Devo Bandmembers Explain How They Restored Old New York Shows Found on 16mm Film | Video

Sundance 2024: “It was nice to find it on tape. It was kind of an amazing,” Mark Mothersbaugh tells TheWrap

The process of making a documentary on the iconic ’80s New Wave band, Devo, was a five-year journey, according to director Chris Smith. But in researching the band over that time some fabulous examples of the band’s live performances were unearthed. One of their earliest shows in New York City, filmed on 16mm film, could have almost been lost forever.

“It was about eight or nine years ago, someone came out of the woodwork,” said Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh at TheWrap’s Sundance Portrait and Interview Studio sponsored by NFP. “They had gone to a garage sale in New Jersey and bought canisters of tape that had names on the side. There were other bands on some of the other tapes and they saw ones that said ‘Devo’ and so they bought them. It was 16 millimeter film.”

But because the original tape didn’t have video it required the band to be inventive and remastered it on their own. “It had never been cut together or turned into anything,” said Mothersbaugh. “And they didn’t have sound. But once we figured out what it was we realized our sound man had made an audio documentation of the show that night onto a two-track tape so we were able to marry those together.”

Mothersbaugh continued: “It was great to see it after the fact because we remember David Bowie came out and introduced us, and was backstage with us and said he wanted to produce us. We remember all that stuff, but it was nice to find it on tape. It was kind of amazing.”

For the band, made up of brothers Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale, it was a now or never moment to make a documentary. But they knew they wanted to showcase their rise as a band as well as the philosophy that kept them together. “When we first formed, it was with a philosophy and a concept, and an idea based on our experiences of the real world that maybe man wasn’t the most amazing animal on the planet. Maybe we were the most dangerous and the one animal that was out of touch with nature,” said Mothersbaugh.

That being said, they understood quickly that their sound was at odds with the music being created at the time. “The music that was popular at the time was really vapid,” said Mothersbaugh. “It was concert rock, Boston and Styx. Bands singing things like ‘snorting whiskey and drinking cocaine, I think I’m gonna go insane.’ And disco. It was all really not that interesting to us. I mean, disco had great sounds in it. So we were thinking, ‘Well, let’s go put some content into what we’re doing.’”

You can watch the full interview above.

“Devo” is a sales title at Sundance.

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