Alt-Rock Apex

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Nirvana (here at a 1991 gig) recorded at Smart Studios in 1990. Jay Brown/www.jfotoman.com

From its founding in 1983 until its unceremonious closing in 2010, Smart Studios bore witness to the rise and fall of alternative rock’s heyday.

The Madison recording studio founded by Butch Vig ’80 and Steve Marker ’89 — members of the band Garbage — helped to create and capture the sounds of some of the most influential bands of a genre, including their own: Depeche Mode, Killdozer, Korn, L7, Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins, and U2.

The studio that helped to catapult the Midwest into the international music scene is the focus of Madison filmmaker Wendy Schneider x’94’s documentary The Smart Studios Story. The film is available for preorder on iTunes on March 1, and DVDs and vinyl can be purchased on the film’s website.

Schneider worked at the studio while attending the UW in the early ’90s, and she used her experience to tell a piece of rock history that was American to the core: two men who started with nearly nothing and ended up making waves worldwide.

“It was a really potent time and place in Madison,” says Schneider. “It was about the work, music, and nothing else.”

Working on the film during a span of seven years with a limited budget, Schneider relied on help from several UW communication arts alumni and interns: instructor and finishing supervisor Kaitlin Fyfe PhD’17, Ally Carlson ’12, Hannah Frank ’16, Brad Giroux ’14, Leah Haefner MA’16, Jed Hobson x’17, Chase Lederer ’16, Bianca Martin ’14, Aaron Martinenko ’12, James Runde ’15, and Jamie Wagner MA’12.

Vig, who with Marker served as an executive producer for the film, hopes the production inspires a new generation of artists. “Smart was never meant to be a museum; it was about existing in the moment,” Vig says. “With a ton of passion, hard work, some luck, and a bit of blind faith, we had an amazing, 30-year run.”

Published in the Fall 2017 issue

Tags: Alumni, Arts, Business, Film, history, music

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