Last night, three days prior to Porcupine Tree‘s prestigious headlining gig at Radio City Music Hall in NYC (the three-hour show starts this Friday at 7:45 PM), frontman/mastermind Steven Wilson came to the IFC Center in the West Village to screen Insurgentes, the soon-to-be released documentary film by Lasse Hoile that both chronicles the making of Wilson’s debut solo album of the same name and explores his personal and musical roots. It was an industry event that drew approximately 150 people, and following the screening of the 90-minute film, Wilson spent a half hour answering questions from the audience, followed by a signing session.
Shot predominately on 8mm film, Insurgentes is surreal and arty at times and offers serious and humorous insights into Wilson’s creative process. The Porcupine Tree frontman is an old school music listener, preferring albums to singles, vinyl to iPods, quality over quantity (both musically and sonically). A classic contrast: Shopping for hard-to-find CDs and thumbing through Opeth frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt’s record collection to look at cool covers; four separate scenes of Wilson destroying iPods through numerous tools, including blowtorch and sledgehammer. Throughout Insurgentes Hoile travels with Wilson everywhere from his old public school to live European concerts to Disney World. They delve a bit into his side projects like the ambient Bass Communion. We also get to meet the musician’s musical peers (including Israeli rock star Aviv Geffen), his fans and even his parents. A great revelation from the film: Even though his family did not have the financial means to get him the gear he craved as a child, Wilson’s father built him a vocoder and a multi-track recorder. One can see how his father’s technical ingenuity inspired Wilson’s musical inventiveness.
Wilson’s presence has been somewhat unusual in the popular music world. He fronts a progressive band that plays heavy music, yet he looks more like a science geek than a rocker and certainly doesn’t live the clichéd rock star life. He’s well-spoken and doesn’t carry himself with any bravado or larger-than-life swagger, yet he’s a rock star to his fans. His music seems epic and uncommercial, yet it actually has commercial potential; the group is currently on Roadrunner Records and spent years with Lava/Atlantic, and Wilson has been on Israeli and British talk shows, played numerous European festivals, been interviewed for the Mexican Rolling Stone and even opened for Yes a few years ago on an American summer tour.
Self-indulgent yet fascinating, Insurgentes is clearly a film geared towards serious Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree fans, and it is definitely worth their viewing time. It probably won’t win over any new converts — information not known to outsiders, like Wilson having produced and been influenced by Opeth and his having recorded and toured with Geffen, not being explained — but that’s not the point. The fans will get it, and the frontman has never been about pandering to the masses. When, during the post-screening Q&A, Wilson contemplated whether selling more records or being more popular might make him happier, he admitted that he is pretty happy right now. I have been covering the band for 15 years, as long as I have been a professional entertainment journalist. In some ways, Porcupine Tree’s rise has been slow and steady, and some might wonder how more people do not know about them. Looking back objectively, the fact that such an eclectic, intelligent group will play Radio City this Friday is pretty damn amazing. It gives you hope for the embattled music industry.