Rock ‘n’ roll documentaries have become something of a cliché in the entertainment overload times we are living in. Factual but entertaining stories of the entertainment on which they are based, and Upside Down: The Story of Creation Records really does nothing to dispel any of these.
It tells the story of the independent record label that launched the careers of, amongst others, Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine and Oasis from “the first Scottish new-town” of East Kilbride to becoming subsumed in a major via all the usual sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – though in this case it seems mostly drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, the film seems to shy away from the sex, though I don’t think this is any bad thing as i don’t think it would add anything to the story.
While this story is interesting to someone like me who’s a self-confessed rock ‘n’ roll geek who came to this music at the tail end of the story, in the mid 90s, to a less interested person the film has several major flaws. While it was clearly never intended as a big screen feature it falls almost too easily into the talking head clichés of many TV documentaries of recent years and, though these stories are all interesting in their own right, their organisation is very basic and simply tells the story from point A to B to C with little innovation in between.
This to me is something of a problem as, since Julien Temple took the bull by the horns with The Filth and Fury which he followed up with the likes of Glastonbury and Oil City Confidential and films like Dig! have taken the camera right to the heart of a scene, the straight forward music documentary has become somewhat passe. This isn’t helped by the fact that the film seems to have no clear thesis, it shifts from the standard punk tale of kids from the estate making good, to the morality tale of drugs building up creativity only to inevitably destroy it, to, “did Creation Records actually kill the entire indie scene it had helped to develop?” and at no point does it give a clear answer or conclusion to any of these, or admit that it can’t.
The third problem I have with the film is that we only hear from those who were integral to Creation Records, making out that label head Alan McGhee and his co-conspirators were single handily responsible for the british rock ‘n’ roll scene from the mid 1980s until the turn of the millennium, and, while they undeniably played a large part, it overlooks many other things that played a hand and it never seems to get the view of the major labels or the artists who didn’t buy into the myth. However, the seemingly near omnipresent Anthony H. Wilson (he appears in so many stories about this scene and genre) makes a brief appearance as being the man who all but drew Creation to Manchester where Primal Scream found the sounds that inspired Screamadelica and later Creation Records discovered their biggest band, Oasis.
All these criticisms aside, and while Upside Down is in no way essential viewing, it does serve to take a look slightly deeper into a world many will only have seen brief glimpses of as the likes of Loaded and Wonderwall hit the charts and introduce a viewer who hasn’t previously explored the scene to a range bands such as The Jesus and Mary Chain and Teenage Fan Club.
In the end I was left with the feeling there was a much bigger story to tell in places, but that story would most likely be better told by exploring the back catalogue of the label and the bands that grew within and from it.