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Athens, GA: Over/Under: Thomas Bauer’s New Documentary Delves into the DIY Scene

Though the film’s title is a spin on 1987’s classic Athens, GA: Inside/Out, the newly released documentary Athens, GA: Over/Under is decidedly not a sequel, and it deliberately avoids rehashing or romanticizing the music scene as it was over 30 years ago. Chances are, if a viewer is jumping down this new rabbit hole, they’re already familiar with that base level of knowledge of local music history anyways. Instead, filmmaker Thomas Bauer delves into the DIY scene as he experienced it himself, offering a candid look at  its distinct charms and flaws.

Bauer began working on Over/Under in 2012 as a project for UGA’s student run radio station, WUOG, alongside Ella Grace Downs, who was co-director at the time. The film then evolved into an independent project with various people contributing, but came to a halt in 2014 after losing a hard drive with a significant amount of footage. Bauer later revived production in 2016 as part of his graduate work in Media Studies at The New School in New York City. The longevity of the project, intentional or not, made it possible to chronicle the ebb and flow of a DIY scene.

“The story I always wanted to tell was the progression of time through these bands, and not just a snapshot of the heyday,” says Bauer.

After taking viewers along for the ride to various shows and house parties, the film shifts its focus to show how the lives of musicians have changed over time. Bauer uses the Rodney Kings as anchoring characters here, following them as a band first, then following up with members Reeth Dasgupta, Max Wang and Cameron Evers later as they’ve moved on to other endeavors. Like the Rodney Kings, the majority of other featured bands have since dissolved, and interviewees have relocated over the years: DJ Boring, DIP, Ginko, k i d s, Manny and the Deepthroats, Muuy Biien, Pretty Bird, Reptar, Salsa Chest, Velociraptor and Bauer’s own group, Sad Dads.

The film’s final chapter takes place on the most recent New Years Eve, and begins by flashing a series of dystopian images like construction at the shuttered Taste of India and mixed-use development 100 Prince, plus chains that have infiltrated downtown like J. Crew Factory, Chick-fil-A and Urban Outfitters. Establishing this backdrop nods to the larger issues that occur when corporatization and cultural homogenization make it more difficult for artists to carve out and occupy space of their own. 

“It was really depressing to see all the businesses that shut down, even before COVID-19… It is strange to see all the chain restaurants downtown and large, gaudy apartment complexes guarding the four corners of downtown,” says Bauer. “Not being able to go back to Go Bar for the foreseeable future really got me feeling strange, because that was always my go-to place of comfort, even after everything else had changed.” 

Easily the most heartstring-pulling segment, the closing chapter archives the final big shows at Go Bar, which closed on NYE after 20 years of being a hub for experimental acts and late-night discos. A last hurrah brought back many of the venue’s regulars, like Catherine Rush and Coombsbot, back on stage and provided an opportunity for Bauer to touch base with previous interviewees. 

Remember when the closing of Go Bar felt like the biggest possible loss to the local music scene? It’s really all been downhill from there.

Over/Under is perhaps best understood as a collection of experiences from the perspective of the filmmaker. As a music documentary, it’s largely unconcerned with expounding upon how the local music scene originally took root or showcasing the diversity of genres that exist outside of its loose social circle, or investigating the community resources and infrastructural limitations that either cultivate or infringe on a DIY scene’s ability to flourish. It provides a pretty realistic impression of a particular time and place, without attempting to glamorize or mythologize itself.

Still, it’s a story that is widely experienced by creatives who live here, especially those who come in for college and see a wave of friends quickly vanish after graduation. Time and time again, it feels as though many musicians move on in search of “bigger and better” opportunities or are pushed out by a pressure to stop Peter Pan-ing, leaving narratives in the community to fizzle out just as they seemed to have been gaining real momentum. Of course, as one generation splinters in different directions, there is usually a new crop of eccentrics slowly coalescing. Over/Under stresses the importance of making music and art for its own sake, and for your own sake.

“I would hope it inspires people to make music and art no matter what, and to not be discouraged if it goes nowhere,” says Bauer. “I wanted to capture the spirit of the time and how important it is to create, even if it is with bad equipment and a lacking skill set. I want them to see a more honest look at what it is really like to be a DIY musician in a small town during that era, and how it is important to look back on the past with a critical eye.”

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