Review: Upside Down: The Creation Records Story (2010)

Directed by: Danny O’Connor | 97 minutes | music, documentary | Featuring: Alan McGee, Bobby Gillespie, Noel Gallagher, Norman Blake, Guy Chadwick, Mark Gardener, Bob Mold, Jim Reid, Gruff Rhys, Irvine Welsh

One’s dead is the other’s bread. When Oasis conquered the world with their second album ‘What’s the Story, Morning Glory’ and the accompanying hit ‘Wonderwall’ in the mid-nineties, the downward spiral was definitely started for their record label Creation Records. Creation, which had been a leading label taking charge of British indie bands since 1983, was not made for world fame. Founder Alan McGee was on the one hand the anarchist rebel with a keen ear for alternative bands with a unique sound, on the other he wanted to be a successful record label and manager. The flamboyant Scot only discovered when it was already too late that it was impossible for the two sides to go together. Undoubtedly, it was also a factor that he could not stay off drugs and that his financial affairs were rarely in order. Creation Records ceased to exist in 1999. The documentary ‘Upside Down: The Creation Records Story’ (2010) by director Danny O’Connor looks back on the turbulent history of the illustrious independent record label.

In ‘Upside Down’, named after the breakthrough single by The Jesus and Mary Chain, everyone involved has their say. Members of well-known bands such as Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine, Teenage Fanclub, Super Furry Animals and even Noel Gallagher from Oasis, as well as musicians from more obscure groups such as Swervedriver, BMX Bandits and TV Personalities pass by. And do we remember The Boo Radleys, Saint Etienne and The House of Love? Creation Records had to rely on the smaller bands. Many of those music groups failed to achieve commercial success, despite the often rave reviews from the British music press. The energetic Scot Alan McGee once started as a jack of all trades in the music world. He contributed to a fan magazine, played in his own bands Biff Bang Pow! and The Laughing Apple and ran The Communication Club, where bands came to play. More and more often he offered himself as manager of the groups that performed in his club. He then founded his own record label with his friends Dick Green and Joe Foster, to give bands like his own a chance to record their music. The trio longed for a counterbalance because they couldn’t hear the artificially manufactured synth pop that was popular in the early 1980s.

Filmmaker Danny O’Connor seems to revolve mainly around Alan McGee, the man behind the successes of Creation Records, but also the man who killed the label – his ‘child’ – through his own destructiveness. Precisely because he also has a dark side, McGee is a fascinating figure. But O’Connor could have been a bit more critical. He probably chose to let the protagonists – McGee, Foster, Green, musicians, music journalists – just tell their story, without interrupting them too often. So, a report of the facts, but how reliable they are… In the eighties and nineties – and perhaps even beyond – most of the interviewees sniffed their entire nasal septum. Drugs and alcohol were rampant in Creation’s stable. That McGee claims that he cannot remember anything at all from the year 1993, except for contracting Oasis, is telling. In general, the stories will of course be correct, but it is wise to take a few things with a grain of salt. That O’Connor has managed to get virtually everyone involved in front of his camera is commendable. The historical visual material is also worthwhile.

The stories of the talking heads are one-sided and colored, and will be of particular interest to insiders and die-hard fans of the label, as there is always a distance between the interviewees and the viewer. You never have the idea that you are really joining their world. The main reason to watch ‘Upside Down’ is therefore not the interviews, no, that is the music. For fans of bands like Primal Scream and Oasis it is nice to reminisce. But also the music lover who, apart from those two established names, does not know any band from the Creation stable, this documentary offers new insight. Bands like Ride, The House of Love and The Weather Prophets certainly deserve a larger audience.

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