An Incomplete History: How Athens, Georgia, Became the "Liverpool of the South"

From R.E.M. to of Montreal.

1987 Athens sons R.E.M. release their breakthrough album, Document, featuring the single "The One I Love." Rolling Stone declares R.E.M. "America's Best Rock & Roll Band." The band loses its cult status, and college radio is suddenly cool.

"They were one of the few bands that was doing something that actually had a bit of mystery to it and a bit of poetry to it," says a more recent Athens celebrity, of Montreal frontman Kevin Barnes.

1989 A party jam called "Love Shack" rolls up to #3 on the Billboard charts, becoming the biggest hit from Athens' 10-year-old New Wave outfit the B-52s.

"They gave Athens a kind of cosmopolitan quality," says Barnes. "They were rock stars, and they'd lived here too. So it wasn't like living in an absolute backwoods redneck place."

1991 Robert Schneider has two good ideas—forming and fronting the indie-rock band the Apples in Stereo, and organizing the Elephant 6 collective, a group of cassette-sharing individuals who begin to release their music through the E6 record label. E6 is born in Denver, but eventually forms a home base in Athens.

1998 E6's Neutral Milk Hotel releases the conceptual Holocaust-themed record, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. The album will reach legendary status as, by some accounts, the best indie-rock record ever made. In the late '90s, E6 releases other Athens albums from Beulah, Elf Power, and Olivia Tremor Control.

2007 Kevin Barnes' bombastic combination of soul, synth, pop, and psychedelia, of sexuality and sinister natures, spawns of Montreal's eighth album—the first to shoot them to superstardom—Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? Indie kids get their dance on and find their generation's own David Bowie.

2010 Current buzz names like Deerhunter's Bradford Cox, Phosphorescent, Danger Mouse, Drive-By Truckers, and Dead Confederate all hail from Athens.

"Athens is a really sleepy, nothing place, so maybe people don't have any distractions," Barnes says. "There's nothing else really to do. It gives you plenty of freedom. You can do whatever you want. There's no feeling of self-consciousness."

October 27, 2010 Of Montreal will play the Paramount Theatre with Janelle Monáe, supporting their most recent record, this year's False Priest.

"It's a bit of comedy, a bit of abstract art,: Barnes says of the show. "I'm not a fine artist with an explanation of why it's supposed to be valuable. I just make it, and hopefully people like it."

ethompson@seattleweekly.com

 
comments powered by Disqus