This criminally unsung festival provides a vital platform for under-the-radar music docs, champions indie risk-takers
Alexandra Palace heaves as Yannis Philippakis, frontman of Mercury Prize-winning band Foals, gazes out over a 10,000 strong crowd.
Dripping sweat, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, he stands at the edge of the stage, framed by flickering lights. The crowd roars appreciatively, double-pint cups held aloft.
This is a clip from ‘Rip Up The Road’, a documentary about a band that appears to have captured the cultural zeitgeist for an entire generation of music lovers. Filmed over 12 months as Foals embark on a 2019 world tour, the film centres on two milestone shows at London’s Alexandra Palace.
Emotive and uncompromising, ‘Rip Up The Road’ is just one reason to attend Doc’n Roll, the BFI-supported music documentary festival whose 6th edition takes place 1st – 17th November across eight London cinemas.
Launched in 2014 by founder Colm Forde and run by indie film and music fanatics, the festival provides a vital platform for lesser-known music docs which might otherwise go ignored by film programmers.
“We realised that the majority of music docs never made it to the big screen, beyond perhaps a token London premiere,” Doc’n Roll Co-founder and CEO Vanessa Lobon Garcia tells WWS. “Most of them were forced straight to DVD or VOD… Our ethos is to support the wealth of creative and compelling docs that celebrate performers, labels, scenes and stories.”
Doc’n Roll’s programme of 30 films spans genres ranging from alt rock to jazz, synth wave to grime, and features intimate Q&As with directors. This edition sees the launch of streaming service Doc’n Roll TV, offering access to a hand-picked selection of music docs to viewers in the UK and Ireland. WWS selects five inspiring docs to catch on the big screen.
5 Music Docs To Catch
1. Rip Up The Road
As charged as the live shows it captures, ‘Rip Up The Road’ follows Oxford quintet Foals around the globe. Loved for their progressive values and blood-sweat-and-tears performances, the band have been through some major changes in recent years. From the departure of founding member and bassist Walter Gervers to the decision to drop upscale studios and regain control of production. Out of those challenges came the band’s most conceptual and socio-political project yet, the acclaimed two-part album ‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost’.
Capturing the elation and loneliness of fame by turns, ‘Rip Up The Road’ has much to say about friendship, life on the road, creative burnout, and the role of musicians in the current political climate. Oh, and don’t worry, there’s plenty of crowd-surfing too.
2. A Dog Called Money
Get an insight into the creative process of one of contemporary music’s hottest multitalents, PJ Harvey, in this sensitive, open-hearted documentary. Vocalist and guitarist Harvey has an eye – and ear – for a boundary-pushing audio-visual project. Lately she’s written original music for Ivo van Hove’s stage adaptation of ‘All About Eve’ and Shane Meadows’ acclaimed mini-series ‘The Virtues’.
In this short film, director and photojournalist Seamus Murphy documents his travels to Afghanistan, Kosovo and Washington DC with PJ Harvey, and the making of her album that those experiences inspired, ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’. Part visual travelogue, part studio sessions diary, it’s a delicately layered visual scrapbook befitting of two portfolio careerists.
3. Jim Galloway – A Journey in Jazz
The UK is experiencing something of a jazz renaissance, with rising numbers of younger fans embracing the genre. Amateurs and aficianados alike will appreciate director James Cullingham’s ‘Jim Galloway – A Journey in Jazz’, the story of Scotsman Galloway, who relocated to Canada in his youth and went on to build a glittering international career as a saxophonist and jazz impresario. Along the way, he co-founded the Toronto Jazz Festival, played alongside the great Jay McShann and Count Basie veteran Buddy Tate, and became Canada’s official jazz ambassador. Expect wide horizons, honeyed voiceovers from Canada’s jazz community, and a toe-tapping score.
4. Rise of the Synths
Curating a festival like Doc’n Roll gives programmers the inside track on emerging music trends. Lobon Garcia has noticed a big resurgence in synthwave. For the uninitiated, synthwave is defined as electronic music strongly inspired by the music, soundtracks, and pop culture of the 80s.
“Films like ‘Drive’ and the series ‘Stranger Things’ helped to spur on this kitsch revival!” Garcia told WWS. “‘The Rise of the Synths – A Synthwave Film’ is a fascinating tale which journeys back and forth in time, from the genre’s roots in the early 80s scene to its widespread impact on today’s pop culture.”
Narrated by director John Carpenter, the documentary charts the mid-2000s synthwave boom, and gives voice to a number of major synthwave composers who, up to now, had remained anonymous. 80s graphics, lazor beams and nostalgia are in plentiful supply.
5. Rudeboy: The Story Of Trojan Records
As the winner of Doc’n Roll’s Best Music Documentary 2018 honours, Nicholas Jack Davies’ film ‘Rudeboy’ happily swaggers onto the programme once again. If you didn’t catch it the first time, now’s your chance. Capturing the synergy between Jamaican and British youth culture in the late 60s and early 70s, the doc features a cast of music giants, from Toots Hibbert and Lee “Scratch” Perry to Ken Boothe and Marcia Griffiths. At its heart is the evolution of Trojan Records, a label synonymous with the history of black music. Interweaving archive footage with dramatised retellings of Trojan’s story, Rudeboy brims with life, a love letter to the creative innovation born from multiculturalism.