‘Who on earth would pose next to a clothes bank, looking like he just got dragged out of the house by his bandmate, halfway though cutting his fringe with his nailclipper?’
Jason Williamson, that’s who, glaring out at onlookers on the front of the Sleaford Mods album Austerity Dogs. In an age of self-obsession and showing off on social media, such complete disinterest in the notion of image and how you should look has contributed to making Nottingham duo Sleaford Mods unlikely figureheads for a disaffected generation. For filmmaker Christine Franz, that album cover was love at first sight. Then, upon hearing the band’s stripped back songs about unemployment and dying towns, pure band crush.
‘The anger, the humour, the minimal beats – everything about them was so strikingly different to any band that I had heard over the last couple of years in today’s highly polished music business. The frustrations about dead end jobs, lack of options, politics, celebrity culture and everyday life. It really was one of those being-13-again-and-hearing-your-favourite-band-for-the-first-time moments.’
Sleaford Mods are a uniquely English band who use uniquely English vernacular in their songs. As a random example, their song Tied Up In Nottz features the lines ‘Nobby’s nuts/the rule of rough cuts/A to Z of nothing/gets all the shiz’. Not exactly primed for the global market then, so the fact that a German filmmaker not only fell in love with them but also spent a lot of time making a feature length documentary about them – the wonderfully titled Bunch Of Kunst - seems…well, unique.
‘That’s what drew me to them in the first place, that they couldn’t be more English if they tried,’ says Franz, who spent her student years at Aston University, an experience which undoubtedly helped her connect so strongly to the sounds of a pair of gobby Midlanders in the first place. ‘I really believe that there was a short time window of, say, five months around 2013 and 2014, when Sleafords where even bigger in Germany than they were in the UK. When we did our first interview with them for German TV, I met a confused NME journo who told me he was absolutely stunned that Sleaford Mods played sell out shows in Germany. Some German fans have told us that they don’t get all the references in the songs, but they can certainly relate to the anger and the way they talk about dead-end jobs and politics. As it’s the same over here. That’s probably what makes them sell out 3,000 capacity venues in Germany.’
That first interview with Williamson and his musical partner-in-crime Andrew Fearn took place in May 2014, sowing the seeds for a feature length documentary, one which has turned out to be as spiky and pleasingly honest as the pair themselves. Making Bunch Of Kunst was something new for both sides – Franz and her camera crew had never made a feature film before, and the Mods themselves had never been followed by cameras all day long. They also had no idea how long they’d be filming for, although Franz had a vague plan to finish the film with them walking on stage at Glastonbury 2015 – a plan which soon fell by the wayside when they realised things were only just gathering momentum. And she’s ultimately very glad they didn’t end there, otherwise the documentary would be missing a few interviewees who Franz got access to late in the day, including Iggy Pop.
The film was finally completed after two years, financed completely independently (‘which is probably quite mad in retrospect,’ admits Franz) and receives a limited UK cinematic release this spring. Like all directors who make music documentaries, Franz is hoping that it won’t just play to the Sleaford faithful. ‘I’ve been told that it works for Sleaford Mods fans as well as for people who have never heard of the band before. A non-Sleafords fan said that it works for him too because it’s also about three guys following their dream regardless and against all odds. He then went out to buy their record. So that was great feedback to get.’
Before it’s launched to the masses though, Bunch Of Kunst will receive a special preview screening as part of the 2017 Flatpack Film Festival, a homecoming gig that will see Franz return to the city she spent her student years in. Talking about her time in Birmingham, it starts where you imagine any student’s time in the city begins – Snobs.
‘When I think of Birmingham I think of Saturday nights at Snobs, the stickiest floor in the city. I think of countless gigs at the Academy, The Flapper & Firkin, the Jug of Ale, the creative vibe at the Custard Factory. And Spaghetti Junction. I was going past it every day on my way to uni. It was also the place where I tried out music journalism for the first time at student radio station Scratch Radio and where I learnt a lot about Kraftwerk and The Fall thanks to my dedicated lecturer at Aston University. So it kind of shaped my life quite a bit I think. Fond memories. And I’m over the moon to be back so soon.’
And did she go to any Flatpack events (or 7 Inch Cinema, as it was known back then)? ‘I went to a few 7 Inch screenings. I fondly remember one screening that was dedicated to German Krautrock band Can that some friends took me to. The people there found it absolutely outrageous that I was German and had not heard of Can before. Rightly so I guess.’