Venue: Glasgow Film Theatre
Fusing the spirit of punk, the drum and bass origins of grime and Orwellian social commentary; Sleaford Mods’ rise to prominence in recent years has been an abnormal success story. The “band”, comprised of lyricist Jason Williamson and beatmaster Andrew Fearn, are the absolute antidote to the sort of product that would typically make waves in today’s music industry.
Thus, Bunch of Kunst – written, directed and produced by Christine Franz – naturally embodies the archetype of the anti-music documentary. The authentic minimalist ethos that defines the duo’s distinctive back catalogue permeates visually through this film, resulting in a wholly endearing depiction of a music entity that inherently resists the machine it exists in. In the wider documentary genre, Bunch of Kunst aligns more to the grit of Louis Theroux than the glamorous rock ‘n’ roll film and aesthetically, it’s all the better for it.
Akin to the Mods’ polemic lyrics, the film is thoroughly comedic in parts yet in others, evokes serious emotion. The grounded nature of the duo’s appeal is captured precisely in Williamson’s vulnerability. On one hand, the voiceferous orator is fittingly described by Rough Trade founder Geoff Travis as like a Shakespearean character in his idiosyncratic stage presence and demeanour. On the other, he is shown to be a relatable everyman as he battles crippling pre-gig nausea.
Perhaps the most compelling theme in Bunch of Kunst is the band’s conflict with success. This is best captured in the figure of Steve Underwood, friend, manager and no.1 fan. A bus driver before he could make a living with Sleaford Mods, the band’s unofficial third member epitomises old school punk and owns a bigger record collection than John Cusack in High Fidelity. Underwood is candid about the moral dilemma of the group signing to Rough Trade in early 2016, but nevertheless reluctantly concedes that the move was a progressive one.
For Williamson and Fearn, the handling of success comes during off-tour downtime, with the latter hilariously opting to leave his flat and live in a tiny-hippie water caravan simply to get away from the commotion of intensive gigging. In the vocalist’s case, the success is balanced out by his duties as a father and husband at home. There is the sense that the duo are better off for having made it in their forties. If they spoke about what they do and were idealistic twenty-somethings, they’d probably be naive enough to want to change the world.
But they’re well aware of their limitations – and it’s refreshing. Fearn admits that at some gigs he’s confronted with an alarming confusion at how people actually like their music. Backstage after their groundbreaking set at Glastonbury festival, Williamson notes “we’re not even a good avant garde band!”. By the same token, the genuine buzz they both experience when they get to hear the finished version of Key Markets makes for brilliant scenes.
As ever with Sleaford Mods, there are plenty laughs throughout – a highlight being the excruciating predicament Williamson is put in on German radio when performing a highly unusual version of Tied Up in Nottz. Fearn eventually evacuates to record the situation on his phone and laugh. And if that wasn’t enough, hearing the legendary Iggy Pop recite Williamson’s crude lyrics – “I just wanked in your toilet” – is worth the entry fee alone.
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