The relationship between journalists and musicians has always been odd (think John Lennon’s awkward Bed-In), but in the age of the social media shit-storm it often seems downright perverse. Offending the overzealous hordes of One Direction fans is practically seen as a bigger risk than pissing off Isis (yes Morgan Spurlock, we’re talking about you).
So we’re hoping that the upcoming Doc’n Roll Festival resists saccharine hagiography to give us the warts-and-all portraits of people in the music biz we prefer.
The festival is back in London for its second year with 14 premieres of musical documentaries screened over 10 days. There’s a nice spread of genres represented, from soul to boogaloo, flamenco to gospel and, for a touch of glamour, the early Scottish indie scene.
Highlights we’re looking forward to include Lost Songs — The Basement Tapes Continued in which modern musicians scratch their heads trying to understand long-lost Bob Dylan lyrics then try to fit them into new songs. Shake the Dust, meanwhile, promises to make us feel out-of-shape as a camera crew criss-crosses the world in a mission to capture “the most jaw-dropping break dancing moves ever committed to film”.
The theme of this year’s festival is Innovators and Instigators, with a nice set of leftfield artists included who fit the bill. There’s flamenco guitar legend Paco de Lucia, and human body sound sampler Ron Geesin; tales of rock ‘n’ roll debauchery in Johnny Winter: Down and Dirty. And for upbeat soulful positivity try Mavis! a portrait of soul singer Mavis Staples, whose career spans 60s protest music to collaborations with Prince. Meanwhile, The Nightingale and The Night goes mystical as hard drinking, gun-slinging Mexican singer Chavela Vargas tip-toes over the line to commune with dead Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca.
Whole musical scenes get picked apart too: there’s a depiction of the Latin boogaloo explosion in 1960s New York in We Like It Like That. Then a look at DIY punk in Washington DC in Salad Days and Scottish post punk in The Sound Of Young Scotland — The Big Gold Dream.
Other films get up close and sweatily personal with bands: there's the Irish rockers Taste, iconic genre-hoppers Morphine and American-Irish folk band The Gloaming. But perhaps most intriguing is Theory of Obscurity, about the avant-garde collective the Residents who count Matt Groening among their fans, but have never revealed their true identities.
Doc’n Roll Festival runs from 25 September-4 October at Picturehouse Central.