Les Enfants Terribles

Music-lovers who came of age in the 1980s will tell you how important trading mix-tapes was to them when they were ‘finding themselves.’ They found some of their future favorite bands and songs hidden deep in a perfectly curated collection, handpicked for their ability to flow into each other to create a complete listening experience. At the same time, there was another type of “mix-tape” being created in basements and backrooms across the country: VHS videotapes.

There was a certain skill required to make a captivating music mix-tape, but it’s still something most people were capable of doing with just one boombox and access to a radio. VHS mix-tapes, however, required at least two VCRs (not the cheapest investment at the time), not to mention the patience to track down and capture outrageous, one-of-a-kind moments that could easily be lost to history if the Play and Record buttons weren’t hit at exactly the right time.

In the grand scheme of things, these VHS mix-tapes have actually had a bigger impact on today’s culture than their popularity back then indicated. Every time you watch a funny clip on YouTube, put on a show “influenced” by Tim & Eric, or sit back and binge on a continuous stream of your favorite television series, you’re living the legacy of VHS versatility.

Sam McAbee’s “Lost & Found Video Night,” Derrick Beckles’ “TV Carnage” compilations and Robin Bougie’s “Retard-O-Tron” series were all mother’s milk for people seeking the weirdest scenes from television, movies and personal video collections. Classic scenes such as “Big Bill Hell’s Cars,” “The Max Headroom Incident,” “Commercial Practice in Acting Class” and “Steve Vai Fan” were all saved for posterity on these video mix-tapes. Now they still entertain, confuse and disgust viewers on the internet.

LA collective Everything Is Terrible! is a pioneer in the art of throwback, bringing VHS mix-tape ideals and aesthetics into the digital age. Many of the original mix-tapes were all about showcasing spontaneously outrageous moments, but EIT! turns the whole process into a stunning, engaging piece of performance art. Its members transform moments through precision editing and effects to create something that feels even more alien than the kitsch and bad taste of yesteryear. Their cryptic, hilarious and surreal broadcasts feel like they are coming from another, malevolent dimension.

EIT! performances aren’t limited to the screen, though. Live events feature bizarre costumes and audience participation, as the entertainers coax spectators out of their self-contained weirdo world—into a new, shared weirdo world.

One shining moment in EIT!’s history, if not the entire history of video mix-tapes, was in 2012, more than 30 years after the first ones began circulating. “Doggiewoggiez! Poochiewoochiez!” was about as high concept as you could get. A re-creation of
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1973 masterpiece, The Holy Mountain, it used only found
footage of animals, mostly dogs. Its execution is definitely abstract—but then, Jodorowsky’s original was a profound celluloid freak-out. In its own offbeat way, EIT!’s effort follows the original beat-for-beat. Video mix-tapes entered the true “art” sphere.

Everything is Terrible! brings its current best-of touring show to Sun-Ray Cinema as part of the Sleeping Giant Fest, easily one of the best annual events in Northeast Florida this week. You’ll want to be sure to bring your Jerry Maguire VHS copy to sacrifice at the altar of EIT! when you go. (Their collection is close to tens of thousands—and imitated by several far less-interesting online personalities throughout the years.)

The Sleeping Giant Fest has a plethora of enjoyable stuff this year if you’re a fan of cinema, music or good times. It’s the festival’s third edition, and curators Tim and Shana Massett, head honchos at Sun-Ray Cinema, are building an ever-growing community around engaging films and performances. Take in just one particular screening or fit in as much as you can across the festival’s four days—Sleeping Giant is an artistic oasis. Drink deep.