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10 music documentaries you must watch

Written by James Wootton. Posted in Featured

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Published on September 20, 2013

Let’s face it, we’ve all been there. You’re about two-thirds of the way through something you’ve been looking forward to watching and it’s bloody awful.
Well, fear no more! We’ve picked out 10 of our favourite music documentaries for you to get your teeth stuck in to. Not literally, because I can’t imagine plastic tastes very nice.
Urgh! A Music War (1981)
Legal issues ensured that Urgh! never had a release in any legal format, but it can now be seen segmented online via Youtube. Urgh! was a British release that featured performances by punk rock, new wave and post punk acts filmed worldwide throughout 1980. XTC, Devo, The Cramps, Dead Kennedys, Steel Pulse, Echo and the Bunnymen and Gary Numan gave some of the best performances of their careers and the documentary captures the atmosphere and music of the time perfectly. The film features performances by nearly 40 music acts that helped define an entire generation.
1991: The Year That Punk Broke (1991)
Directed by Dave Malarky, this documentary features live performances and an insight into life on tour with Sonic Youth, The Ramones, Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr. and Mudhoney. Several scenes in the film involve re-enactments and references to scenes from the contemporaneous Madonna tour documentary, ‘Truth or Dare’. Nirvana’s live performance at the Reading Festival 1991 is a noteworthy highlight of the film, Kurt Cobain’s showmanship on stage is staggering to watch.
The Filth and the Fury (2000)
Archive footage of Sid Vicious and jaw dropping tales from John Lydon give real insight into the early days of The Sex Pistols and UK punk. This uncut, unseen and unbelievable look at Punk in its heyday is unrivalled by many other documentaries that try to accurately represent the true essence of the time. The film also shows the interview that took place with Bill Grundy that ultimately led to the end of the veteran broadcaster’s career.
Gimme Shelter (1970)
Chronicling the last weeks of The Rolling Stones’ 1969 tour, ‘Gimme Shelter’ focuses on the disastrous events that took place at the Altamont Free Concert. The documentary takes an unfortunate turn when the security hired for the event turn out to be violent amphetamine addled Hell’s Angels bikers. The audience and the security start fighting which ultimately ends the festivities and leaves one reveller dead after being stabbed numerous times. ‘Gimme Shelter’, captures the whole incident and leaves the members of the band shocked and disgusted at the actions of everyone involved in the violence that occurred.
Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies (1993)
GG Allin’s live shows were well known for their extreme and shocking nature for those that bought a ticket and Allin was better known for his onstage antics rather than the quality of the music he made. Whilst onstage, Allin used to relive his bowels and throw his faeces over the crowd he was playing to. He was also well known for starting fights with hecklers and anyone that got in his way whilst he sang naked on stage. This documentary gives insight into the nihilistic world of Allin and his followers and climaxes with Allin’s death from a heroin overdose. Please note – it’s is not for the faint hearted or for those with a weak stomach as this film is captivating and vile to watch at the same time.
All Tomorrow’s Parties (2009)
A retrospective look at the music festival All Tomorrow’s Parties highlights the unique environment and musical acts that the festival has headlined since its inception. Featuring live performances by Grizzly Bear, Sonic Youth, Battles, Animal Collective, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Lightening Bolt and many other underground and independent acts, the film shows how the festival established a reputation for being one of the best for music in the UK. It was announced that in October 2009 the film would be screened at a number of ‘one night only’ theatrical screenings in the UK, also featuring live music, with the main act performing to be Les Savy Fav, who features in the film and have long been mainstays of ATP line-ups.
Cocksucker Blues (1972)
Out of circulation for many decades, this frank look at The Rolling Stones makes for some captivating viewing. The documentary manages to embody the hedonistic, junk-shooting 1970s: Mick, Keith, and dozens of groupies pass around a few 8mm cameras over the course of the tour, recording heroic coke and heroin use. It‘s hard to believe that Mick and Keith made it through these well documented years of drug abuse to headline the Glastonbury festival 2013.
End of the Century (Story of The Ramones) (2003)
The film documents the damaged relationship between the band’s singer Joey Ramone and the band’s guitarist Johnny Ramone. The Ramones made a massive impact and launched the US Punk scene into overdrive with their vast collection of songs. The tested relationship broke down after Joey’s girlfriend left him for Johnny causing Joey to write ‘The KKK Took my Baby Away’ about the event. The film depicts a very successful group of musicians whose experience is marred by disagreements, stubbornness and jealousy.
Instrument (2003)
Directed by legendary film maker Jem Cohen, this documentary takes a look at the history of the band Fugazi. Well known scenes in the film include Fugazi performing for inmates at an American prison singer/guitarist Guy Picciotto’s comedic and astounding performance in a Philadelphia college gym in 1988, where he pushes himself through a basketball hoop and performs hanging upside down by his legs; and an interview of Guy Picciotto and Ian MacKaye that was made by an 8th grade student for their classroom project. Cohen has made this intimate non-fiction diary that is rooted in attentiveness to atmosphere and riddled with small observations rendered in profound terms.
Searching for Sugar Man (2012)
The story of lost folk singer Sixto Rodriguez won the Best Documentary Feature at the 85th Academy Awards and for those who have seen it there’s little argument against the win. Though the documentary gets a little wonky with the facts in favour of a narrative of mystery, it does manage to tell the story of an artist who almost made it, disappeared, had his music make it overseas, finds an audience, was rediscovered and finally made it. Watch out for a stunning animated segment to appreciate why people are so fond of this documentary.

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