Review: Voodoo Rhythm – The Gospel of Primitive Rock ‘n Roll (2006)


Director: M.A. Littler | 95 minutes | music, documentary

Ever heard of Reverend Beat-Man, The Dead Brothers and King Kahn? Chances are that you have to answer “no” to this question. The artists signed to Voodoo Rhythm Records don’t target the masses; they play music mainly for themselves. The documentary maker M.A., from South Africa, but living in Germany. Littler was one of the people who was captivated by the pure music and no-nonsense approach of Voodoo Rhythm. “In my favorite pub in Frankfurt I heard a record by The Dead Brothers. The music immediately touched me deeply. Those guys just do whatever they want; they mix old-fashioned blues with punk, Cajun, gypsy music and funeral songs to create their own genre. That really appealed to me. I soon got the idea to make a film about this fascinating band and started researching. That’s how I came across Voodoo Rhythm, their record label. I was very impressed by the fact that the label, just like the band, did not care about the well-known music formulas and just went its own way. ”

Voodoo Rhythm almost seems like a shelter for bands that are just out of the picture and don’t fit into the picture of the (contemporary) commercial music world. Founder Reverend Beat-Man (1967), a pleasantly deranged Swiss who not only plays in all kinds of bands but also performs solo on stage to literally preach his music and lifestyle, explains in the documentary that no record company wanted to release his music. “The only way to be able to keep making music was to set up your own label.” He personally screens the bands that “apply” to Voodoo Rhythm; on paper they can still connect with the ideas of the label, but if he does not see that feeling in their performances, then the party will be canceled. Bands that did deserve his approval, Littler reviews one by one. In addition to The Dead Brothers, we see garage punkers The Monsters (where Beat-Man himself is the frontman), King Kahn (whose music is described as ‘Voodoo Soul’), the American DM Bob (who makes raw Louisiana swamp blues) and his side project with his German wife Silke, The Watzloves (‘rockin’ country gumbo ‘).

The music will not appeal to everyone equally. The ears of the contemporary audience are no longer used to these raw, pure forms of music. Maybe it takes some getting used to Beat-Man’s powerful, screaming intense sermons, which can seem quite frightening to a layman (thanks also to the – by the way beautifully shot – penetrating black and white images of the live registration. about as a strange yet friendly man, with whom you can have an interesting conversation. For all interviewees, they are people who are averse to star allegations and – just like their music – are straightforward. According to Littler, his film is about more than just music, it is about a way of life that is in stark contrast to the extremely structured and manipulated life that most people lead and where most music suffers.The bands brought under this label are outlaws. They don’t need expensive contracts or marketing machines, they just want to scream, scream, cry and rant, they don’t care what is hip and what isn’t. Expressing themselves in the purest sense of the word, that’s what it’s all about.

“Voodoo Rhythm – The Gospel of Primitive Rock ‘n Roll”, which features archival footage and concert recordings (with even a hint of burlesque) in addition to interviews, was a modest success in the European (especially German-speaking countries) arthouse world. Although the music may not have directly appealed to the people, one could agree with the attitude to life of the artists. That is exactly where the strength lies in this film by M.A. Littler: The Sincerity of the Interviewees. Whether you like the music is a matter of taste, but most of the people in this documentary definitely have an interesting story to tell. A film without frills, just like the music and the people it is about.

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