The Best Music Documentaries Currently Available To Stream In The UK Maybe the only time you'll see Taylor Swift and John Cage in the same article...
In a development that will come as a surprise to precisely no-one, we’ve been spending our time watching a lot of music documentaries over the past few weeks.
Know where to look these days and you’ll find films about notable figures from all genres - jazz, minimalism, pop, metal. Given that some of you may be getting towards the end of your Netflix watch-lists by now, we thought we’d throw out ideas for some documentaries you could turn to when re-running Friends for the umpteenth time suddenly seems a little less appealing. We've also tagged them to one of the given artist's definitive/most relevant works in case you should wish to further explore their musical output after watching the films.
Beyoncé - Homecoming
If you’re after a sheer thrill while self-isolating then you could do worse than Beyoncé’s ‘Homecoming’ documentary. The film captures Beyoncé during preparations for the earth-shattering Coachella performance which came in support of her brilliant 2017 album ‘Lemonade’. That LP is one of the greatest pop albums of all time - despite drawing on a huge number of collaborators including Jack White and James Blake, ‘Lemonade’ is still distinctly Beyoncé, a fact made all the more undeniable by the songs’ performances in ‘Homecoming’
Bob Dylan - Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese clearly had a lot of fun when making his 2019 film ‘Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese’. Going about his task with the sort of carefree whimsy that I would imagine comes easily to people who’ve already achieved all they wanted to achieve (and got very rich in doing so), the film finds Scorsese blurring the lines of fact and fiction as he reconstructs/reinvents the narrative around Dylan’s ‘Rolling Thunder Revue’ tour of 1978. Dylan hams it up too, claiming to have known other characters in the film who, it turns out, never existed at all. Features extensive concert footage, much of which was repurposed from a movie made at the time of the tour called ‘Renaldo And Clara’, and interviews with Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg and many more. Peep the film, then check out Columbia’s mammoth set of ‘Rolling Thunder Revue’ recordings.
Bob Marley - ReMastered: Who Shot the Sheriff?
You probably already know that Bob Marley passed away from cancer, but were you aware that he faced death more than once in his life? In 1976 an attempt was made on Marley’s life, with the singer, his wife Rita, manager Don Taylor and band member Louis Griffiths all shot at the Marley family home. No-one died, and Marley channelled the experience into ‘Exodus’, arguably his definitive musical statement. Documentary ‘ReMastered: Who Shot The Sheriff’ spends an hour going deep on an attempted assassination which had linked to the highest political offices of Jamaica and the United States.
Charli XCX - I’m With The Band: Nasty Cherry
‘I’m With The Band: Nasty Cherry’ is surely one of the more unusual watches on this list. It stars contempo-pop high-flyer Charli XCX, but it isn’t about her music, or even really about her. Instead, the documentary focuses on Nasty Cherry, the band that Charli attempts to form and launch across six episodes. Nasty Cherry’s music isn’t half bad - think Haim meets Hole - but nothing they offer up on the show quite matches the neo-bubblegum masterpieces that adorned, say, XCX’s 2019 LP ‘Charli’.
Daft Punk - Daft Punk Unchained
It’s kind of weird to think that so many people in both the rock and techno establishments were affronted by Daft Punk when they first came on the scene. In hindsight, the duo’s hooky, riff-driven take on club music was an olive-branch between the two worlds, one that could have been grasped much earlier than it was. Anyway, the BBC chose to profile the duo of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter in 2015 for the documentary ‘Daft Punk Unchained’. Emerging in the slipstream of their shiny-suit disco comeback LP ‘Random Access Memories’, the set reaches far back into Daft Punk’s past, chronicling their ascent from Parisian layabouts to world-conquering party-starters.
Fugazi - Instrument
It seems a bit odd that counter-cultural icons Fugazi could end up on one of these corporate streaming services, but I guess nothing’s that surprising in this post-COVID-19 world. The ‘Instrument’ documentary features footage from Fugazi shows and interviews with the band from the lead-up to their fourth studio LP ‘Red Medicine’. ‘Instrument’s soundtrack is like nothing else Fugazi have ever done - these skeletal and loose jams sound more like Tortoise. Highlight is ‘I’m So Tired’, the most relatable piano ballad of all time; “I’m so tired, sheep are counting me”. Me too Fugazi.
John Cage - Live At The Barbican
Good news for those of you looking forward to some peace and quiet during the lockdown - BBC iPlayer currently has a 2004 concert of John Cage’s music up to stream! Arf, arf. But yes, the avant-garde zen-master is indeed best-known for his no-notes masterwork ‘4’33”’, and the film captures the British orchestral premiere of the piece. Also included is Cage’s ballet ‘The Seasons’ and works from Charles Ives, Henry Cowell and other luminaries of American classical music.
Kelis - Cooked With Cannabis
A cooking show presented by Kelis is something that we can abide - the 'Milkshake' singer has run her own food truck in the past, after all. But a cooking show presented by Kelis that’s about food made with *cannabis*?! Well, we at the Friendly Norman Records Music Emporium couldn’t condone anything of the sort in good conscience. You see, we at Norman are a family company, and the idea of a six-part series that features chefs making gourmet food for Kelis and guests like El-P makes us take a sharp intake of breath … hang on, we’re starting to feel a bit funny …
Lil Peep - Everybody's Everything
Lil Peep is one of a number of rappers to die tragically young in the past few years. Despite passing away from an accidental overdose at the age of just 21 (damn…), Peep was a hugely influential figure in his time, helping to inspire whole waves of artists with his moody blend of trap and emo. Both the documentary ‘Everybody’s Everything’ and its accompanying LP of the same name help to make sense of a life and career cut way, way too short. He seemed like a sweet guy.
Marie Davidson - Between The Beats
Think that the life of a touring musician is all sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll? You won’t after you watch Resident Advisor’s ‘Between The Beats’ profile on Marie Davidson. Having broken out in the past couple of years with her reflexive, arch take on EBM and minimal-wave, the French-Canadian singer-songwriter/producer now spends most of her weekends zipping about the globe playing shows. Davidson’s lot is a hard one, her well-being suffering for the all jetsetting and loneliness. It’s moving and intimate and makes you respect her craft even more.
Miles Davis - Birth Of The Cool
Miles Davis - horrible bastard, staggering genius. BBC documentary ‘Birth Of The Cool’ captures the singular magic of jazz’s most famous son through archival footage, studio outtakes and other nuggets of rare Davis gold. Of course, there are so many phases of the trumpeter’s career, from early hard-bop to the brain-meltingly heavy jazz of ‘Bitches Brew’ to late forays into fusion-funk. Those formative forays - we’re talking 1949 and 1950 - are collected on the LP also entitled ‘Birth Of The Cool’.
Motörhead - Lemmy
Well, not technically Motörhead. Just Lemmy, actually. Greg Olliver and Wes Orshoski’s portrait of the one born Ian Fraser Kilmister was made in 2010, a point when the Motörhead leader was still very much alive and kicking (he would pass away five years later). An outsized rock legend in both life and death, the film features fellow metal luminaries paying tribute to Lemmy - Lars Ulrich, Ozzy Osbourne - and also chronicles some of his personal relationships, both with family members and his beloved LA drinking spot. If you like documentaries, I tell you I’m your man!
Nina Simone - What Happened, Miss Simone?
Stupendously talented, notoriously difficult, uncompromising, troubled and brilliant, Nina Simone was a towering figure who continues to throw down the gauntlet to artists everywhere. 2015’s ‘What Happened, Miss Simone?’ finds documentarian Liz Garbus (‘Ghosts of Abu Ghraib’, ‘Bobby Fischer Against the World’) going deep on Simone’s life and legacy. ‘What Happened, Miss Simone?’ was so well-received upon its initial release that it ended up being nominated for an Oscar. As well as making some hall-of-fame studio records, Simone was an extraordinary live performer - her childhood dream was to be a concert pianist, and her shows blended serious keyboard chops with fiery, passionate, often slyly avant-garde delivery. Simone compilation ‘The Best Studio & Live Recordings’ delivers on its promise.
Taylor Swift - Miss Americana/Reputation: Stadium Tour
Currently back in the news for the latest flare-up in her spat with Kanye West (team Taylor!), Taylor Swift has not one but two documentaries available to stream at the time of writing. The feature flick is ‘Miss Americana’, Swift’s revealing fly-on-the-wall chronicle which emerged in January of this year. Sure, there’s plenty of general popstar tit-for-tat across these eighty-five minutes, but ‘Miss Americana’ also tackles some of Swift’s heftier personal travails, from body dysmorphia to her mother’s illness - challenges that also informed her recent LP ‘Lover’. Those craving the pure thrill of her music should go check her show-stopping concert film ‘Reputation: Stadium Tour’.