In 1993 Steve Albini published a memorable screed with the title “The Problem with Music,” in which he detailed—in excruciating detail—how the economics of making money off of music make it very likely that the average band just trying to put out some records is going to get the shit exploited out of them. Five years earlier, Factory Records released the Happy Mondays’ second album Bummed, which was the band’s first real breakthrough, and the Granada TV show Information Technology in the U.K. released an episode depicting, in a far gentler register than Albini’s testimony, the business decisions that went into what proved to be one of the touchstones of acid house culture.
The documentary, which lasts about 20 minutes, takes us—most obliquely—through three “Decisions,” those being “Recording Budget,” “Promotion Budget,” and “How Many to Make.” The strategy the filmmakers adopt is mostly fly-on-the-wall, so viewers have to glean information as best they can.
The affable Tony Wilson is our guide through some of the process, during which we see Tony Michaelides, Factory head of PR, grumbling about Shaun Ryder and Co. failing to appear for a radio interview; the esteemed producer Martin Hannett twiddling knobs at a console while the band lays down tracks; and manager Nathan McGough patiently explaining that Happy Mondays are worth the trouble even though they are a pain in the ass.
We also see the band and their friends at Central Station Design deciding on the album artwork as well as what the first single should be. (It was “Wrote for Luck.”)
The program unfortunately does not show what had to have been an extremely interesting conversation, specifically what the inner sleeve of the album would look like.
So many music documentaries stress the extraordinary nature of the subjects, how sexy and cool and talented they are—it’s quite refreshing to see the other side of it, band as cog in a system fulfilling a specific economic role.
The program ends with a glimpse of the band playing a show at Dingwalls on January 9, 1989. In the clip, the song they are singing is “Do It Better.” Features some decent footage of Bez doing his Bez “freaky dancing.”
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Bills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches: ‘Bez’ of Happy Mondays is running for Parliament