A young kid picks up a guitar. Even before they’re comfortable with the instrument, their mind is overcome with dreams of rock stardom. Even though that dream is only realized for a few, it never stops the kids from trying. Then there are the few that catch that lucky break, where the stars align and their presented with a path to rock stardom – no matter how young they might be. That’s the story of the Brooklyn based metal band Unlocking the Truth, a trio consisting of 3 young black kids. The story of how these three young boys came to sign a massive record deal with Sony is the basis for Breaking a Monster, a fascinating documentary from director Luke Meyer that peers deep behind the veil of the music industry as a number of movers and shakers try to will these kids into superstardom.
Led by guitarist Malcom Brickhouse, Unlocking the Truth also features Jarad Dawkins and Alec Atkins on drums and bass, respectively. Though most of their peers prefer hip hop, these 7th graders have found metal through the introduction music of pro wrestling and the soundtrack to certain anime. As they grew more confident with their music, the trio would play in Times Square, where a video tape of the youthful metalheads went viral, grabbing the attention of Alan Sacks, a producer who co-created Welcome Back Kotter and was later behind the Jonas Brothers. Sacks is a self-proclaimed outsider, a rebel fighting within the system, though it becomes quite apparent that he’s a company man as much as anyone else out there.
The boys and Alan soon travel to Los Angeles where they take meetings with Sony executives and proceed to sign a massive five-record deal worth an estimated $1.8 million. The deal is celebrated with sparkling apple cider and the boys are soon serenated with some noxious pop music being lip synched by a scantily clad woman, besides her is an individual dressed in a panda costume – it’s really quite a weird scene. From there, Unlocking the Truth must meet with various talking heads who present t-shirt and logo designs while talking about the band’s brand. They also begin playing a series of gigs in order to build their profile, performing at South by Southwest and other prominent festivals. Tension arise as the members of Unlocking the Truth are simply kids, and the demands of Sony and Alan Sacks don’t always jibe with the interests of 13-year-olds. Also, Malcom and the others start asking questions about money.
These young boys can certainly play their instruments, but, as the film shows, Malcom and the others aren’t confident in their singing abilities. Malcom undergoes singing lessons and the lyrics the band writes are scrutinized by their elder members of management. What Breaking a Monster highlights so incredibly well is the soullessness of the process, with a committee of talking heads weighing in on every decision that these kids make. After all, these are simply kids that want to play video games, ride their bikes or skateboards and not concern themselves with branding and the like. There’s something sad watching Malcom have to be covered in protective gear before hopping on his skateboard, and he’s visibly upset to be wearing all the gear. They just want to make their record, which in and of itself seems to be a troubling proposition with all the pieces needed to be put in place before these kids can go into the studio. All the youthful energy and spontaneity that made Unlocking the Truth something unique is drowned out in a purely artless, commercial process.
The members of Unlocking the Truth also have to contend with the notion that the only reason they were signed to a record deal was the novelty of their age. This is even taken further when one YouTube video asserts that they were signed solely because they were black kids playing metal. Alan Sacks tries to tell Malcom that the band wasn’t signed as “a token of liberalism.” But the young kid is having none of it, casually asserting that he believes their race was a factor in the band’s signing and he simply doesn’t care. There’s an ambition in Malcom as well as an ego, but it’s obviously a big part of what drives him musically. Time and time again, it’s apparent that Malcom, Jarad, and Alec have little patience for the business side of rock ‘n’ roll, only an interest in creating music.
Breaking a Monster is an excellent documentary for the way it just observes its subjects, finding these moments that are typically occurring behind closed doors. The fact is, you can see why the music industry is flailing, as the film shows that it’s an industry that is just way too stuck in its ways. It’d be harder to watch Breaking a Monster had Unlocking the Truth not consisted of three intriguing individuals, kids who can play their instruments yet are still kids – you can see one of them still has Spider-Man sheets on his bed at home. When Alan Sacks or their parents are trying to constrain them with the limitations required for their stars to rise, you just want to scream at the screen, “They’re just kids!” Luke Meyer has crafted a massively entertaining documentary that really shows how soulless the suits behind the scenes are no matter whether they’re a metal band or the Disney sanctioned pop of the Jonas Brothers.
Breaking a Monster
Profiling the rise of the metal band Unlocking the Truth, Breaking a Monster is a fascinating portrait of youthful trio of metalheads and the trials they face in their rise towards stardom after being signed by a major record label.