Mike Cunnane’s Brass Cankles is like MTV minus reality TV, plus Portland and music

Mike Cunnane plays drums for The RattleSnakes, a band he has been in for 6 years, and he plays percussion in Sunset Hearts. He also documents the goings-on of Portland’s underground, indie and punk scenes on his video blog called Brass Cankles. The blog features well over 100 videos of 60 to 70 unique bands playing on and at bars, parks, punk houses, festivals, boats, and elsewhere throughout the city. He goes to shows with a camera—he started doing so with an iPod and a microphone, but has since transitioned to using a digital SLR—asks the band if he can shoot, shoots, and gets the video online for everyone else to investigate, share, and enjoy.

Last week I met up with him at The Holy Donut where we drank coffee, ate donuts, and discussed Brass Cankles.

Why did you start doing this?

Being a part of the music scene, you constantly—or at least this happens often enough for it to become annoying—see people at shows with cameras and equipment, and it’s usually some guy with a really nice camera and he’s got a microphone and he’s asking you if he can film stuff for money. You have no idea about the guy’s quality of work or maybe your band might play like shit that night so you don’t end up paying him and you don’t get the video anyway. Or it’s supposedly going to be the best concert video ever and you don’t end up seeing or hearing from them again. The goal of my blog was to film in a way that was easy to me, have a way to distribute that was easy, and find a process that was quick and simple so that I could see a band and within a couple days have a video online that would be good enough for people to watch that could also help promote bands if they wanted to use that content for themselves.

If someone were to come to the blog for the first time, which videos would you like for them to see?

There is a Butcher Boy video that was shot in a basement on Poland Street, which is this really cool punk house… It’s punk in attitude, but the music that happens there is awesome. There is all sorts of weird folk and jazz and experimental stuff and punk bands. It’s this really slow tune and it builds really interestingly and dynamically. Everything about it conveys a really neat atmosphere and it catches a lot of what I like about that place as a venue.

In the summer I have been trying to shoot at non-venues, especially at the kind of cool, outdoor and uniquely Portland kind of shows that happen. There were a couple from a show up at the park up on Munjoy Hill where A Severe Joy did a show and Correspondences are just playing out on the lawn. There is a lot from the summer I really like. Jesse Gertz’s project Glass Fingers playing on a docks, which is part of the stuff from the boat show and Picnic at the end of the summer. There is also one of Whip Hands, which is kind of a dark video and it’s hard to tell what’s really going on because the dock was lit by just this light that was swinging around, but they’re such a rough, intense band that it really suits them. Outdoor shows and unconventional venues, those are my favorite.

It’s kind of funny how there is now this role for the messenger or facilitator or curator, this role that is a lot more vague, but definitely more ever-present than there was 10 years ago, and this is sort of the responsibility you have taken on. Being a node is a new, interesting role. It’s the reason we know about everything from bands we otherwise might not have heard of to the protests in Syria.

And I feel like I am pretty much on that level. [Laughs]

Thank you for all of your work documenting the struggle for human rights. [Laughs]

It’s nothing. It’s nothing.

Yeah, I don’t want promotion of the blog to come off as self-promoting, as it is about the bands. Like I said, I want this to be for bands to use. I want this to be for people who want to promote themselves. I don’t really do very much besides film something, put it up, edit, and other pretty minimal work.

Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.