By Albert Samaha
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He's hunched over the monitors on the sticky black-smeared floors of Siberia, holding his video camera, as vocals and guitars scream out. He lurks in the shadows at the Knitting Factory, hastily gathering footage of the Ex. He's behind you at the Siren Festival during the Liars' set, with his lens looming over your shoulder, jumping from left to right between the masses of heads and shoulders. And there he isthat elderly white guy with the knotted and gray Rastafarian dreadlocks, the same ratty green T-shirt and worn pants, and bare feet at Northsix, comfortable and patient with a huge smile on his face as Deerhoof play their gloriously disjointed art-rock and roll.
The man with the cam is Joly MacFie, a 52-year-old English expatriate whose website, punkcast.com, is the well from which NYC TV's New York Noise, a new weekly program on basic cable available in all five boroughs, draws its riches. The show focuses predominantly on New York bands, and on November 1 the program will air exclusive video footage of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs ("Yeah! New York" and "Kiss Kiss"), Ari-Up and the New Crew ("Don't Say Nothing"), and Oneida ("Privilege"), among others.
MacFie's been posting bands on his website since 1997, and shooting them himself since 2000. His ubiquitous presence has turned him into a fixture of the indie scene: He's at practically every show worth the admission price, and his catalog proves it. Punkcast.com boasts hours of digital video footage of local, national, and international touring acts. The site's impressive show roster either stirs up fond reminiscences or utter regret: the Seconds, UK Subs, Japanther, Agnostic Front, X27, the Hissyfits, Touchdown, Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, Khan and Kid Congo, and Kimya Dawson are among many featured artists. He has filmed everywhere from the hippest lofts, spaces, and cafés in Williamsburg (Right Bank, Publick House) to rock clubsincluding some (Coney Island High, the Wetlands, Brownies) long gone.
Clockwise from top left: Macfie subjects The Liars, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Ari-up and the New Crew, Oneida.
"It's incredible what you can do with a good digital camera," MacFie excitedly begins, departing from his usually soft-spoken and quiet English demeanor. "You can take something that would have been mundane and forgotten and turn it into something powerful."
Shirley Braha, a senior at Smith College and intern-producer of New York Noise, shares MacFie's passion. After creating a more "subversive" format (the program was originally titled Big Apple Beats, and was going to air a panorama of New York artists from Frank Sinatra to Fat Joe), she posted on Yahoo's NYhappenings Web group, (groups.yahoo.com/group/nyhappenings), asking for indie bands to send in videos and show footage. MacFie replied, and Braha visited him at his midtown studio. Her initial skepticism was quashed.
"He showed me Monotrona, Ladybug Transistor, Mazing Vids, Out Hud, Tallboys. I was hooked," Braha says, beaming. "I was totally impressed with the audio."
MacFie quietly states, "Basically I make stuff that people can use to show off to their friends and that bands can use as merchandise. My purpose is to take the scene and amplify it."
With a sardonic expression he continues, "People write me e-mails and ask, 'Can I trade you?' I've got more stuff I shot than I can possibly process. I don't need any more stuff; all I need is more hours in a day."
He also maintains that he cooperates with bands' wishes if they don't want him to shoot and sell his videos. But he accepts only one reason: They want to control what represents them, because they consider that part of their art. MacFie says that Lydia Lunch made this argument to him on behalf of Jim Thirlwell of Foetus. Consequently, at a recent Knitting Factory show, MacFie passed on Thirlwell's new band, Baby Zizanie, and shot opening act the Seconds instead.
"Joly is probably one of the most genuine people in the scene," says Jeannie Kwon, bassist of the Seconds. "He does what he does out of love for music, not to make money."
The personal philosophy behind MacFie's operation is that in the vaporous world of cyberspace, there are a small number of people who upload to a great many people who download. MacFie has cast himself in the role of Uploader Supreme. He cites the Yeah Yeah Yeahs as a prime example of his work's efficacy. MacFie says that when he shot them at the Mercury Lounge opening for Moldy Peaches, they were ecstatic. Guitarist Nick Zinner put the video up on the band's website right away. However when MacFie shot them at their "secret" show at Maxwell's a couple months ago, Zinner asked MacFie to sit on it, which MacFie saw as an acknowledgement of punkcast.com's clout.