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Documentary Special

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Documentary Special

Posted on 06 March 2013 by Dorian

We appear to be in the midst of a bit of a golden age for music documentary, with films about interesting and surprising subjects coming out or being announced with increasing regularity. The reduced cost of making films in the digital age and the new crowd sourced methods of getting funding make creating a film about a relatively obscure artist achievable without the need for cinema showings or guaranteed DVD sales to support the endeavor.

Last year was a good year for the music documentary at both ends of the success and attention spectrum. At the top end was the Oscar winning ‘Searching For Sugarman’ which took an artists that was both obscure and hugely famous (depending on where you live) and coupled it with a fascinating story to great effect. Also notable was the epic homage to George Harrison, ‘Living In The Material World’, that was perhaps too comprehensive but was certainly a labour of love for Martin Scorsese.

TV has been another good source with BBC4 and Sky Arts leading the way in showing interesting and well produced documentary films on a wide range of artists. Sky Arts tends to show archive films but the BBC have made and shown excellent films on the likes of Squeeze, The Kinks and a surprisingly in-depth look at the work of Chas and Dave. They also have a film about David Bowie in the pipeline which features world renowned Bowieologist Nicholas Pegg in a consultant role.

Lawrence of Belgravia

Lawrence of Belgravia

Last year saw two of British music’s greatest curmudgeons celebrated in film, Felt/Denim/Go-Kart Mozart main-man Laurence and former Auteur Luke Haines.

‘Laurence of Belgravia’ was perhaps the better film and showed Laurence as an increasingly delusional figure, clinging on to concepts of stardom that  would never come, although it is all wrapped up in a self-perpetuated myth by the artist himself. (You can watch a trailer for the film here).

‘Art Will Save The World’ shows Luke Haines as a figure who is increasingly affable and comfortable with his place in modern music. At odds with his (again self-perpetuated) image as the most evil man in Brit-pop it sees him moving towards becoming something of a national treasure. It is perhaps best viewed as a companion piece to his excellent memoir, ‘Bad Vibes’. (You can watch a trailer for the film here).

Pitchfork has also entered the music documentary arena  and done some sterling work as part of their Pitchfork Classic series of films. These films are similar in concept to the 331/3 series of books focusing on a single album by the band in question whilst offering up some biographical details about them. These films to date have been of a very high quality and managed to get all the principle players interviewed for the films and included some excellent archive footage. Best of all is the recent film about Belle and Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister, and managed to make a brilliant record seem even better. (You can watch the whole of the film on the Pitchfork TV site here).

The Sad and Beautiful world of Sparklehorse

The Sad and Beautiful world of Sparklehorse

Below I preview four films scheduled for release, or in development, most of which have been made possible by crowd funding (the pros and cons of which I will not discuss here, although it is much debated).

‘The Sad and Beautiful World of Sparklehorse’ is a film about the music of the late Mark Linkous, one of my favourite recording artists. The UK interview filming has been completed and the producers are currently trying to raise funds for interviews in the US and Europe on this crowd-funding website. I have mixed hopes for this film based on the interviews captured to date, with some like-minded musicians such as Jonathan Donahue and Ed Harcourt included as talking heads. More worrying is the appearance of TVs Matthew Wright in the film, he may be a big fan but this doesn’t add credibility.  Hopefully the remaining interviews will include collaborators like David Lowery, Dangermouse and PJ Harvey and the archive footage could be what lifts this film.

‘Song Dynasties’ has already managed to get full funding through Kickstarter and looks set to bring out the story of Kevin Barne’s Of Montreal on DVD later this year. The film has been put together from hundreds of hours of footage from throughout the band’s career and has been 16 years in the making. If it is anything like as entertaining as Of Montreal are live on stage then it will be captivating viewing. (You can read more about the project and watch a trailer for the film here).

In February we posted a review of a little-known (in this country at least) album by the South African punk band National Wake.  We now have an opportunity to find out more about the African punk scene thanks to the forthcoming release of ‘Punk In Africa’, a film made by Deon Maas and Keith Jones in South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia and Kenya. (No UK showings of the film are currently scheduled but more details about the film and some footage can be found here).

Best of all is ‘Are We Not Men?’, a film about Devo. And  if you watch the trailer (above) you’ll see what an exciting film it looks to be. Devo were colourful, subversive, different and had some ideology to support the ideas in their songs. The perfect subject for a documentary film and one that should appeal to those unfamiliar with the band as well as their fans. The film was made possible by a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $70,000 and is scheduled for a release in August this year.

If you have any favourite music documentary films, or know of any interesting projects in production, please post a comment below.

By Dorian Rogers

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National Wake  – National Wake

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National Wake – National Wake

Posted on 05 February 2013 by Joe

When the likes of Joe Strummer and Paul Weller sung about police brutality and racism in their late 1970s and early 1980s heyday thousands took notice.

But when National Wake, a multi-racial punk band in Apartheid era South Africa, sung about these themes there is an extra resonance. Here was a band that was often banned from playing live, had first hand experience of police oppression and lived in one of the most brutal and unjust societies of the modern era.  Those that managed to see them were enthralled, but the wider world never even knew they existed.

National Wake were formed in 1978, two years after the Soweto uprising,  and at it’s core were Ivan Kadey, an architecture student with a protest singing and folk music background and brothers Gary and Punka Khoza, who played bass and drums respectively on the township soul and funk circuit.

Taking those protest folk and soul influences, combining them with rock and punk as well as reggae they created something that was wholly unique. At times its Bob Marley, at others Talking Heads with elements of The Clash and Funkadelic entering the mix. It was a superb combination that begs the question were they influenced by the music around them or were the likes of Talking Heads influenced by them?

Joined by additional members at various times: including percussionist ‘One Eyed’ Mike Lebisi; lead guitarist Paul Giraud; saxophonist Kelly Petland and slide guitarist Steve Moni, they were highly accomplished musicians and that shines through just as strongly as the protest lyrics on their only album, 1981’s National Wake.

I’ve only discovered them this year, through talk on the internet about the recent Punk in Africa documentary. This wonderful mixtape of the era was also enough convince me to buy the 2011 reissue of National Wake. It’s an album that has taken me by surprise. Not only is it surprising to someone brought up on UK and US punk bands to find out that South Africa had a punk scene at all during Apartheid, but its also a surprise at just how good this remastered version of this once forgotten album is.

Musically its as good if not better than many of UK and US new wave and punk bands we’ve already mentioned, opening with Wake Of The Nation, with prog rock guitar solo merging effortlessly into a soul funk rhythm that Weller would have welcomed with open arms to The Jam’s Gift album. The Saxophone and guitar solos are particularly effective but the lyrics shine brightest, “this is the wake of the nation as we smash it away.”

International News is another punk influenced track, combining the innovative world music view of Talking Heads with the social commentary of Strummer perfectly with its superb opening riff jerking among the percussion on a track about government censorship and the struggle of South Africans to tell the world and each other about their plight. The heavy South African accent on the “International News” chorus adds to the weight of this song. Even the fast pace of the song conveys the threat of government oppression.  In this Afro-pop interview with Kadey, he explains “there’s a sense of urgency to get this out before it gets shut down.”

The “Keep on moving, keep on fighting chorus” on Supaman, one of many Bob Marley influenced tracks, is the most emotional moment on the album. No matter what is being thrown at them the fight is worth it. There’s an added dignity to this song as Gary and Punka’s brother had been the victim of a brutal police attack. This track should have been played as Nelson Mendela took office when Apartheid was eventually dismantled.

The final track, a live version of Black Punk Rockers, is added to the reissue, and is the most overtly punk song on the album. But around half way through the band’s individualism comes through with one of the best drum and percussion solos in rock  brilliantly placed between the fierce major bar chords.

National Wake was originally released by WEA in South Africa. But following pressure from the South African government due to its overtly political lyrics it was effectively shelved.

Touring was also difficult for the band. Their Riot Rock tour with other South African new wave bands such as Safari Suits in 1979 was marred by venues refusing to allow a multi-racial band to play. They instead retreated out of the cities into township discos and small rural venues to find an audience. In the end they dissolved shortly after their album was shelved.

As for the band members they stayed within the South African music scene where they continued to influence other artists.  Kadey co-founded the record label Shifty Music and helped build its mobile studio using some of the National Wake’s sound equipment. Among those to use it was Warrick Sony of Kalahari Surfers. The Khoza brothers stayed within Johannesburg’s Rockey Street alternative scene, which featured a number of multi-racial bands, given confidence to play together by the trailblazing National Wake.

Apartheid may have ended but their lyrics of struggle and yearning for freedom are still pertinent globally and across South Africa. This is what makes the album far more than an historical artefact and we believe an essential item in any music collection.

National Wake is available direct from South African label  Fresh Music here  or to download from iTtunes or Amazon.

by Joe Lepper

 

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