Here are some of the best music docs you can watch now

Plus, a list of new ones to look forward to in 2020.

Everybody In The Place

Any honest documentary on rave probably shouldn’t feature kids in a classroom, but Jeremy Deller flips the conventions of a music doc upside down here with brilliant results. Everybody In The Place is a film that’s part lecture, part history lesson. But it manages to create a sense of time, place, community and spirit around rave culture and 80s Britain that few other films covering the scene have managed. For those who are bouncing off the walls waiting to get back out there and feel the thump of a bass speaker, here’s a way to do that vicariously.

The Defiant Ones

This glossy four part docu-series is a thoughtfully shot and masterfully edited documentary (the sound editing is truly extraordinary). It’s a sprawling voyage across both music and American culture via the work of producer Jimmy Iovine and Dr Dre. The first three episodes in particular – which see Lovine produce for the likes of Stevie Nicks and found Interscope Records, while Dre revisits his NWA days and the East Coast-West Coast rap rivalry – are some of the most arresting, broad and insightful pieces of documentary Netflix has ever released.

Charles Bradley: Soul of America

Charles the screaming eagle of soul” Bradley’s story is emotionally tender. This 2012 documentary, released five years before Bradley’s death in 2017, tells the story of his tumultuous life and his belated career peak. Having spent years working as a James Brown impersonator, Bradley was discovered while he was in his late 60s. The emotional scars are visible throughout this film, but spending time in his company is truly joyous. 

Oasis: Supersonic

It’s 2020. So you’ve probably had enough of Liam and Noel’s very public bickering – somehow, the NME has kept the Gallaghers’ name permanently in their news cycle for decades. That said, it’s impossible to resist the charm of Supersonic. Focusing on the really good bit of their career, it traces their rise from gobshite council estate kids to gobshite millionaires playing Knebworth. 

Strike A Pose

A funny, touching, sad and revealing music doc which looks at the lives of the male dancers who made a key contribution to Madonna’s 1990 Blond Ambition tour (originally captured in the film Truth or Dare). It’s obviously great to get a glimpse behind the scenes of the world of 90s Madonna, but Strike A Pose also doubles up as a fascinating human study of the direction people’s lives can go in once they part company.

Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell

A pioneer of disco, classical, folk, avant-garde and just about anything else he put his hand to, Arthur Russell died young and in relative obscurity. But over the years, he’s become celebrated as an influential cult artist, partially thanks to a seemingly infinite archive that has seen numerous posthumous releases (even Kanye sampled him). This poignant, insightful documentary offers a deeper glimpse into the Russell’s very unique world of echo. 

Hit So Hard

This is not just the story of Patty Schemel, the drummer in the Courtney Love-fronted grunge band Hole, but one that tells a wider story too. Hit So Hard manages to capture a behind-the-scenes look as Nirvana, grunge and alt rock exploded and changed the landscape of music. Featuring her own video camera footage from original tours, it gives a rare insight into the world of Kurt and Courtney. On top of that, Schemel’s own troubled life creates a gripping narrative that brings the tale up to modern day. 

Amazing Grace

Aretha Franklin performing in a church from 1972. The original recording ended up on Amazing Grace, the most successful gospel album of all time, but until recently the footage remained unreleased. It’s a stirring, powerful and at times completely enrapturing performance that sucks you into the spirit of the room. The attendees of the church are often proving just as watchable and uplifting as Aretha herself.

Lemmy

An intimate portrait of the late Motörhead frontman. A love for metal and punk isn’t needed to enjoy this one, because there’s enough fun to be had just watching Lemmy propped up at his favourite LA bar drinking and guzzling the never-ending supply of Jack Daniels. You also get to poke around in his home and at his extensive military collection, as well as joining him on tour. The biggest takeaway perhaps is being shown a softer side to the man who was credited as being in the loudest band in the world. 

Kraftwerk and the Electronic Revolution

Someone has kindly taken this relatively hard-to-find documentary and uploaded all three hours of it across 10 parts on YouTube (although the DVD is an option). The title says it all really; it traces the history, impact and legacy of Kraftwerk and the wave of electronic and experimental music that followed. It’s three hours-long, but if you’re a fan it’s definitely worth tucking in.

FORTHCOMING MUSIC DOCS TO LOOK OUT FOR IN 2020

Other, Like Me

A doc on the boundary-pushing, industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle.

Sisters With Transistors

Narrated by Laurie Anderson, a doc that looks at the often-overlooked contributions by women in the history of electronic music. Featuring: Suzanne Ciani, Pauline Oliveros, Daphne Oram and Laurie Spiegel.

White Riot

A film by Rubika Shah that looks at the history of the rock against racism movement in the UK

Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story

The story of long lost music that led to the rediscovery of a forgotten pioneer. 

Zappa

The latest doc from Alex Winter (aka Bill from Bill & Ted) is the first ever one allowed to have access to Frank Zappa’s extensive personal archive. 


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