I am a big fan of music documentaries – Rockumentaries if you will (thanks Rob Reiner). It is great to peel back a layer of skin belonging to bands and fans alike especially when that skin feels like part of your own. Such films can be excruciating car crash TV like “Some Kind of Monster” or the eye opening “Global Metal”. Doom and sludge has been a celluloid star before – most notably in Noisey’s “Life Death and Heavy Blues from the Bayou”. Just like that series “The Doom Doc” concentrates on one city’s relationship with the genre. Here it is Sheffield and the DIY scene which has erupted there in recent years.
I gotta be honest I did not really have a clue what was going on in the Sheffield music scene at all let alone in Doom, Stoner and Sludge . I suppose this makes the film worthwhile as I expect I am not alone amongst those not in touring bands.
The film centres on Holy Spider promotions and their struggle to put on various shows and festivals in Sheffield and it feels like an uphill struggle for the guys (and they do all seem to be guys aside ) especially as they all seem pretty stoned most of the time, hardly a shock given the genres involved. That being said each of the talking heads featured offers the viewer coherent analysis of both the local scene and quite how important these styles of music are to the people who attend the shows in the city. Yes there is a “What is Doom “ section which kinda bums me out – hey if you are watching this film and don’t have even a passing interest in the genre’s I would be surprised- but it is done quickly and without cliché. I would agree with the narrator – “It’s the musical equivalent of trudging through thick black treacle”.
Rachel Genn who narrates the film speaks in a very deliberate monotone way which grated at first but by the midpoint blended perfectly with the subject matter. This is not a film for excited voiceovers and snappy buzzwords. This is Doom in the Steel City done for 2 grand!
For a feature on genres that rely on such sonic resonance the sound is surprisingly patchy. The music, whether live or overdubbed onto the soundtrack is luscious. Conan, Kurokoma, Wet Nuns, Sladdragger , Crowbar, Sea Bastard et al sound as awesome here as they do leaking out of your speakers or across a smoky stage. The interviews however are all over the show. The levels are annoyingly sporadic causing me to turn the TV up to earsplitting volumes to understand what the likes of Bill ward and Vinnie Appice have to say.
To be truthful the likes of Ward, Appice and Windstein; whilst being the “star attractions” for the film are the least interesting. We’ve heard it all before from them a hundred times but I completely understand why the film makers have included them.
What has more worth is the interviews in the home studio of Slabdragger – not to say that there is anything monumentally enlightening contained in the conversations but the ordinariness of a bunch of mates playing loud and heavy tunes through a cloud of blue smoke shows a realness that transcends the album art and usual Satanic clichés of Heavy Metal docs. The current scene appears to have been born out of the Wet Nuns and the death of Leki their drummer. Out of a cupboard style venue The Lughole rose a real DIY culture which is normally seen in Hardcore. This was born after the scene was stagnating and bands stopped coming to the city. Joe and Craig from Holy Spider stuck their heads above the parapet and just like Kevin Costner they booked the bands and people came. There is a tale running through the film of Holy Spider fighting to put on “Doomlines” the heavy communities backlash to the cities “Tramlines” arts weekend. It must have worked as I saw there was another Doomlines this weekend.
The whole film is very insular, there are visits to other cities as mentioned but the main protagonist here is Sheffield. The city looks drab, cold and homogenised. The scene is small, vocal and passionate and that is what the film celebrates. I use that word in a small way as nothing about this film shouts (aside from the bands). This is a polite very English film about people who want to ensure their mates and people like them get to see the music they love in the city they live in.
I recently spoke to A Horse Called War who played in the film and also played at Doomlines recently. They told me that the passion of the scene up there is electrifying. I wish more of that had been conveyed in the film. I reckon “jazz” cigarettes may be to blame.
Yes there is a film student aura around the film – especially the sound – but it was made on a shoestring by DIY folk about a DIY scene. This is not Penelope Spheeris making high art about low brow music. This is a Doom Doc made by Doomsters for Doomsters. Can you feel the groove?
(7/10 Matt Mason)