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A Couple of Kunst (?!) in a Bunch of Kunst – A Sleaford Mods Doc

March 19, 2017
bradspurgeon

Sleaford Mods

Sleaford Mods

COPENHAGEN – Rather than trying to look hip, cool and with it, I will admit here that before I stepped into the world premiere of Christine Franz’s film at the Empire Bio at the CPH:DOX festival last night I had no idea who the Sleaford Mods were. Then, as the film began, I quickly concluded that they were just a couple of kunst. As the film rolled on, the couple of kunst reminded me less of Derek and Clive, and more and more of the reason Britain voted for Brexit. And more and more, I grew to feel sympathetic and warm to the two stars of Bunch of Kunst, coming out feeling finally that I may not – as Iggy Pop says toward the end of the film – understand much of what they are saying (thanks to that strong British accent) but I can understand the reason they exist. And though I always thought the Brexit vote was an illness, I can now understand a little better through this film the nature of that illness.

Having said that, I don’t think the word Brexit was mentioned a single time in the film. And in a talk in the cinema at CPH:DOX after the film, Franz said she specifically did not want to make an overt political statement in the film. It turns out there has already been another documentary about the Sleaford Mods, called Sleaford Mods: Invisible Britain, and that one was very political. So no doubt Franz wanted to avoid what had already been done.

So who the fowk are the Sleaford Mods anyway??? Well, a couple of guys who had musical ambitions, one of whom played in several bands without success, the other of whom was a DJ doing his own thing. They met one night at a show, and the guy who speaks the rap and writes the lyrics, Jason Williamson, got together with the man who does the DJ thing, Andrew Fearn, and they began to do some shows in bars, raging against the machine that is working class life in middle England. At their home in Nottingham, they decided to set up a little studio and record some albums.
Bunch of Kunst Sleaford Mods trailer

This was in the late 2000s, and they stuck things out in bars for years, through failed album after failed album. Eventually, the chicken-factory worker – Williamson – (well, seems that job lasted six weeks) and the unemployed man, Fearn, met up with a guy who had a solid job, driving a bus for 14 years, and he became a fan and had a vision. These two modern day punk rappers, he thought, could get their act together and do something relevant and cool.

To draw the story short, they ended up doing bigger and bigger venues, finally playing in Glastonbury, and then, as the film shows, ultimately signed a record deal with the legendary Rough Trade label. (There is a shot at one moment that shows the first Rough Trade album, Métal Urbain, a French punk band of perhaps equally unlikely people in the 1970s, famous for a song called “Creve Salope,” (“Die Bitch” among others.) And, as I mentioned, the Sleaford Mods also ended up garnering the attention of Iggy Pop and many others.
Sleaford Mods video

The film was shot over two crucial years, from 2014 to 2016, and takes us from their lives in the pub performances to Glastonbury to the signing at Rough Trade.

What made these performers a success is clear: The nasty, angry, bad, expletive-full lyrics that speak the anger of the English working class in a language and emotion that they understand. “They speak for me,” says one of the gig-goers, a man who also appears to be in his 40s, like the two members of the “band.” But the language is so strongly couched in English argot that it is, as I said, nearly incomprehensible to an outsider – and that is also one of the main factors that makes it popular to its tribe.

And yet this deep-rooted cultural whatever did not stop the duo from gaining at first a slightly greater following in Germany before they developed one in England! (Which partly answers for the German director – although Franz also pointed out that she had attended Birmingham University, and so was steeped in a little bit of this culture herself.) We are also taken on a trip to see the German fans celebrate and react to the Sleaford Mods, and to sing along with their lyrics – which was as surprising to the Sleaford Mods as it was to anyone.

They are now about to embark on a visit to perform in the United States, and it will be interesting to see how they are received. While my first impressions were entirely softened by my “getting to know” these guys through the film, I still have to add that had I seen them in an open mic somewhere, anywhere, around the world, even in middle England, I am sure that I would have still had the impression that they were just a couple of kunst. Had I seen them in front of one of their raging audiences in England, on the other hand, I might have wondered what world I had stepped into … just the way I did when I saw my first ever performance by a punk band, the Viletones, in Toronto in early 1977. In fact, the ambience was very, very similar…and as I write these words, I realize it was exactly 40 years ago that I had that strange experience of seeing the Viletones in the Colonial Underground, and wrote about it the moment I returned home, as I did last night this post….

So if you want an experience like seeing the first punk bands in the 1970s, take a look at this film.

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