Tag Archives: rock doc

The Beat Goes On

Yung Lean: In My Head

by Brandon Thomas

Thanks to the internet, the world of new music is vast and wide. Anyone can put a song on their website, or upload a poorly produced music video to YouTube. Most of it goes unnoticed. That lack of notice is usually justified.

And then occasionally someone like Yung Lean comes along. 

In the early 2010s, a group of Swedish teens began uploading rap demos to Tumblr and Soundcloud. The same group gained even more notoriety when they began uploading videos to YouTube. This trio, the “Sad Boys,” and their de facto leader, Jonatan Leandoer Hastad (Yung Lean), soon found themselves on a meteoric rise across Europe and then the rest of the world. 

Music documentaries have become a popular subgenre in recent years. The Beatles, Amy Winehouse, and The Beastie Boys have all been the subject of recent, popular docs. Of course, these are artists already known and immortalized through their music and pop culture. The beauty of Yung Lean: In My Head is how the film uses Lean’s underground status to its advantage. The air of mystery is half the point. 

This documentary isn’t one that suffers from a lack of involvement from the principals. Lean’s story is told through his friends and collaborators, video footage shot while on tour, and family photos and video. Thankfully, the film doesn’t get too caught up in talking heads explaining every little detail. The copious amount of footage shot during the American and Canadian tour helps paint a picture of artistic freedom that slowly unraveled into drug-fueled chaos. 

Lean’s story takes a dramatic turn later in the film, one that shifts the focus away from music. This is an area where other films might stumble or even choose to not devote much time at all. Instead, In My Head pivots with ease. The focus was never just the music – it was Lean himself. 

In My Head may not have a subject with the culture cache of the Fab Four or Elvis Presley, but what Yung Lean does have is a compelling story born out of artistic creation and personal perseverance. 

Shiver and Sing

Gimme Danger

by Hope Madden

Quick, who said this: “I went to Detroit with a tab of mescaline and a shovel.”

Who but Iggy Pop?

Effortlessly odd and forever fascinating, Pop and his band, the seminal punks The Stooges, are the subject of Jim Jarmusch’s new documentary, Gimme Danger.

Rock docs forever champion their subjects, frequently making a case for someone’s misunderstood and underappreciated genius. The fact that this kind of treatment could possibly be needed for arguably the first ever punk band, a group who influenced The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, David Bowie and dozens of others – well, it’s just disheartening, isn’t it?

While the story – from Ann Arbor trailer park to punk stardom to Ann Arbor trailer park – fits with the traditional “Behind the Music” approach, it’s never wise to expect the expected with Jarmusch.

Sure, the filmmaker pieces together vintage Stooges performances with interviews, but Gimme Danger is awash in the kind of wry cinematic mastery that has become Jarmusch’s trademark. Interviews with Pop take place in his home, the singer sometimes perched on a golden throne bedecked by skulls, sometimes barefoot in the laundry room in front of a washer/dryer set.

Likewise, on-again, off-again Stooge guitarist James Williamson sits through his interviews, guitar in hand, in a public men’s room.

Why? Why not?

Jarmusch has always brought an unusual perspective to his films, and The Stooges are an unusual subject. The pairing works, and for all Jarmusch’s droll use of animation, Three Stooges bits and vintage advertising as backdrop to Stooge insanity, his own affection and respect for the band is always evident.

Indeed, very early in the film, he proclaims The Stooges, “The greatest rock and roll band of all time.”

Jim Jarmusch is a native Ohioan who loves The Stooges.

Oh my God – we have so much in common!

His relationship with Pop goes back decades, since the singer co-starred in Jarmusch’s Dead Man and an early Coffee and Cigarettes short. In both, Pop (billed here as Jim Osterberg as Iggy Pop) haunts and bewilders with his sinewy frame and enormous eyes.

Oddly enough, Gimme Danger neglects some of the more jarring and lurid details of the Pop life. Jarmusch remains reverent throughout the film, focusing exclusively on The Stooges’ musical history. Almost quizzically missing is detail of Pop and crew’s self-destructive behavior, Pop’s infamous stage antics, or any mention of his solo musical or dramatic career.

Nope, Jarmusch wants you to realize that the world’s first punk band – as infamous record scout Danny Fields notes – reinvented music as we know it.




Secret of Their Lack of Success

Revenge of the Mekons

by Hope Madden

Is there a more punk rock concept than anarchy?

The answer is no, and that is what makes The Mekons the most punk rock band ever, regardless of the fact that their music is more of a folk/honkytonk/punk blend.

Born of Britain’s punk scene in ’77, the band consisted of an art college collective who, characteristically, had no musical ability at all. Naturally, they were immediately signed to a label.

Now, nearly 40 years later, the band is still together, still recording, still touring, regardless of the fact that they’ve been repeatedly dropped by labels and have never achieved even a moderate level of success.

Joe Angio’s documentary Revenge of the Mekons enjoyable catalogs the band’s journey from talentless punks with a philosophy to brilliantly listenable artists with integrity and the same philosophy.

The film marks the evolution of a band that constantly reinvents itself, each new direction a natural progression from the last while also being a fascinating surprise. They find the “voice of the people” foundation in wildly varying styles of music and, rather than abandoning their previous style, they marry it with the next. The result is always fresh because the Mekon’s natural style is, as founder Jon Langford calls it, “bloody minded.” Whatever genre they adopt, it naturally changes. Just like, as the film points out, when the Ramones started recording they were trying to sound like the Beach Boys.

But it’s the band’s almost comical indifference to financial or popular success that sets the film apart. Says Ed Roche of the Mekon’s label Touch and Go Records, “Every critic loves the Mekons. Unfortunately, they get free records.”

Rock docs almost invariably follow the same format: humble beginnings, meteoric rise, trouble handling success, crash and maybe the glimmer of a resurgence, depending on the film and subject. To spend 95 minutes cataloging all the ways a band manages to avoid success is fascinating – it’s like the story of Anvil, except that the Mekons aren’t even trying to succeed.

What they are doing is focusing solely on their own artistry, which can be a pretentious thing to watch for a feature length running time, but the band does not possess an ounce of pretentiousness. They are what they are. They do what they do. Like them or don’t, it doesn’t matter to them.

How punk rock is that?