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can the creative class exist in a city that's changing so rapidly?

words: Tiffany Tso
images: courtesy Independent Culture Project
more info: Echotone Film

Austin has always been dubbed the “Live Music Capital of the World,” and the city has certainly lived up to its nickname; the city is rich in capitol with music. The entire city seems to be built on some sacred ground where talent buds, musicians grow to stars and musical roots are planted. There is no city in Texas more organic in taste and personality than Austin, and Nathan Christ is setting out to show the rest of the world exactly what he sees in his city.

Christ and a band of filmmakers set out to create one of the most innovated, guerilla music documentaries Austin will ever see, Echotone. Combining his passion for music and his talent for film, Christ has created from the ground up a vision of our city from the perspective of the bands, fans and the industry, including music from Sunset, Belaire and Black Joe Lewis.

First of all, what is the meaning of the title of the film, “Echotone”?

The word "echotone" is a play on "ecotone," which is a combination of eco(logy) plus -tone, from the Greek tonos or tension, a place where environments are in tension. There must be a compromise or one side takes over.

The are plenty of moments in the film where opposing forces overlap, whether it be the struggle for artistic integrity while still paying the bills, the new genres of music being created and how they are marketed, and how downtown Austin defines itself - Are we the live music capitol of the world or the live condo capital of the world? Can the creative class (clubs, managers, musicians, etc) exist in a city that is changing so rapidly? With renewed noise ordinances, midnight curfews, and the skyrocketing property value of the downtown area, some have warned that Austin is on a similar path as San Francisco in the mid-90s (the tech boom pushed out a lot of the artists from their neighborhoods) or Lower East Side Manhattan.

So, is there a band that you kind of wish you could have gotten involved in the Echotone project that wasn't?

Peter and the Wolf, though I'm pretty sure they don't call themselves that now. Red Hunter's music has always inspired me to travel and broaden my mind. Also, White Denim. We have some incredible footage of them playing in September 2008 at the Mohawk, but we couldn't make it work in the film proper.

Tell me about this particular film making process. Would you say it was a typical one or not?

It was anything but typical. It was a bunch of people banding together and basically working on sweat equity for nearly 2 years. We only had a production crew of 3-4 at all times, we were below bootstrapped on the budget the entire time, but were all driven forward by our passion for the city and the music. It became unacceptable to slow down. My friends at Reversal Films and Indierect Records are also incredibly ahead of the curve when it comes to how they are currently marketing the film. Just go to the website ( and you'll realize that this film's got a life to it beyond the film itself. It's a conversation, a community, a hub for musicians, filmmakers, and artists to engage and help further sustain the ATX creative class. We shot nearly 300 hours of footage and the film's 90 minutes, so we have plenty of supplemental material we'll be releasing as the film rises.

If you weren't out doing this, making films, what (or who) else would you be chasing right now?

I'd be in West Africa, where I traveled before. When I'm ready, I'm going to go again, probably to Senegal. I'm also trying to sell a book I wrote about and overland journey I took from Holland to Mali. It was an unbelievable time that started with restlessness and ended in a plane crash. I made some short films about it, took plenty of photos and, you know, the book. You can read/watch at my website.

Are you or have you ever been a musician yourself?

One side of my family is musical, but I'm just a servant to it. I could attribute my tapering off to a fascist saxophone teacher I had early on, but I just don't think I have that glowing ember that musicians have to have. My brother Jonathan got that gift.

Growing up, what kind of kid were you in school?

I had my team of friends and we got through an obscure middle class existence together in San Antonio, TX. Thank God a lot of us are now in a city where we can actually make a difference and be heard.

What kind of music did you listen to?

I was raised on Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, the Beatles, and Simon and Garfunkel. When I heard Roxy Music, Bowie, Marc Bolan, and Brian Eno for the first time at age 15, everything changed.

What was your favorite movie growing up?

I discovered the good stuff in high school. Before that, it was the usual crop of Hollywood output. Yellow Submarine, Monterey Pop, and Woodstock blew my head open when I was 14 or so.

Favorite era of film and why.

We're about to get that started.

Who is your idol? Filmmaker-wise and otherwise?

John Cassavetes, D.A. Pennebaker, Amy Goodman, Naomi Klein, Dave Eggers, Hermann Hesse

Name three songs that would be included on your desert soundtrack?

Lou Reed - "Metal Machine Music," Bill Baird - "Decay," Neil Young - "Expecting to Fly" (for the desert sunset)

What is your mantra for life - in 10 words or less?

Don't take advantage of people. Learn to collaborate.

Director Nathan Christ. photo: Christopher Rusch
Echotone director Nathan Christ portrait