Ahorn | Sunday April 30th, 2017
“Wouldn’t want to be mistaken for a cheap porno, now would we?”
I like music documentaries and I’ve made a few myself, but I’d never heard of the Sleaford Mods, the subject of Christine Franz’s documentary, “Bunch of Kunst”. So I took a look at the trailer which showed a guy warming his socks on a heater, another couple of guys sitting in a car talking in semi-unintelligible British accents about smelling bad and then a brief bit of some screaming on stage with sweat flying around. It all seemed a bit too aggro to me – and this from the guy who made a documentary about Twisted Sister (sorry for the cheap plug)!
Now for some time, most of my information on music I get from listening to my favorite radio station. They broadcast out of New Jersey, but have a very big internet presence and I listen to them here in Berlin every day. And pretty much trusting them on matters of taste, I did a playlist search of their archives and found out that indeed the Sleaford Mods are pretty popular over there – point being I clearly haven’t been paying proper attention. I clicked on a show from March and listened to a song and it was pretty good. And then I checked out a couple more and they were good too. The band having now received the proper imprimatur, I decided semi-unintelligible bad smells notwithstanding, I better go.
And in fact the film came off not only better than I was expecting, but a lot different too. So I reported back to the station thanking them for their “public service” and the station manager got back to me to express his interest, but seemed a bit doubtful that they had been together long enough at this point to warrant a whole movie. A worthy point, one might think but the film, while providing a sufficient amount of back story, actually catches the duo at a tipping point in their career, transitioning from being basically a “spit and sawdust” bar band, self producing their music which is released on record by a home grown – if well respected – micro-label to “a big venue band.” “2000 is a very big venue, isn’t it?” asks Jason the singer, shortly before they jump to the 8000 seat O2 in London and finally at film’s end landing in front of 18000 crazy people at Glastonbury.
The band makes me think of a headbanger’s version of the New Wave band Suicide. Jason Williamson’s lyrics are free verse and composer Andrew Fearn’s music is made up of loops. There’s little relation to typical song structure, yet interestingly the film is full of shots of audience members singing along. The Mods’ appeal is to working class youth who strongly identify with the band’s working class roots and message, and at the same time they’re very smart. “Who wants to hear another love song if you have to get along with £15 a week?” is a quote from the catalogue but the band are not so cynical. Jason says “I’m a big believer of love, for fuck’s sake, but there’s a lot of stuff going on. ”
An interview I heard on the above radio station relates very well to their surprisingly balanced take on the rising fame the film portrays, “We’ve got no dream or arc to the band. Just keeping it going. But it’s got to be interesting. We don’t really have any ideas, we just go down to the studio and do it,” explains Jason. “At the same time we’re full of ideas,” says Andrew. “It should be strong and it should be different. The rest of it you just take on board because it’s your job.” “But it’s the songs, isn’t it? adds Jason, “always the songs.” And then they both start laughing.
For me that about says it. That and the shot of Jason’s wife standing in the wings of one of their shows holding their little daughter who’s wearing a pair of noise cancelling headphones. To make a long story very short, the film does something I love to watch and something I try to show in my own films – the process of a band becoming a band.
addendum: for those who might be puzzled by the title, it’s partly bi-lingual word play (of the sort that I love doing myself though nobody else ever thinks is funny), and mostly a way of dealing a title taken from one of their songs, “A Bunch of Cunts” – cunt in British English having a somewhat more universal application than the American reference to a female body part. As someone who recently made a movie that happily used the word ‘fucking” in the title, I think in this case it was a good choice. Wouldn’t want to be mistaken for a cheap porno, now would we?
addendum to the addendum: for extra interest before or after seeing the film, here’s a live set and interview with the Mods on said radio statio WFMU from 2014 https://wfmu.org/archiveplayer/?show=58382&archive=118634&starttime=0:12:48
Andrew Horn, Berlin-based filmmaker (The Nomi Song, We Are Twisted Fucking Sister!, The Big Blue), producer (East Side Story) and writer, is on the look out for interesting – and not so interesting – movies at this year’s edition of Achtung Berlin – new berlin film award.
Films from past editions of the festival can be found in the Achtung Berlin channel on realeyz.de