punk

Review: 'We Are the Best!'

          

 ‘Tell me something good about my life’    

 'You’re in the world's greatest band.’     

                                                                                                                                                   

Lukas Moodysson is back with a film that, at least in spirit, resembles his debut feature Show Me Love (1998): here's the story of three teen outcasts who form a punk band. It’s 1982, and Bobo and Klara are having a tough time both at home and a school. Somewhat neglected by their horrifically liberal-bourgeois parents, and mocked by their peers for looking different, these girls know that something needs to be done: embracing what is best about DIY punk culture, they pick up bass and drums and write one (actually pretty good) song (‘Hate the Sport’). It doesn’t matter that they can’t play their instruments (although they get some musical coaching from the band’s third member, skilled guitarist Hedvig) – it’s their ideas and attitude that matter. 

Image courtesy of Metrodome

Image courtesy of Metrodome

Perhaps I was a soft target: We Are the Best! Feels really close to my heart because I was once a naïve, difficult teen who picked up a guitar and tried to form a band with my then-best friend. It didn’t matter that we never got out of her family’s freezing basement – we felt we were doing the most wonderful thing in the world.  Lukas Moodysson seems to know what it feels like to think you are on top of the world, when in reality you have little going for you: it’s great to see how these three girls bond, how they fight and make up, how they defiantly make a stand against a grey world populated by inane adults (the Youth Centre leaders, their PE teacher) and insipid schoolmates with crimped hair. They’re sketchily portrayed through a narrative that is for the most part episodic; yet the performances and clever (and very funny indeed) script ensure that we are left with an impression of well-rounded, believable characters.

It’s good to see a coming-of-age tale about females; whilst we are used to see young boys bond on screen, cinema’s depiction of teenage girls interacting tends to be outrageously inaccurate, peppered with either over-the-top bitchiness or sickening idealisations of pre-pubescent femininity.  Klara, Bobo and Hedvig bicker a lot, they questions each other’s authority and behaviour, they argue over boys and then eventually put it all right again, their friendship cemented by the experiences they share.

The portrayal of 1982 Stockholm is also something of a delight – a lot of films set in the 1980s  end up being cartoonish, especially when they feature music so heavily. Moodysson and his production design team handle the period setting with care, with little details such as pop-up toasters and Guzzini-like floor lamps being pointers that never feel too forced. The colours are soft and have a vintage 35mm film feel to them, but nothing here screams ‘retro’.

 It’s telling that We Are the Best!  feels so incredibly fresh – Moodysson just seems to have a natural knack at telling us stories about the all-too transient and often awkward period that is adolescence.  This is a film that definitely deserves to be seen widely (here’s hoping it inspires a new generation of riot grrls) – even for the last sequence alone, where the protagonists play a gig so riotous that it puts The Jesus and Mary Chain to shame. 

'30 Odd Years' - Vic Godard

vic godard 30 odd years cover.jpg

BBC 6 Music DJ (and former member of The Fall) Marc Riley refers to Vic Godard as ‘The Greatest Living Englishman’ and after listening to 30 Odd Years quite a few times now, it’s hard to disagree (as far as songwriters go, anyway). His influence in the late-‘70s was significant and it resonates to this day. Godard (né Napper) took the emancipatory energy of punk and applied his inchoate yet sophisticated songwriting nous to it, filtering a variety of genres through both over the decades. From 1978’s Don’t Split It through to a 2012 rendition of 1992’s Johnny Thunders with Davey Henderson’s marvellous Sexual Objects, there’s no ‘Joey-punk’ knuckle-dragging and not a hint of flab.

The first disc is the more straightforward of the two, although it may raise the eyebrows of the hitherto uninitiated: it starts off punk (albeit with a smart, cutting, ‘60s garage edge), develops into Velvets-tinged pop, swings into full ‘Cole Porter’ mode in the middle, briefly turns off into the best Bond themes you’ve never heard (Spring is Grey and Stayin’ Outta View (Instrumental)) and ends with muscular Edwyn Collins-produced Northern Soul. All this could surprise even the seasoned fan with a full pre-existing familiarity with the individual songs.

The second disc initially follows naturally enough with We’ll Keep Our Chains from Godard’s second Collins-produced Long Term Side-Effect – melodic, tough, a bit off kilter and underpinned with that trademark Northern Soul swing. But then the generic twist-turns begin to emerge in ever more awe-inspiringly unexpected ways. First there are two infectious gospel songs from LTS-E and then we’re into turn-of-the-century urban with The Writer’s Slumped, which has more than a hint of Missy Elliott’s Get Yr Freak On about it (which came first, one wonders?). There’s even Godard classics such as Ambition with a distinct good-ole-fashioned-hoe-down bent, blackly funny music hall in the form of Blackpool (the theme to an ill-fated theatre collaboration with Irvine Welsh) and the jaunty, accordion-led, Brechtian number The Wedding Song. The most incredible thing about all of these diversions is how natural it all sounds – partly a testament to picking collaborators of the finest calibre but primarily due to being possessed of a songwriting talent, an authorial voice, so definite and distinct as to frequently leave one breathless.

The last song proper is the aforementioned live rendition of Johnny Thunders with The Sexual Objects. Recorded at Stereo in Glasgow in December 2012, it was a performance that was a part of a series of events dubbed VIC.ism, the weekend-long Glasgow leg of which celebrated Godard’s influences, influence and his special connection to the local music scene (his connection to Scotland is emphasised further by excerpts of the late Edinburgh poet Paul Reekie discussing Godard and Subway Sect on the short intro and outro tracks). 30 Odd Years reinforces the extent to which Godard’s back catalogue and fulsome talents deserve to be celebrated and emphatically so. Even the Godard/Sect aficionado is likely to uncover a fresh understanding, not least because of the wealth of alternative versions, radio sessions and live recordings on offer. The promise of a further Edwyn Collins-produced record, 1979 Now, later in the year is very exciting indeed, and if ever a 40 Odd Years appears, one could be confident it would be every bit as essential a listen as its predecessor.

'30 Odd Years' is available now on Gnu Inc Records on CD and download.

Andrew R. Hill