From the trashy treasures of mid 90s hip hop to the conspiracies of Kurt, Courtney and Tupac – we round up the best full-length music docs you can watch now
Remember the days when you had to pay £3.50 to borrow a VHS for three days from your local video store? And even then, the best chance of watching a music documentary that didn’t suck was to tune into Channel 5 after 11pm to watch some ex-Top of the Pops presenter wax lyrical about the Beatles. Luckily, YouTube swooped in to save us all from cultural decimation with its avalanche of music videos and endless free documentaries. Ten years after the video uploading site was made public, we celebrate YouTube by charting our favourite music documentaries on there.
KURT AND COURTNEY
Whilst Nick Broomfield’s 1998 documentary polarised viewers due to its conspiracy-led focus on Courtney Love’s involvement in Kurt Cobain’s death, there’s no doubt that the grey, grainy Seattle backdrop and drone metal soundtrack makes for immersive, atmospheric viewing. It also offers up a compelling character study of those who claimed to know Cobain before his death.
PUMP UP THE VOLUME
From Chicago to Detroit, London to Manchester, Frankie Knuckles to Danny Rampling, this 2001 Channel 4 Documentary maps the history of House music from its early seeds in the disco records of the 1970’s through to Manchester’s gurning Hacienda classics. Best enjoyed at 6am on a Sunday morning as the sun peaks around the curtain and you still can’t get to sleep.
SEX PISTOLS – THE FILTH AND THE FURY
Class war, unemployment, a housing crisis, poverty, protests… sound familiar? Watching the opening of The Filth and the Fury (2000) can feel as if nothing has changed in the last forty years and in many ways, it hasn’t. The Julien Temple-directed classic shows how the Sex Pistols were born from the angst of their social context and how they shaped the decades to follow. Check out our very own radicals from our ‘State of the Nation’ series here.
With all our favourite venues and cultural spaces closing to make way for gastro pubs and luxury flats, watching this documentary on the seedy disco NYC hangout Studio 54 can makes you long for a different time and place. In it, ex-patrons and DJ’s get sentimental, sharing anecdotes about the ground breaking nightclub that shaped a scene that endless clubs have tried to emulate since.
HATED: GG ALLIN AND THE MURDER JUNKIES
You might not want to watch this Todd Phillips-directed doc while eating, but there’s something compelling about the rise and fall, graphically violent shows and dedicated fans of GG Allin, who is detested and romanticised in equal measure. At the films first screening, GG Allin is said to have drunkenly thrown beer bottles at the film, before dying just a few days later.
BIGGIE & TUPAC
In another low budget, Nick Broomfield throwback, we get to see the narrow streets of East Harlem where Tupac grew up, as well footage of a 17-year-old Biggie Smalls rapping on a street corner. Broomfield also delves into oft-disputed claim that Suge Knight, head of Death Row Records, might have been responsible for the death of the two rappers.
KRAUTROCK – THE REBIRTH OF GERMANY
“Germany, 1945, year zero…everything from cities to culture lies in ruins. It was time to rebuild,” says the presenter over footage of post-war rubble and riots. This 2009 BBC documentary tells the story of bands like Neu!, Can, Faust and Kraftwerk, who were born into a culturally ravaged nation, but who would forge a new German identity with new and radical sounds.
LIL KIM: DRIVEN (BEHIND THE MUSIC)
Although VH1’s sensationalist, snap-happy “Behind the Music” docs are totally trashy, it’s hard not to get caught up in this cut ‘n’ paste-style clip on the ‘realest queen of rap’. The short feature includes interviews with the Lil Kim’s friends and family to a backdrop of mid-nineties hip hop treasures. Just think of it as the takeaway pizza of the music docs.
UNTIL THE LIGHT TAKES US
Black Metal and Satanism like to go hand-in-hand like apple pie and ice cream. Of course, that usually doesn’t result in murder and mass suicide – like the fear-mongering media of the mid-eighties might have you believe – but the movement that bubbled up from Norway was peppered with church arsons and killings. This documentary chronicles the early days of Norwegian Black Metal through the eyes of those who lived it, in an attempt to quash shallow depictions of their favourite musical form.
FRANK ZAPPA – A PIONEER OF FUTURE MUSIC
This two-part 2007 documentary by Frank Scheffer plays out like a love letter to the eclectic musical collagist, combining raw live footage with interviews of his friends, musical collaborators and those influenced by his work. Watching his fingers trickling over a piano, or shredding a guitar, is re-positioned by those in the doc as being on par with watching angels – or at least smoking a big fat joint.