Shane Croghan gets lost in music watching Niall McCann’s latest doc examining the rise of Scotland’s independent music scene.
Following on from his acclaimed 2012 documentary Art Will Save The World, director Niall McCann has delved into the world of indie music once again, and emerged with the charming Lost in France. Travelling to the north of the United Kingdom this time, McCann has assembled a compelling cast of characters to examine the rise of Scotland’s independent music scene in the ’90s, with a particular emphasis on the trailblazing record label, Chemikal Underground.
Though the narrative spans nearly twenty years, from the mid ’90s all the way through to 2015, the past and present are threaded together by the reprisal of a notorious 1997 trip to Mauron, a tiny French town which played host to a small music festival back in the day. McCann’s camera invites the viewer onto the tour bus, to join Alex Kapranos (Franz Ferdinand), Stuart Braithwaite (Mogwai), RM Hubbert and Chemikal Underground founders The Delgados as they head back to France, attempting to piece together their memories of the 1997 trip along the way.
McCann has struck gold with these subjects. Their effortless rapport drives the narrative, offering everything from nostalgic anecdotes about the origins of Chemikal Underground, to acerbic commentary on the state of the contemporary music business. As the gang on the bus attempt to recall the events surrounding the original trip eighteen years ago, we are treated to an insightful reflection on creativity, friendship and the transformative power of music. These contributions are coupled with archive footage, hobbled together from the libraries of those involved with the scene over the years, adding to the reflective tone which characterises much of the film.
Despite the far-reaching impact of Chemikal Underground upon the wider British indie-rock scene, this documentary is extremely personal, exploring the rise of the label from the internal perspective of those who helped to build it from the ground up. The sense of camaraderie amongst the musicians serves to forge an intimate connection between the viewer and the events unfolding on-screen. As Kapranos and company attempt to stitch together an image of that 1997 trip to Mauron, the audience is right there with them, leafing through weathered photographs and struggling to fully recall the booze-soaked debauchery that took place eighteen years ago.
Unsurprisingly, Lost in France is wonderfully soundtracked. From the feedback-drenched noise-rock of Mogwai, to the chart-cracking indie anthems of Franz Ferdinand, with a few acoustic interludes from the likes of Emma Pollock and RM Hubbert, the music is a key component in the eighteen year journey from past to present. In particular, the decision to cut between archive of old gigs and the present day performances in Mauron is an effective method of conveying the passage of time, as well as the timelessness of music.
Lost in France is a nostalgic trip down memory lane, neatly packaged with easy-flowing banter, a cracking soundtrack and some lovely shots of rain-soaked rural France. These aspects alone would’ve made for a charming little documentary, particularly for fans of Scottish independent music, but, thankfully, McCann has crafted a film greater than the sum of its parts. Not simply a music documentary, Lost in France is an insight into the communal power of music, the necessity of art and the freedom that creative endeavour can allow to those willing to fully embrace their idealistic dreams. Speaking alongside some of the featured musicians, McCann offered the film as a retort to the contemporary notion that “you’re supposed to just do any shit job and be grateful for it”. Lost is France is more than a just an entertaining watch, it’s a self-affirming experience for young DIY artists.
Lost in France screened on Friday, 8th July as part of the 2016 Galway Film Fleadh