Words by Natalie Blacklock
Although our Governments are starting to wind back restrictions which have kept us housebound for the best part of the last month or two, the rekindling of our live music exploits is still a while off yet. So, while we continue to lament for missed band practices, cancelled gigs and festivals line-ups that may never come again – we’ve found a worthy 2nd choice to keep you occupied until we can regain our pit-fitness once again! Of course, I’m referring to the humble music documentary – because let’s face it, the story behind the music is just as important as the music itself.
Over the last few weekends, this writer has teamed up with her super talented and stupidly knowledgeable in all things music partner (awww!) to embark on a challenge to watch as many music documentaries as possible. For us, a great music documentary tells a story that hasn’t been told in that way before – ultimately leaving you with that feeling of learning something new and developing a stronger connection to the music that makes you tick. So after much deliberation and a lot of sneaky snacks, here’s our chronologically-ordered top 10 must-watch music documentaries to put an end to your Corona-Virus induced boredom once and for all!
1. Paul Kelly: Stories of Me (2012)
Available on: GooglePlay and Stan
Paul Kelly: Stories of Me, directed by Ian Darling, explores the enduring career of Australian music stalwart, Paul Kelly, examining his story from his childhood in Adelaide and through his career as one of Australia’s best and most prolific singer-songwriters. Through interviews with members of Kelly‘s family, fellow musicians and friends including novelists Richard Flanagan and Fiona McGregor, film director Rachel Perkins and musicians Megan Washington and Archie Roach, we gain a valuable insight into the relationship between Kelly‘s art to his life, his personal journey and the hurdles he’s faced along the way.
2. Los Wild Ones (2013)
Available on: Amazon Prime, Tubi and Vimeo
Directed by Elise Salomon, Los Wild Ones follows the lives of Irishman Reb Kennedy and the artists on his Los Angeles-based independent music label, Wild Records. Formed in 2001, the label specialises in rockabilly, rock ‘n’ roll, blues, soul, garage and roots music, bringing the iconic sounds of the 1950’s and 1960’s to a 21st Century audience. Throughout the documentary, wefollow a number of bands on the Wild Records label, including Marlene and The Rhythmshakers, Omar and The Stringpoppers, Luis and The Wildfires and Gizzelle, learning of the trials and tribulations of the predominantly Hispanic musicians that make up the Wild Records roster. The big takeaway from Los Wild Ones is that music really is family – Kennedy and his musicians are, in many ways, like one big dysfunctional, yet tight-knit family, and he stands in as the father-figure, driving home the notion that Wild Records is far more than just another record label.
3. Sound City (2013)
Available on: Amazon Prime, Tubi and Vimeo
Sound City, produced and directed by Dave Grohl (Nirvana / Foo Fighters), explores the rich history of Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, Los Angeles from its early days in 1969 until its closing in 2011. The little-known recording studio housed a unique analog Neve Recording Console, which recorded seminal albums from bands and artists including Nirvana, Kyuss, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Rick Springfield, Tom Petty, Rage Against The Machine and Slipknot – many of whom are interviewed as part of the documentary. The film goes on to document the reunion of many of the artists of Sound City, as they make an album of all-new and original songs, each one composed and recorded exclusively for the film using the Neve Console, which has since been relocated to Grohl’s home studio, Studio 606. The result are a collection of epic collaborative performances from Stevie Nicks, Paul McCartney, Corey Taylor, Josh Homme and Trent Reznor alongside Grohl and his Foo Fighters bandmates.
4. Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015)
Available on: GooglePlay
Cobain: Montage of Heck, chronicles the life and times of Nirvana Frontman Kurt Cobain. The documentary takes a fresh look at the life and career of Cobain, from his birth in Aberdeen, Washington in 1967, through his troubled early family life and teenage years and Nirvana’s rise to fame, up to his death in April 1994 in Seattle at the age of 27. In an effort to correct some of the myths that surround the life and times of Kurt Cobain, director Brett Morgen and co-producer Frances Bean Cobain (Kurt’s daughter), opens a window into Cobain’s private world, providing intimate glimpses of the rock star’s personal life, through the use of a collection of his own never-before-seen home movies, recordings, artwork, photography, journals, demos, personal archives and songbooks and features dozens of Nirvana songs and performances, as well as previously unheard Cobain originals as its soundtrack.
5. STRANDED (2015)
Available on: GooglePlay
New York had The Ramones, London had The Sex Pistols, and Australia had its answer in The Saints. STRANDED traces the unlikely birth of the Australian punk music scene in Brisbane in the 1970’s – the evolution, the revolution and the repercussions of a movement that changed our city forever, with The Saints at the forefront. The ABC documentary takes a look at the role 4 musicians from suburban Brisbane played in the explosion of one of the all-time greatest musical movements. Featuring interviews with the members of the band, including Ed Kuepper and Chris Bailey, as well as the likes of Sir Bob Geldof, former Dead Kennedys Frontman Jello Biafra and Buzzcocks Guitarist Steve Diggle, STRANDED examines how the oppressive and ultra-conservative governance of the Bjelke-Peterson era in Queensland was the catalyst for the rise of punk rock right across Australia, and how the state of play pushed The Saints to become one of the most influential bands in Australia’s history.
6. A Fat Wreck (2016)
Available on: Amazon Prime, GooglePlay, Tubi and Vimeo
As far as iconic punk rock record labels go, Fat Wreck Chords, is just about as iconic as they come. Having spent the best part of the last 25 years “ruining punk rock” in the best way possible, Fat Wreck Chords was the starting point for many punk rock kids on their journey into the scene. This feature length documentary explores the story Fat Wreck Chords, from its founding by Fat Mike (of the legendary punk band NOFX) and his now ex-wife Erin Kelly-Burkett, spanning the birth, growth, struggles, and the continued survival and day-to-day business of the San Francisco-based label. Having released material from many notable bands including; NOFX, Lagwagon, Descendents, Me First and The Gimme Gimmes, Propagandhi, Rise Against, Strung Out, No Use For A Name, Less Than Jake, Against Me!, Leftöver Crack and Anti-Flag, A Fat Wreck features stacks of interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and insider gossip, that hits the spot for true punk lovers, making this a ‘punk-u-mentary’ you don’t want to miss!
7. Midnight Oil 1984 (2018)
Available on: GooglePlay and Stan
Midnight Oil 1984 is a time-capsuled story that drags us back to the sweat-soaked mid-1980’s to the complex career of seminal Australian rockers, Midnight Oil, recounting the powerful and very-much untold story of the year when one of Australia’s most iconic music groups inspired the nation to believe in the power of music to change the world.It is important to note that however, this documentary shouldn’t be your introduction to Midnight Oil and their music, their politics, their relationships – there’s a certain assumed knowledge, meaning any true newcomers to the band may well be a little bit lost.Directed by Ray Argall, Midnight Oil 1984 is 30 years in the making and features never-before-seen footage of the band, both on and off stage, as they embarked on a relentless tour around the nation performing raw and electrifying music which reignited the imagination of young Australians.
8. Rockabul (2018)
Available on: Amazon Prime, GooglePlay and Vimeo
Rockabul is the commanding and at times confronting feature documentary following Afghanistan’s first heavy metal band, District Unknown. After living in Afghanistan for 7 years, Aussie expat and Griffith University alumnus Travis Beard, who’s travelled the world shooting for news agencies including Al Jazeera, BBC, CNN and the ABC, began chronicling parts of Afghan life that is rarely shown in Western media. Rockabul documents the rise of District Unknown, in the wake of September 11 2001 and during the height of the USA’s military intervention, featuring never-before-seen footage of Kabul, its underground party scene and the harsh reality of life in a warzone. Fighting conflict with culture, District Unknown literally put themselves, their followers and their families in the firing line – becoming walking targets as their music connected with the young people and the expat community of Afghanistan and on an international level as the band gained notoriety abroad. Rockabul really is an eye-opening look at the transformative nature of music in a place where music, particularly metal music, is considered blasphemous.
9. Viva The Underdogs (2020)
Available on: iTunes, GooglePlay and Vimeo
Viva The Underdogs is the 3rd documentary made by Australia hardcore legends, Parkway Drive and follows on from 2009’s Parkway Drive: The DVD and Home Is For The Heartless, released in 2012. Not only does the film offer an intimate look at the Byron Bay band’s 15-year adventure from surfer upstarts to fully-fledged international festival headliners, but it provides the ultimate insight into the inner workings of Parkway Drive as they prepared for their biggest shows yet, including their headlining set at German metal festival Wacken Open Air in 2019 – a chaotic explosion of heavy music, pyrotechnics and of course, all of the typical ups-and-downs of working in the music industry. If you didn’t already have a massive soft spot for the lads from Parkway Drive, you sure will after you watch this – it’s a proud moment to be an Aussie and a fan of heavy music when you see what these 5 mates from Byron Bay have achieved.
10. PUNK (2020)
Available on: SBS on Demand
The John Varvatos and Iggy Pop produced PUNK, is a 4-part docu-series, which ambitiously charts the entire history of punk rock from its roots in late 1960’s in Detroit and New York City through to the late 1990’s / early 2000’s revival and onto the current state of play. Interspersing tales from America’s punk pioneers with those of UK bands of the same ilk looking to conquer the USA, PUNK defines the genre’s American DNA and explores its subsequent propagation across the Atlantic and around the world. Featuring rare and unseen photos, gritty live videos, a crackling soundtrack of punk hits plus original interviews with pioneers of the industry and the scene’s biggest movers and shakers including; Sylvain Sylvain (The New York Dolls), John Lydon (The Sex Pistols), Dave Vanian (The Damned), Darryl Jenifer (Bad Brains), Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys), Marky Ramone (The Ramones), Henry Rollins (Black Flag), Ian MacKaye (Fugazi), Brett Gurewitz (Bad Religion), Mike Burkett (NOFX), Jim Lindberg (Pennywise), Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day) and more, this series makes for compelling viewing – so much so that you could easily watch all 4 episodes back-to-back! PUNK really hits home with the message that the punk rock culture is alive and well – it’s an ever-evolving celebration of the restless, furious and vibrant expressionism we’ve come to know and love – and that is PUNK AF.
Whether you like rock, punk or even the heavier side of things; there’s sure to be something amongst this list for everyone. So crack out the popcorn, the cheese and crackers, the beer or the wine, find your favourite spot on the couch, dim the lights and get watching, learning and building a whole new appreciation for the stories behind the music!