Sydney Underground Film Festival
They’re the voice: Bunch of Kunst
When ‘Sleaford Mods’ made their first trip to Germany, another first occurred: their maiden television interview. Purveyors of rapid-fire discontent spat from the heart of working-class Britain with a toe-tapping beat, the Nottingham duo chatted to Berlin-based journalist Christine Franz, which then led to drinks, and then to the drunken idea for a documentary.
Far from a calculated move to increase their prominence, it was simply one of those things that happened organically, like much of the fast-rising electronic punk duo’s existence. As Claire Ormiston, wife of vocalist Jason Williamson, explains about his approach to life: “he just wasn’t really that bothered.” Jason himself offers similar sentiments: “we’re not a bunch of naive 25-year-olds wanting to rock the world.”
A cycle of everyday illsThe “we” he’s referring to is Jason himself, a former benefits office worker well versed in England’s austerity, and eager to put his observations into verse; Andrew Fearn, who he met in a local club, and now lays down their pulsating riffs from his laptop; and manager Steve Underwood, who went from driving a bus to driving their careers. In their forties, coming to their hit status having weathered the realities of life, and sporting the visible wear and tear to prove it, they’re far from the usual image of music’s next big thing. Like Jason’s lyrics, which unleash a cycle of everyday ills encompassing everything from the cruelty of middle management to the mundanity of just trying to get by, that’s why they’ve been welcomed with such open arms. Sticking to what they know, there’s no youthful sheen, no happy melodies and no songs about love in their repertoire.
Evolving from scribbling lyrics as a cathartic outlet (“it’s a way of beating people up without actually hitting them,” Jason notes) to spending two years recording the group’s exploits, Bunch of Kunst is the end result of that alcohol-soaked brainstorm with Franz, taking its name from the German term for art while also nodding to the band’s penchant for strong language. She directs, writes and produces in yet another first — her filmmaking debut — which is as rough-and-tumble as its subjects demand, tracking their time on the road, the ebbs and flows both professionally and personally, and the reaction from their fans.
The fly-on-the-wall documentary — wielding the camera like a silent member of the group, and allowing existing aficionados and newcomers alike into the terrain behind the fame — has long been a music-meets-movies staple, so much so that viewers know what to expect from any example of the genre. Backstage footage, shots of cheering crowds, adoring vox pops, frank chats, and details that aren’t found in magazine profiles and liner notes all combine to paint a portrait of the artists behind the acclaim. That’s true of Bunch of Kunst; however, just as Sleaford Mods’ unaffected and unfiltered air endeared them to their fanbase, the film knows that chronicling their success and appeal requires comparable honesty, urgency and a thorough lack of polish. Franz’s time with the band has imparted a clear message: if you’re making a film about “spit and sawdust aggro music,” as Jason calls their style, then you must infuse that same energy into every frame.
A voice for the disenfranchisedIndeed, on a rollercoaster ride from small club gigs to Glastonbury’s stage, the documentary never loses sight of Sleaford Mods’ personality and perspective. They’re the driving forces behind their impact, as every expression of admiration from followers and friends makes plain. The film may commence with Iggy Pop deeming them “undoubtedly, absolutely, definitely, the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll band”, and feature an equally glowing discussion with the icon towards its end, but the visceral response from concert-goers drawn to songs that speak their own inner feelings are even more powerful. Soundbite-friendly statements declare that “they tell what Britain is like at the moment”, give voice to the disenfranchised and downtrodden, and capture the current societal vibe not only in their homeland but around the world.
Here, one English woman proudly says they’re the best thing she’s seen since watching The Sex Pistols live in 1977. Another, this time a Berlin concert attendee, explains that their description of working life mirror his own experiences. Two twenty-somethings who weren’t alive when Johnny Rotten and company lit up the British music scene can’t contain their joy at finding their own version. Such accounts keep coming, and prove as telling as Jason’s inimitable presence. Seeing their faces paired with Sleaford Mods’ words, Bunch of Kunst shows how and why the band has struck a chord, in a probing, potent and propulsive celebration for the already acquainted and a lure for the uninitiated.