OSU Alum Screens Rock Doc Brainiac: Transmissions After Zero at the Wex
“Ohio bands are just weird fruit.”
So says Cincinnati native Matt Berninger from the band The National, speaking specifically about Dayton’s 90s indie darlings, Brainiac, in a new documentary from OSU alum Eric Mahoney.
Mahoney brings his second Dayton, Ohio-based doc, Brainiac: Transmissions After Zero, to Columbus this weekend — just when we need to be reminded of all the reasons we love and embrace and mourn with that town.
Screening at 7 p.m. both Friday and Saturday, August 9-10, at the Wexner Center for the Arts, the film looks back at Brainiac’s unique sound, a sound that Hole bassist Melissa Auf der Maur describes as, “Devo robots meets punk rock James Brown.”
“The film ended up being a story about, first and foremost, this band,” Mahoney says. “And at the center of that was this, to my mind, seminal musician who was a bit of a genius, really.”
That genius, Tim Taylor, was co-founder and creative braintrust behind Brainiac’s unusual sound. But Mahoney’s resistant to pigeonholing the film with the old “Behind the Music” formula, saying the documentary is “a lot of things.”
“It’s a period piece about the Nineties, it’s about indie rock, it’s about a tragedy and it’s about overcoming that tragedy.”
Primarily, though, Mahoney believes his film concerns one peculiarly talented group of musicians.
“It’s a story about their band and their quick ascent in the mid-90s, when the music industry was in a bit of a feeding frenzy with some money to throw around,” he says. “Brainiac was becoming categorized in that ‘next big thing’ category, and then they suffered a horrible tragedy where they lost Tim in kind of a freak accident.”
Mahoney began filming the documentary in 2017 to correspond with a tribute concert commemorating the twentieth anniversary of Taylor’s death.
“It kind of becomes this almost Shakespearean tragedy,” he says. “These guys had their entire lives kind of mapped out before them and then it was jerked away. What do you do when you’re in your mid-twenties and are about to sign a major label record deal, which really meant something back then — financial security and momentum in your career — and it’s all jerked away? How do you process that? How do you identify with yourself? You’ve build a certain identity around this band and that’s all gone, so where does it leave you in the mix?”
Moments shared with bandmates, family members and indie rockers from the 90s and beyond offer a glimpse of the influence the not-quite-made-it band has had since its sudden end in ’97, regardless of its somewhat unglamorous roots in Ohio.
In fact, the band was so proud of their nowhere-ish beginnings they made it their slogan: Fuck y’all, we’re from Dayton.
It’s a sentiment Mahoney seems to share, in that Brainiac: Transmissions After Zero is the filmmaker’s second documentary based in his native Dayton. Why is everyone from Dayton so hometown proud?
“I think that town has always held some level of fascination for me for a variety of reasons,” he explains. “One of which is the amount of creativity and invention and innovation to come from this small town. Even though I lived there many years ago, I kind of go back to that well for inspiration. I find the people that live there to be very inspiring and interesting and bizarre.”
There are logistical considerations as well.
“From a practical level, I have access to the stories,” he says. “It’s easy to reach out and have a level of familiarity with subjects and kind of a short hand as well.”
So why Brainiac?
“I think the story’s really inspiring, and it’s funny,” he says. “These guys are just really funny people and were just insanely creative. I hope that people walk out inspired and feel empowered to go chase what it is they want to chase in life.”
Mahoney premiered the film at 2019’s South by Southwest festival and he’s eager to screen the film on home turf at the Wex.
“It’s a place I always held in high regard,” he says. “I sat in that theater in film classes and saw so many movies there when I was in Columbus that inspired me. I’d always wanted to one day bring my work there. I’m certainly honored to come and do that.”
Catch the film, along with a Q&A with the filmmaker, at 7 p.m. this Friday, August 9, and Saturday, August 10, at the Wexner Center for the Arts.