• Devo: The Men Who Make The Music (Plus Butch Devo & The Sundance Gig)

    Directed By: Mark Mothersbaugh, Chuck Statler
    Released By: MVD Visual
    Released On: August 12, 2014
    Cast: Devo, Robert Mothersbaugh Sr., Cheech Marin
    Purchase From Amazon

    MVD Visual has a treat for Devo fans with this release of two very rare features from the band's history.

    The Men Who Make the Music:

    The Men Who Make the Music was released on VHS in 1981 as a high concept “Video LP” that mixes together live footage, music video, interviews with the band (in character), and scripted segments in between. The feature was originally intended to be released in 1979, but was delayed because Devo's record label at the time took offense to the video's satirical portrayal of the music industry. The video has been long out of print, and this is its first ever release on DVD.

    Considering the musical gene pool this video emerged from in the early 80s, The Men Who Make the Music is very comparable to the short films, live shows and experimental music videos also being made by The Residents and The Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo. Likewise, it's combination of farcical segments, video montage, and live performance lays out the blueprint for the kind of long-form music videos that GWAR would specialize in a decade later with movies like Phallus in Wonderland (1992) and Skullhedface (1994).

    The feature begins as Devo's mascot Booji Boy (Mark Mothersbaugh), who wears a mask that looks like one of the creepy baby faces from Brazil (1985), delivers a report on “the truth about de-evolution” to his dad General Boy (Robert Mothersbaugh Sr.). Then it transitions to a music video for “Jocko Homo” (from their debut album, 1978's “Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!”). This is a pretty great video even if it's fairly crude by modern standards. Mark Mothersbaugh performs dressed up as a scientist (who looks similar to Bill Nye the Science Guy) to a lecture hall full of masked surgeons while his band mates wear stockings over their heads and sunglasses. Following the video we're introduced to the band by General Boy, before the band launches into a live performance of “Wiggly World” (from 1979's “Duty Now For The Future”). The band performs in their classic, yellow hazmat suits and with a youthful angst and energy that perfectly compliments their twitchy, angular post-punk sound at this point. The movie continues on in this fashion, with General Boy introducing a new segment featuring the band, then moving on to another live performance (taken from their '79 Tour), or a music video.

    The segments between each of the videos and live performances are delivered in Devo's characteristic style and all the dialogue is done in their unique lingo, so unless you are a hardcore Devo fan prepare to be confused. While the video's title promises to reveal the men behind the music, what it really reveals is the band's attitude towards the current rock establishment, the concept of celebrity, and the music industry's business-as-usual attitude towards the corporate exploitation of artists. In many ways The Men Who Make the Music is a parody of VH1 “Behind the Music” style documentaries. This is an experimental film that's as simultaneously goofy and confrontational as Devo's early albums and live shows were. Looking at it now, this 49-minute movie is a time capsule of the band before they became a borderline one hit wonder thanks to the huge success of “Whip It” in 1980.

    Butch Devo and the Sundance Gig

    This video opens with General Boy talking about hippies, punks and preppies, describing their attitudes and their style as a woman in the bottom right half of the screen translates what he says into American Sign Language. After some more random Devo rhetoric, the camera pulls back revealing the stage of Devo's performance at the end of the Sundance Film Festival on January 26, 1996.

    The band appears on stage in classic black-and-white striped prison uniforms, and are introduced by Cheech Marin (a bizarre, but welcome choice), who cops a feel from each of the band members as he pats them down and “inspects them” before their show. Then, the band performed songs from what was at that point their 20-year history to an unsuspecting Sundance Film Festival audience. I wonder what Robert Redford thought of the show?

    The Sundance Gig is a pretty great performance, and a one of a kind show, but when contrasted against the angrier, nerdier, and more confrontational Devo of the late seventies and early 80s, it's a performance by a band of older musicians who aren't railing against the status quo so much as they're an inextricable part of American pop history. That really takes the edge off the whole proceedings for the most part, although a portly Mothersbaugh in a filthy-looking Booji Boy costume singing “Beautiful World” does show that Devo wasn't completely done with confrontational punk theatrics.

    Probably the worst thing about this whole show is the audience. The cameras focus on the crowd quite a bit, and for a concert filmed in 1996 at Sundance they're as hopelessly 90s as you can possibly imagine. They stage dive badly, they commit crimes against flannel, they all have terrible hair, etc.

    If you're a hardcore Devo fan, there's really no question that you want this live show, but for the more casual fan I'd say skip Butch Devo and the Sundance Gig and just watch The Men Who Make the Music.


    The Men Who Make the Music and Butch Devo and the Sundance Gig appear on DVD thanks to MVD Visual, but don't expect this MPEG-2 transfer to look any better than VHS. There doesn't appear to have been any attempt to clean up or restore either of these features, and so they have all the imperfections that you'd expect from a shot-on-video low budget art film made in the early 80s, and a rare concert video from the mid-90s. The Men Who Make the Music fares the worst in terms of video quality. The picture is very soft and details appear fuzzy and washed out, especially during the segments between the videos and live performances. It's a shame too, because the video's set design and art aesthetic is very creative and it'd be nice to see cleaned up. Oh well. The music videos look pretty low budget, but they're consistent with what you'd expect from videos that aired in the very early days of MTV. If you're a diehard fan, none of this should really matter to you anyways. The live footage fares better overall in Butch Devo and the Sundance Gig. This performance features less of the washed out detail and ghosting that is common with older VHS source material. It's not digitally remastered, but it looks decent and it's never distracting.

    The audio on this DVD is supported by a Dolby Digital 2.0 track that while, doesn't offer the most dynamic aural presentation, still sounds pretty good when turned up loud. The audio is nicely balanced in the musical segments, and both features sound accurate to Devo's live output at the time they were recorded. As with the video presentation, the audio in The Men Who Make the Music is flawed either because of the VHS source or just the lack of recording quality during the original filmmaking process. That said, music during the video sequences and live performances is much better, as they were recorded separately from the segments composed by Devo specially for this video release.

    As far as extras go, there are no special features for The Men Who Make the Music, but Butch Devo and the Sundance Gig has a few extra goodies for Devo fans, including a setlist, a 39-minute rehearsal of the concert, and bonus concert videos from several different tours, including “Gates of Steel” from Devo Live 1980, and “Uncontrollable Urge” from Live in the Land of the Rising Sun (2003).

    The Final Word

    The Men Who Make The Music has been out of print for years and never released on DVD until now. It's an essential document from the band's history, with an hour long concert as a bonus feature. If you're a diehard Devo fan, you need to obey your uncontrollable consumerist urges and buy this.