Reprise (Norway)

Director: Joachim Trier

UK release: TBC

Erik and Phillip are best friends; idealistic writers looking to establish their name on Norway’s literary scene. An opening montage bursting with visual and narrative vitality outlines their dreams of future success. Debut director Joachim Trier soon deviates from this fantasy. Phillip’s manuscript is accepted and he becomes an overnight sensation whilst Erik, rejected but determined, battles on against the odds. Phillip’s success comes at a cost as just six months later he is residing at a psychiatric hospital following a breakdown.

In attempting to cram so many angles (mentioning love, mental illness, the rivalry of creative partnerships and self-discovery would only touch on the depth of the plot) into one work, it’s a near miracle that Trier didn’t suffer the same fate as his lead character. Possible interpretations of a fantastically non-linear plot give Reprise a depth that will surely yield further depth after repeat viewings, but the key is its seamless collision of personal drama, tragedy and a touching sense of humour. A soundtrack dominated by Joy Division and an international array of punk underlines what deserves to be a global cult hit.

Days Of Glory (France-Morocco-Algeria-Belgium)

Director: Rachid Bouchareb

UK release: March 30th

Rachid Bouchareb’s aim for Days Of Glory is explicit from the outset – to expose both the historical and contemporary injustices that North African troops drafted into the French army suffered during and after World War II. Whilst this aim occasionally overshadows the otherwise finely-tuned characterisation, the performances more than compensate. Actors Jamal Debouzze, Samy Naceri, Roshdy Zem and Sami Bouajila appear to have developed a real bond that certainly adds a sense of true comradeship to their performances. Their Cannes Best Actor Award (along with Bernard Blancon) is well-deserved.

Although the battle scenes primarily take second stage to inter-army tensions, their visceral nature is both exhilarating and horrifying. One such scene particularly impresses as a long-shot depicts the multitudes of solders as freckles on a landscape; a clever touch that captures the blanket dehumanization of sending soldiers to their death.

One late scene is a touch too manipulative and has led some critics to make unfair comparisons with the more melodramatic Saving Private Ryan. But forget its minor shortcomings; Days Of Glory is a powerful and thought-provoking study of war with a core sense of individuality.

This Is England (UK)

Director: Shane Meadows

UK release: April TBC

Small town England, 1983; Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) is just twelve, cast out as a loner due to his flares and lacking a male role model since the death of his father in the Falklands. A group of skinheads led by Woody (Joseph Gilgun) take him under their wing and he soon becomes a vital part of their group dynamic. The situation is short-lived as Combo (Stephen Graham) returns home from prison and splits the group, pushing Shaun into his racist way of life.

News footage from the Falklands plus speeches from Thatcher and the ever-present Eighties soundtrack capture the era with an atmospheric precision, whilst the script’s innate sense of power is tempered with a sharp comedic edge. Turgoose’s range would be impressive for an experienced actor, let alone for someone of his age, and his combination of innocence with the brutality that he faces really ensures that This Is England can’t fail. Graham, Gilgun and Andrew Shim (as Milky) also impress in a work that will surely rank amongst the UK’s finest films of 2007.

Thin (USA)

Director: Lauren Greenfield

UK release: TBC, to be broadcast on More4 in 2007

Thin, the directorial debut of acclaimed photojournalist Lauren Greenfield, documents the experiences of four young women residing in Florida’s Renfrew Center, a treatment facility that battles against anorexia.

The horrifying effect that the illness has on them is shocking; they suffer a multitude of physical problems directly as a consequence of their extreme weight loss. But more shocking still is the psychological problems as a patient can sink to little over six stone and still feel devastated by a belief that they appear to be overweight. Deception is common with various tricks employed to create an apparent (yet temporary) sense of improvement at the regular weigh-ins. Treatment isn’t a linear route back to health as the illness all too often dictates that any weight gain is soon countered by a setback and that’s perhaps the most heartbreaking aspect. Greenfield’s great success with Thin is in building awareness of a problem that is both widely misunderstood and extremely complex.

Taxidermia (Hungary-Austria-France)

Director: György Pálfi

UK release: Spring

Deviant masturbation! Gigantic felines! Communist-sponsored eating contests! Oh yes, Taxidermia is in a league of its own when it comes to the surreal. Following the fortunes of three generations of men from the same family – a sexually repressed soldier, a competitive speed-eater and a taxidermist – Taxidermia’s plot is less vital than its feast of confrontational imagery.

Whilst such all-encompassing strangeness can often create a work that’s bizarre but ultimately pointless, Taxidermia never as much as edges towards such lows. It’s always bright, brash and offensive enough to leave an anticipation as to where the next moment of weirdness will come from. Its comic elements are also perfectly deployed; some viewers will be disgusted by the gore on display that others will find humour in, but the sight of a table football game populated by stuffed squirrels can’t fail to raise a chuckle.

Small Engine Repair (UK-Ireland)

Director: Niall Heery

UK release: TBC

Transporting the atmosphere of small town Americana to Ireland, Niall Heery’s Small Engine Repair focuses on Doug (played with a sense of battered survival by Iain Glen), an aspiring country singer who has achieved little and whose wife has left him. His community consists mostly of men whose aspirations are now confined to memory and whose general bitterness to life has created turmoil amongst their number. There’s Burley, recently released from prison and eager to blame anyone but himself for his conviction, Bill, a mechanic whose ambition to step up to truck repair is just a pipedream, and his son Tony, a young man desperate to escape the same destiny as the rest of the village.

If the same societal conditions had been placed on a group of twenty-something characters, Small Engine Repair could’ve been violent and intense. However, it’s the early middle-aged collective that really makes for compulsive viewing. It’s almost as if true aggression between them is futile when petty bickering will suffice and that creates a sombre pace that accentuates the sadness at the heart of this film. Rarely has masculine emotion been captured with such depth of understanding.

Traditionally speaking, the debut EP is a call to arms, a scream for recognition. The signal that a fresh musical force has joined their comrades and are now fanatically levelling their sights on fame, glory and elevating their art to a higher plane.

No one, however, seems to have told this to Andrew Weatherall. Nearly 20 years after becoming an underground legend and over ten since he transformed into a household name by producing Primal Scream’s seminal ‘Screamadelica’ album, this 40-something Cockney musical guru has finally got around to releasing his first debut solo.

As far as tardy debuts are concerned, ‘The Bullet Catcher’s Apprentice’, his new club angled 12”, struggles to find even a remote competitor.

“It’s up there innit?’ laughs Weatherall who is ensconced on a sofa deep in the dim bowels of Rotter’s Golf Club HQ in East London. “I can’t really think of many people longer than that. It’s a weird one really, it just happened that way. Just another accident. I had a lot of time on my hands.”

Having worked as a musician, band member, celebrated remixer and era-defining producer for labels such as Creation, Heavenly, Factory, Rough Trade, One Little Indian, Warners, Talkin’ Loud, Island, Boy’s Own, Deconstruction, Warp and his own Rotters’ Golf Club, just how close had he previously come to releasing his own debut material?

“Not close at all because I have always co-written and I didn’t want to. I just always valued those people working around me. Some DJs who I used to know, who will remain nameless, used to take all the glory and it wasn’t really all their work. I never started DJing to get a name for myself.”

Weatherall cut his melodic teeth in the hedonism of the exploding acid house scene. Mainly in the psychedelic fairyland of Madchester. He became essential to rave culture through establishing himself at the forefront of a trinity of skills: a renowned producer, a celebrated underground DJ and a most sought after remixer. At this point he could have sold out by advocating mediocrity, taken the £15,000+ Robbie Williams remix (he nearly did) then smugly shaken the Devil’s hand snuck off for a line with Robert Johnson.

Instead Weatherall has trod an exemplary path in the art of maintaining integrity, a modern path which, with its endless collaborations, brand whoring and commercial maelstrom wasn’t always comfortable: “Well to start with it was a bit of a crusade because all the people I liked were fighting a losing battle so it was like: ‘fuck it, I am going to lose it as well’. But then after a while you realise that the reason why the people don’t sell out is because it’s a good and creative way to work and as long as you know that you are not going to be a millionaire and not have that big house.” Before reclining with a laugh: “I just thought: ‘I’m making some good music and I can still fill a club, I can still pay my tailor’s bills, it’s fine…”

In 1997 our understated hero said: “I’m what you might describe as the classic underachiever. I tread that fine line between boffin-dom and the grand amateur.” Fast-forward nine years and this modesty still prevails. “I am not a careerist. For years I made light that this wasn’t a job but it is a proper job. Mark E Smith said that if you’re doing rock and roll then it’s the hardest job in the world. I never saw myself as trying to get up the greasy pole and to do that you have to kind of brand yourself, even more so now.”

“And you have to BE that person all the time otherwise you confuse people. I don’t decry other people if that is the way they want to go. If they want to be a star then fine, fair enough, but there’s just so much hard work AND bollocks that comes with that and keeps you out of the studio.”

This lack of need for clamour or recognition and his consistent dedication to new forms of music has been legendary throughout the successful career he has always tried to dumb down.

Now after a relative drought of material Weatherall and his talented partner in crime and co-label founder Keith Tenniswood AKA Radioactive Man are set to re-release their early Rotter’s Golf Club highlights along with Weatherall’s debut EP AND their next Two Lone Swordsmen: “Yeah we don’t do anything for 18 months and then bring loads of stuff out. That’s how shit we are at planning things. It’s a shambles. It’s just a sign of how stupid we are!”

Where their release rates may not be consistent, their work rate however is. Two Lone Swordsmen as a band continues its refinement unabated. This project started with Andrew And Keith fucking about behind a curtain with a bank of equipment at a rave; it has now grown into a distinct band with numerous influences from Rockabilly to Techno; with a rag tag group of local players comprising a loose collective Weatherall fulfils his rock and roll dreams on vocals and Keith takes up lead guitar. So after all the plaudits, screaming clubs and numerously tipped hats around the world, does he still feel he has something to prove?

Hesitantly: “Yeeeahhhh… because I am now standing up front and singing songs I have written. I have to prove this though to myself, it’s not about proving stuff to other people anymore. Especially as you get older.”

“A couple of years before our last album we were just sitting down here moaning, it gets quite dark down here as well,” he laughs and points to the ceiling. “The bulb HAS actually gone out – I’m not trying to create some moody scene down here! So instead of expending all that energy moaning about other people I thought: ‘let’s step up and put yourself in a position where you can be judged by other people’. Putting yourself on show stops you getting full of yourself. Throw your fruit if you want.”

“I wasn’t getting complacent about music but I did feel that I was in a routine with it. I’m not a careerist but I wanted the job to go somewhere; not necessarily up but maybe sideways. So by changing the way we made music and by getting up there and singing did that. We wanted to do something difficult.”

I love electronic music for dancing to but I never listen to it.

“My moves? Well they are not based on any new bands I can tell you that my boy! It’s kinda… rock and roll from the 50s till punk: a cross between Gene Vincent, Clash, Cramps and Eddie Cochrane. I don’t actually study these in front of the mirror but certain people move in certain ways. The visual side of rock and roll has been as important to me as the music and so it’s bound to seep into you.”

Two Lone Swordsmen is a fascinating project in examining the relationship between dance culture and the underground band scene and society’s response to it. For a start the band get booked and play at both dance events and straight up rock gigs but more significantly here we can witness two of electronic music’s most influential and successful DJ / producers intensely refining and exploring the essence of a rock band.

“It’s never about production these days, its all about playing,” explains Weatherall. “I think that is what is wrong about a lot of electronic music these days; it’s too concerned with process and not the actual humanity and the playing. I saw footage of Ike Turner playing and it’s just insane because he had a total control that he exerted over people: just the slightest look at someone. Mark E Smith’s got it as well, although to be perfectly honest he gets it sometimes by pushing over the drum kit.”

Growing up in the suburbs of the ’70s meant many things. As a young male it meant a healthy dose of escapism was needed. When punk unleashed the frustrations stewing in the nation’s youth it was a musical ground zero for Weatherall (although he’s keen to point out that his musical world had exploded years before thanks to his parent’s classic rock and roll collection). He was in punk bands till the age of 22/23, one band was called the Other Side: “We kinda thought we were A Certain Ratio by wearing German army vests and big shorts with timbale drums and Hitler youth hair cuts. I was the singer AND the timbale drum player.” However from an early age Weatherall refused to be aligned solely to one scene; a point he still maintains and thrives upon in his professional life.

Having experienced the “year zero” of punk he was then at the forefront of the next musical sea-change to hit Britain as over a decade later dance culture arrived in all its day-glo splendour. So which direction does he see the next musical revolution occurring from?

“There’s not been another year zero since acid house and I’m not sure if there will be another on that scale. The spread of information now is so fast, the internet started to develop as acid house tapered off and the spread of information is so quick now that scenes just don’t have the time to develop at a natural rate. Things are bracketed and made available for download within weeks of something occurring – which is good, I like that hectic world, its very anarchic. But there’s just far too much music being made.”

Their latest LP release was borne out of a suggestion that they should expose the newer generations of dance music fans to older Two Lone Swordsmen tracks. The result is ‘Emissions From The Archive Vol 1’; a collection of older cuts dating back, in some cases, to 1995 when the Rotter’s Golf Club House was above a dry cleaners in Chiswick. Others date from the old Sabres of Paradise studio before the founding of their modern label and recording home deep beneath the East London streets.

At the time of writing Andrew and Keith were touting their new LP ‘Wrong Meeting’ about to various labels. The sound and vocal styles have come a long, long way from early incarnations. Weatherall explains that even the writing of material now comes about in a much more folk based fashion with Andrew jotting lyrics on a pad as Keith strums the acoustic guitar. Weatherall then confesses that, as the ultimate form of musical honesty, the next major challenge will be to take TLS act completely acoustic.

Older techno heads (who’ve refused to budge from their mechanical grooves) may be aghast about Weatherall’s latest direction however the band’s genealogy is enthralling as yet another quiet metamorphosis is about to take place and another experiment in the relationship between rock and dance gets tested.

The man at the helm of these tests has driven the serrated cutting edge of underground dance culture from its heyday to its modern hybridisation. He has nudged every nuance and challenged every genre and through this relentless activity has retained his right to challenge himself at grass roots level; not from the warm confines of a mansion having sold out his integrity for a fat pay off.

“I love the facelessness of the techno and that’s good when it transfers to records, you can be anonymous in techno but I also love the rock and roll clichés. It’s a basic human need as well… it’s why I got bored as well… I needed to communicate as well. I love electronic music for dancing to but I never listen to it. Electronic music is good if it’s functional but as a spectacle it’s not really working is it?”

“I had an epiphany down here a while ago. I ended up in that studio over there [points to dark looking cupboard] with records filling the room so I had an ever decreasing space with vinyl piling all around me until I had just enough space to just stand by myself listening to all this sterile techno going [cocks head to one side like a scientist]: ‘Ooooh! That’s interesting!’ NO! That’s not why I got into music.”

Then with a cheeky glint of that teenager with a timbale dream and a world of noise to make, he confesses: “With bands it’s more of a communication thing. I just love the way four blokes run around on stage and fall over all the time.”