SXSW Film review: ‘Breaking a Monster’: The meteoric rise of Unlocking the Truth

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A scene from "Breaking a Monster."
A scene from "Breaking a Monster."

A scene from “Breaking a Monster.”

Last year, the Internet exploded when news came out regarding a metal band that featured three African-American teenagers who had signed a deal with Sony Music Entertainment for almost $2 million.

Thirteen-year-old guitarist and reluctant singer Malcolm Brickhouse, 13-year-old bass player Alec Atkins and 12-year-old drummer Jarad Dawkins first started gaining notoriety when video footage of their band Unlocking the Truth playing in Times Square received more than a million views on YouTube.

Their unabashed passion for the music and sheer talent for their chosen instruments is astounding. At 12, I could barely articulate my own thoughts. These kids not only excel at their music, but also have parents willing to stand behind them and support what they’re doing.

It’s not all fun and games. The documentary shows the kind of behind-the-scenes squabbles and temper tantrums that you’d expect, but passion always wins out. There’s one fleeting on-screen moment that I found telling: The camera pans past a handwritten “to-do list” on Malcolm’s bedroom wall and the last line reads “Prove everyone who doubted me wrong.” It’s not the focus of the shot, and the scene quickly transitions to the next moment, but it struck me as exemplifying the spirit in these kids.

It’s not hard to see why Alan Sacks comes on board as their manager and seals their deal with Sony. Sacks was the original creator of the sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter” and subsequently directed many Disney Channel movies. He also was the manager of another teen outfit at the complete opposite end of the musical spectrum, the Jonas Brothers. His passion for Unlocking the Truth never wanes, despite the fact that they can be a handful to deal with.

Director Luke Meyer mostly focuses his film on 2014, showing how the band went from SXSW to Coachella to the Warped Tour without ever releasing a note of music. In fact, they landed a commercial deal with Verizon, signed a five-album deal with a Sony Music imprint and played a lot of “Grand Theft Auto” before even making it into a studio. When they finally did step in to record with a producer, it was just to get a single under their belts.

The documentary manages to show the ups and downs of a young band, the stark realities of the music business, and illustrates how the band members and their families generally deal with it all in a graceful fashion. These kids are wise beyond their years and have more talent than most of us will ever know. For Sacks, it documents how challenging it can be for a veteran industry handler even when a recording session band fights about coke are actually about Coca-Cola.

Who knows what the future holds for Unlocking the Truth. In the post-film Q&A, they revealed that they are already trying to get out of their label contract. Still, in one year they played multiple major festivals and were handpicked by Metallica to perform at Heavy Montreal. Now the band and their families have an excellent time capsule of their first real year in the music business. One thing is for sure, we haven’t heard the last of these talented young musicians.

“Breaking A Monster” screens again on Sunday (today) at 1:30 p.m. at the Alamo South Lamar and again on Friday at 6:15 p.m. at the Stateside.



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