At the time that sibling duo Cassels first crossed paths with French film-maker Rodrigue Huart at The Old Blue Last in Shoreditch, the band had only a handful of short run EPs and a string of small venue shows to their name – not perhaps the most obvious subjects for a full-length feature documentary, but the director saw something that fired his imagination, and the resulting film Is It Punk Music?, made up of footage collected over the course of a year in the band’s company, proves his instinct to have been correct.
Far from the stadium tours, obsessive fans, drug-fuelled excesses, in-fighting and prima donna posturing that makes up a good portion of the rock-doc genre, this is a smaller, more intimate and ultimately more rewarding story than most that fit the mould.
This is a portrait of a band at the less glamorous end of the music business spectrum – the film opens with vocalist/guitarist Jim and his younger brother, drummer Loz lugging their own amps to set up on a tiny, cramped stage, and follows them through to the recording of their debut album Epithet, due for release this week via reputable indie imprint Big Scary Monsters, with a combination of live performances and interviews.
The pair have been playing together since childhood, and some of the most interesting footage focusses in on family – a delightful sequence in which for the first time they play one of their songs, ‘Ignoring All The Tunnels & Lights’, to their grandparents with a palpable air of nervousness; a tense section in which they discuss ‘Cool Box’, a track written directly about an incident in which their step-dad had hit Loz – I’ve seen it played live and the unease that its blunt lyrics cause in a room full of strangers is encapsulated perfectly, as is the strain on family relations.
The band’s home town of Chipping Norton comes in for a hefty dose of stick, particularly from Jim, who frequently references his distaste for the town, citing their music as a way of both channeling and dealing with feelings of alienation as well as potentially providing a way out. Loz meanwhile talks about his dyspraxia and how, rather than preventing him from playing, it has given him an unconventional style that has become an important part of the bands’ sound.
Is It Punk Music? gives a fascinating insight into a band still at the DIY end of the scale, for whom making and performing music on their own terms is not just a love but a need, and the way in which ‘normal’ life fits around and folds up inside of band life.
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/211404435″>Is It Punk Music ? (Documentary Trailer)</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/rodriguehuart”>Rodrigue Huart</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>