Interview: Sleaford Mods documentary maker Christine Franz
Sleaford Mods are the unique face of peculiar times. Their work has become a paean to the crumbling edifice of neo-liberalism and people are flocking to their church for brutal truths.
Released through Rough Trade, new album 'English Tapas' has received almost universal acclaim. The twosome have been releasing EPs and albums at a furious pace making their songs engaging and responsive to the issues of the day.
A new documentary, 'Bunch of Kunst' charts Sleaford Mods' rise to the top - showcasing their unerring passion and DIY approach to musical expression. Directed by Berlin-based journalist, Christine Franz, the film follows the band over two years as they tour the continent spreading their gospel of discontent. We caught up with Christine to discuss the film's genesis, the universality of Sleaford Mods’ message and their cult like status in contemporary music.
Q. Hello Christine, what inspired you to make a documentary about Sleaford Mods and how did it come about?
I started off as a music journalist and was working in Germany. I’d heard of them and thought their music and everything about them was exactly was needed in the music scene.
When they came to Germany I ended up doing their first ever TV interview. We basically got hammered and out of the drunken conversations came the idea of doing a documentary film.
The next morning we were all very hung over but strangely enough the thought of the documentary still made sense – more than that it got everyone really excited. It started right there and then.
Q. Sleaford Mods seem a very idiosyncratically British band – lots of regional references. What is it about their music that resonates with people across the world?
That’s it exactly. They are so British and so unique. They were the band that everyone had been waiting for because it’s so edgy and rough around the edges – their references are so particular to their place but, in that there is a simple and brutal truth too it. It is sooo local and everyone is local to somewhere that it becomes almost universal.
I mean if you have lived in a small town and got stuck in a shit job you’d know exactly what it was all about. Being from Germany we don’t get all of the references but we can still feel and hear the anger and frustration and humour in it.
Q. You say that Sleaford Mods are a band people were waiting for. In your opinion, what were the issues and events that made the band's emergence so important?
They were the first band in years to look at the stuff that is not glamourous and that is mostly ignored by the culture industry. It seemed that every bit of music was so polished and that no one was talking about the issues that were effecting people’s everyday lives – there was something missing –there has been so much political, social and economic change and I was not hearing that expressed in popular music.
The political conditions are similar across Europe – here in Germany we have our own UKIP – we share a lot of the same problems as the UK and the rest of Europe. Whether you are in Birmingham or on the outskirts of Berlin we are struggling with the same issues, jobs, access to jobs, shit jobs, insecure jobs, low paid jobs and managers that fuck you around – it’s all the same. It doesn’t really matter where it is.
Also, the fact that they are older – I have spoken to so many people who said they haven’t been to a gig in years but felt compelled to see Sleaford Mods. They are appealing to not just the young people - which has been the ‘industry’s’ target audience but, people of all ages and backgrounds. They have this really dedicated fan-base and the whole thing connects people. They have become like a cult - people want to hear the sermons at the church of Sleaford mods.
Q. Sleaford Mods were categorised by some media as the ‘voice of the people’. How did that tag sit with the band and what is their relationship to it now?
At the beginning Jason [Williamson] was sort of pleased – like a recognition that they were one of the few bands addressing the important issues of people’s everyday lives. But after a while it really got a bit too much for them. They didn’t see themselves as a pigeon-holed political band and were uncomfortable by the simplification. They are artists and want to develop and be taken seriously and not do the same things over and over again.
Q. The making of the film has a cinéma-vérité feel. Was it more important for you to act as a witness to unfolding events rather than focusing on set pieces and technical wizardry?
Absolutely. We didn’t want a highly-polished rock documentary with celebrity interviews and orchestrated set pieces because that is not what Sleaford Mods are about.
It was an organic process and it was important to have the film reflect their artistic approach. The idea was to leave in technical hitches and imperfectly framed shots because it fitted in with their aesthetic. The most important thing was to build up a relationship with them. We were together for two years and we just sought to soak it up and film what we saw.
Q. Did Sleaford Mods have any reservations about inviting the cameras into their lives?
Surprisingly, they didn’t really. It was awkward for them at first but they soon forgot the camera was rolling and that’s when the magic happened. Because it was so raw and so inclusive, what you see is generally what the journey was.
It was emotional when they came over to see the film. I remember Jason actually having tears in his eyes. I think that when you’re playing things like Glastonbury and Rock City for the first time and your making the music you want it’s hard to appreciate how far you’ve come in the moment. I think the film gave them a chance to reflect on how far they’ve come, appreciate it for a second before driving onwards.
Q. The documentary also focuses on the involvement of Sleaford Mods' manager, Steve Underwood. Did you plan to involve Steve so prominently?
I quickly realised that he was the one that plotted it all. A nice version of Malcolm McLaren! He is the mastermind – his contacts and the way he set things up, getting them to tour Europe early, build up a reputation – he is a really important part of the story.
My friend said that Steve was the one he could relate to the most because he is a normal guy who gave up his job, mid-life to pursue his passion. It’s also the back story that no one gets to hear.
Q. You filmed Sleaford Mods over the course of two years. Did you set time frames for how long you would film for or was it a case of waiting for a natural conclusion?
My friend actually said this is going to be my Chinese democracy … Ever deferred! But really, we just kept with it until we saw a conclusion to the story we wanted to tell. So, when they signed with Rough Trade Records it seemed a nice way to pull ourselves out. It felt like the end of a chapter.
There was a degree of pathos about the Rough Trade deal. They had a dream for so long and that deal sort of solidified the reality of that dream but at the same time, they got to where they were by themselves and it was an interesting point to observe before the next chapter begins
'Bunch of Kunst' will be showing on 1 April 2017 as part of the Doc'n'Roll Film Festival at FACT, Liverpool and will go on general release on 21 April 2017.
Read our interview with Sleaford Mods here.