. Taylor’s presence is never far from mind, but at the same time, Mahoney and his subjects never manage to truly articulate that presence. Perhaps it’s a lack of interview footage, but the absence is felt—which partly frustrates but also fuels the doc’s overall sensibility of loss.
Without Taylor, Mahoney relies on bandmates Juan Monastrio, Michelle Bodine, Tyler Trent and John Schmersal to keep things lively. Their candor, wit and weirdness compel attention and empathy. Their openness with Mahoney is touching and often very funny.
Mahoney offers mainly talking head footage with brief snippets of the band onstage and some low-key but inspired animated sequences. He exhibits a little electro punk flourish himself as he pieces together the elements, but his style never upstages the content.
Instead, he lets the music and the musicians tell their own story. Like a lot of rock docs, Transmissions After Zero introduces or reintroduces a group of voices that should not have been lost. And in this case, it also reminds us how great Dayton and its people really are.