Monday 31 October 2011

On demand: "Upside Down: The Creation Records Story"

For starters, Creation wasn't Factory, no matter that it effectively came to inherit the Manchester music scene in the mid-to-late 1990s; where Factory sprang from the sleek Situationist ideals of the public school-educated Tony Wilson, Creation emerged from its Glaswegian founder Alan McGee's stout Protestant work ethic, and flourished over the course of a decade and a half as a direct consequence of this sometime gigging musician's eye and ear for other gigging musicians. Upside Down, Danny O'Connor's documentary dash through the label's highs and lows offers, among other worthwhile diversions, a corrective to the widely held notion that Creation was The House What Oasis Built (if anything, it was The House The Jesus And Mary Chain Built, hence O'Connor's borrowing of the band's breakthrough single for his title), as well as a warning that all your rock idols must eventually grow old with the rest of the mortals: The Mary Chain's Jim Reid, a memorably terrifying figure in the Smash Hits and TOTPs of my youth, now appears positively approachable - respectable, even.

Though it surfs a mounting wave of nostalgia for the Britpop era (yes, we get that clip of John Humphrys announcing the outbreak of hostilities between Oasis and Blur on the Six O'Clock News), Upside Down takes particular care to shine a spotlight on several lesser-known, still underrated bands who found themselves on the Creation roster (House of Love, Ride, Sugar, Super Furry Animals). And yet the film's pace comes to seem like a liability: O'Connor is going this fast to reflect a managerial style that always was on the fly, driven by a combination of gut instinct and class-A narcotics, but also perhaps because the legacy - like that of the New Labour PM McGee and his cohorts so enthusiastically got into bed with - doesn't stand up to prolonged scrutiny.

A key anecdote recounted here suggests McGee was only persuaded to sign My Bloody Valentine, previously considered "dodgy" and "a real anorak's band", after they went on at a gig before McGee's own group Biff Bang Pow! and - miffed at being relegated to support act status - played an angry, brutally stripped-back set. Unlike the visionary Wilson, McGee was reactive, always drawn towards postures - whatever was flapping in the breeze at that particular moment - rather than ideas: he was as keen to snaffle a hot US act like Swervedriver as he was those Britpop bands who were consciously reacting against American dominance of the native music scene, and his most considered, hands-on move was to transform Primal Scream into self-declared acid house pioneers, several months after he'd heard the sound at the Hacienda.

We can credit McGee with a degree of business acumen, and a good antenna, but this shouldn't at any point be confused with artistry. He turned down Bobby Gillespie's lavish idea for the Screamadelica LP sleeve in favour of something more cost-effective (ct. Wilson's high-minded bungle over the sleeve of "Blue Monday"); it makes sense that the label's talisman should have been the swaggering Liam Gallagher, whose stadium sounds smoothed the deal Creation eventually made with Sony, where Factory attracted personalities along the lines of the coolly intellectual Ian Curtis and the Rabelaisian Shaun William Ryder, and went heroically bust in the process.

O'Connor's film has the egos - Noel Gallagher speaks with misguided pride about "killing" the indie scene, which should come as news to Franz Ferdinand, the Arctic Monkeys, and the myriad Oasis imitators who followed in his band's wake - but it's a lesser story: no matter how the filmmakers try and trump it up, the struggles of the Valentines to record Loveless are as nothing compared to the misadventures of the Happy Mondays in the Caribbean. "A one-man Charge of the Light Brigade" is one Creation employee's assessment of his boss, and this zippy and entertaining film ends up both true to the McGee personality, and somewhat like a superior corporate video. In the end, it was Factory who were the true oppositional force, while Creation, whatever the achievements of individual acts, provided the Union Jack-flying, lighters-in-the-air, Oasis-at-Knebworth soundtrack to the Tony Blair years. Points for ending with this, though.

Upside Down: The Creation Records Story is available on demand here for the next seven days.

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