In the mid-1990s there was something of a gap in the area of credible, popular music. Following the rave and ‘Madchester’ scenes in the UK and the influx of grunge from the US (halted somewhat overnight in the eyes of the mainstream with the death of Kurt Cobain) something different needed to emerge to fill that void, that something became known as Britpop.
Britpop was (as these things often are) a mishmash of sounds and styles all loosely stemming from British based guitar bands so there was Pulp (already veterans of the scene), Blur (less ‘kitchen sink’ in approach than many of their contemporaries) and, arguably, sat atop the pile, was Oasis.
If you grew up in the UK in the mid-1990s its very hard to believe you weren’t part of this movement on some level or other, either you were a fan of one of the bands (it seems you had to be on a certain ‘team’) or you hated all of it and, much like punk rock, even that added fuel to the movement.
Now, twenty years from its peak, Oasis: Supersonic looks back at the formation and rise of the band that came define the style.
The film tells this story using both new interviews and archive clips of the band and surrounding characters, but of course the protagonists are the Gallagher Brothers, Noel (songwriter and guitarist) and Liam (singer).
Stylistically the film does some interesting things. We don’t get standard, sit down, talking head clips of the leads, instead the audio of their interviews (often with subtitles, I’m assuming for the American market where their Mancunian accents may be more impenetrable) is overlaid on footage or photo montages of something roughly around what they are talking about.
In this we get some amazing sights, from the brothers childhood, which by all accounts was rough on all of them, but they both make it clear they don’t carry that any kind of device for gaining sympathy, to the early days of the band where, if everything here is accurate, they were followed around almost constantly by people with video or film cameras – something that today is commonplace but in the mid-90s is fairly astonishing.
In these moments is where the sense that this was somewhat a constructed reality started to creep in. Understandably the film is very much on side with the Gallaghers, they were both executive producers, but at the same time it doesn’t entirely shy away from their troubles, albeit in a slight tidied up manner.
Generally though, much like in the work of Julien Temple (who I can’t not refer to when looking at a music documentary), any ‘construction’ of the reality is done to help tell the story within the allotted running time.
As the story goes on and the band hit their stride, being signed by Alan McGee to Creation Records and then making their debut album and heading out on the road, it becomes a non-stop ride and captures the chaos of this excellently through its montage approach. Included in this are well placed cuts back to Manchester and their family and youth when it reflects moments of their adult life.
Particularly impressive here is the section dealing with the recording of their debut, Definitely, Maybe, which captures an aspect of the inexplicable alchemy that goes into a record going from a few good songs, to a classic product that has stood the test of time now more than two decades on.
The second act of the film treads many of the same paths as other music documentaries as the band teeters on the brink of self-destruction but the openness of the Gallagher’s interviews (particularly Noel’s) does add an interesting new insight into just how these things can happen. Of course, heading to America and discovering new drugs is a major contributing factor.
The film is bookended by the band’s peak (and arguable final moment of relevance) playing sold out shows at Knebworth, dubbed the biggest rock ‘n’ roll shows in British history. The movie does a great job of capturing the atmosphere and place in history of this event, as the Gallaghers say, before music became taken over by talent shows and the internet.
While this view may be slightly overstating it, the film shows there is a certain element of truth to this and it is a nice point to end on as going too much further would have just been watching a band tailspin for a further half decade before finally entirely imploding.
As a whole Supersonic is a celebratory affair looking at a creative and revolutionary period, not just for Oasis but for British music as a whole, as elements of punk and the 60s ‘British invasion’ merged into something new and fresh and equally relevant to their time all held together by a mix of great stories and storytelling and some songs lodged in the heads of anyone who was discovering music at that time.