Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage
Music is the subject of a fair percentage of the more than 1500 documentaries scheduled for release this year according to IMDb — and that number only includes those who have gotten their shit together enough to list their productions on IMDb. If even half of them follow through with their visions, 2015 should be a banner year for music documentaries. This year, filmmakers will explore topics including old-school audio formats like cassettes and 78s, the rise and fall of the brick and mortar retail business and the impact of the boombox on society at large. Megalithic acts like Kiss and Grateful Dead will net yet more screen time (the latter thanks to Martin Scorsese), but pioneering female artists like Filipino-American R&B singer Sugar Pie DeSanto and early electronic film composer Suzanne Ciani will also get a turn in the spotlight that may have eluded their careers.
You can expect more than a few “rapumentaries” and at least one “documusical” to come out, too, but you won’t find those on this list of the year’s most anticipated music docs. Maddeningly, most of the release dates are TBA unless otherwise indicated, but patience is a sound virtue.
The House That Chicago Built
House music is typically credited as a Chicago innovation, but what was the first actual house record? Lil Louis, best known for his 1989 classic house track “French Kiss,” interviews colleagues worldwide to discover that this is not a question easily answered — even by the people who were deep in the local scene at its inception.
Montage of Heck
The first Kurt Cobain documentary authorized by his family (and executive produced by daughter Frances Bean) is expected to air on HBO this year. “Once I stepped into Kurt’s archive, I discovered over two hundred hours of unreleased music and audio, a vast array of art projects (oil paintings, sculptures), countless hours of never-before-seen home movies, and over 4,000 pages of writings that together help paint an intimate portrait of an artist who rarely revealed himself to the media,” director Brett Morgen told Rolling Stone.
Following his 2010 film Lemmy, Wes Orshoski turns his lens to UK punk/goth legends The Damned for his second music documentary. His interview subjects include frontman Dave Vanian, former members Captain Sensible and Rat Scabies and Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders fame, who was once in a group with the three.
The Roland TR-808 drum machine has served as an important architect in modern rhythmic music, as testified by the diverse cast of characters in this film, including Afrika Bambaataa, Phil Collins, New Order, Richie Hawtin, Lil Jon, and Roland’s 84-year-old founder Ikutaro Kakehashi, who explains why the vital instrument was discontinued. Produced by Atlantic Films and executive produced by Arthur Baker, there will also be a soundtrack of 808 anthems released on Atlantic Records.
Christian Falch, director of the 2012 documentary The Exorcist in the 21st Century (about exorcisms in the Catholic church), says he hopes his film about the Norwegian black metal scene as seen through the eyes of fans in Iran, Columbia and Greece helps to change the genre’s dark image. “My impression of Norwegian black metal today compared to the infamous early ‘90s is that today the focus is on the music and not all the other stuff that used to be related to the genre,” he told Black Reich Shop. “I think that is a good thing because the music deserves to get this positive attention and the musicians don’t have to become criminals to get PR for their bands.”
Stretch and Bobbito
The Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show was the radio beacon of the halcyon daze of ‘90s hip-hop in New York, a place where artists like Jay-Z, Nas and Biggie became legendary before they released any albums. This very personal project (written and directed by Bobbito Garcia, with music supervision by Armstrong) delves into the program’s history and impact as well as the unexpected cult followings it garnered in the prison and fashion worlds.
Backstreet Boys: Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of
“What do you do when you’re a full-grown man in a boy band?” This burning question will be answered in theaters and VOD on January 30 as this film chronicles the Boys to men journey past, present and future — hopefully telling some frank truths about former overlord Lou Pearlman along the way. At the very least, there’s a scene where Nick Carter points to someone off-camera and says, “I’m not afraid of you anymore!”
Behind The Music
fans now have this to fill their void.
Industrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay
Members of Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, Test Dept and more progenitors of industrial music trace the history of this often overlooked genre through the working class cities of Europe and America. The trailer is shot beautifully, and intermingles interviews with footage of factory work and noise.
Billy Anderson: God of Thunder
Despite an extensive discography and decades of work, the producer and engineer behind acts like The Melvins, Sleep, Neurosis and Brutal Truth feels like he’s just beginning. This film, which features archival recording footage from Anderson, has been in production since 2010, but director/producer David Hall of Handshake Inc. vows to complete the interviews with Anderson and collaborators this year.
Theory of Obscurity: A Film About The Residents
An unprecedented inside look at the mysterious band that has been together for more than forty years and is still best recognized by their iconic eyeball masks.
Theory of Obscurity
includes interviews with members of avowed descendants like Devo, Phish, Ween, Primus and Phish.
Tamara Palmer is looking up documusicals on Twitter.