Home Viewing Volume Two: Subcultures

The rich cross-section of music that dominates our charts, clubs and home stereos today is indebted to decades of cultural micro-trends and political divides. Hip hop grew out of exchanges between African Americans and immigrant populations mixing in New York’s suburbs in the ’70s. UK punk was the product of a youth subset that felt marginalised under Tory rule. And California’s liberal, coastal culture was the inspiration for the laid back sounds of surf music in the decades prior. With the current global pandemic forcing people to stay inside for the foreseeable, who knows what new genres of music might emerge in a newly closed-off world.

For Home Viewing Volume Two we’ve chosen five cult films that explore unique subcultures and musical scenes through history – enjoy the selection below.

Dogtown & Z-Boys

Without the Z-Boys there would be no skate parks, no Tony Hawk, no ‘Thrasher’ magazine and no Vans #95s. As this legendary documentary by Stacy Peralta dictates, skateboarding was dead by the time the great Californian drought swept Los Angeles in 1977 and ’78. A dated sidewalk novelty that had been branded dangerous in the late ’60s, skateboarding’s popularity had already plummeted after only the briefest of fads. 

But in Dogtown, a suburban “seaside slum” in Venice Beach where residents had been forced to drain their pools to preserve the city’s water supply, a group of teenagers had started breaking into backyards and skating the empty pool basins. As their niche gained popularity in the summer heat, the group branded themselves the Zephyr Skate Team, and with them, the culture of modern skateboarding was born.

An explosive soundtrack featuring the sounds of a West Coast summer in the mid-’70s fuels this dynamic feature, with Iggy Pop, Jimi Hendrix and Black Sabbath all contributing. Peralta’s follow-up ‘Riding Giants’, which documents the emergence of surf culture to the sound of Link Wray and Dick Dale, is a similarly riveting ride.

Key track: Jimi Hendrix – ‘Ezy Rider’

Do The Right Thing

Director Spike Lee was set to serve as President of the Jury for Cannes 2020, and while the event may no longer be going ahead, it’s still a great time to catch up on his much-celebrated filmography.

While 1985 comedy ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ kick-started the director’s career, it was 1989’s ‘Do The Right that made Lee a household name. A tale of simmering racial tension over a sweltering Brooklyn summer, it was nominated for two Oscars. It was later selected for preservation by the Library of Congress for its cultural, historical, and aesthetic significance in the first year of its eligibility.

Scored in part by Lee’s own jazz musician father, Bill Lee, ‘Do The Right Thing’ also features an iconic soundtrack. It mixes hip hop stars like Public Enemy with reggae, R&B and Cuban salsa artists, providing a rich snapshot of late ’80s life in New York’s multi-cultured suburbs.

Key track: Public Enemy – ‘Fight The Power’

Paris Is Burning 

The winner of the 1991 Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival, Jennie Livingston’s ‘Paris Is Burning’ remains an essential text in New York’s cultural history 30 years on from its release. 

A vibrant document of LGBTQ culture in ’80s New York, ‘Paris Is Burning’ goes in close with the African American drag ball scene, which paved the way for the fashion, lingo and dance styles of queer cultures all over the world in the decades that followed. It also helped to introduce the world to “voguing”, a stylistic form of house dancing that presents the lucid concept of gender as an element of the performance.

The film’s soundtrack, which combines New York disco with R&B and pop hits of the era, cost almost as much to clear as the entire shoot. In the decades that followed its release it remained a relative obscurity, only viewable at late-night arthouse cinemas and on worn-out VHS tapes. In 2019 Netflix uploaded a restored version to it’s streaming service, enabling widespread access to the cult film. 

Key track: Loose Joints – ‘Is It All Over My Face’

American Hardcore

The birth of American hardcore punk in the early ’80s is told through interviews with some of the scene’s most influential figures in this comprehensive 2006 documentary by journalist Steven Blush.

Fast, loud, angry and unpredictable, hardcore punk came out of left field in the ’80s. A reaction to growing dissatisfaction with the government and the marginalisation of outsiders in daily society, this far-reaching underground musical scene cropped up simultaneously in pockets all over America. Representatives from all over the country pop up in ‘American Hardcore’ to tell their stories – from Black Flag in Los Angeles to MDC in Austin, Texas, to Bad Brains and Minor Threat in Washington DC.

Shaved heads and concert riots line the film from start to finish, with many of the bands contributing their own raw archive footage to help illustrate their stories. The finished product is a definitive chronicle of one of the most vital music scenes in the history of American guitar music.

Key track: Bad Brains – ‘Pay To Cum’

Velvet Goldmine

This fictional tale of a glam rock star who disappears at the height of his fame in London in the early ’70s was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1998 – but David Bowie almost sued the production for plagiarising his own story too closely. The plot incorporates many elements of rock history into the story of the fictional Brian Slade, with the lives of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Marc Bolan also informing the story.

Jonathan Rhys-Meyer and Ewan McGregor star alongside a young Christian Bale in this Todd Haynes passion project, which was filmed at Brixton Academy among other locations. The soundtrack spans a wide range of glam hits, including tracks by Brian Eno, T. Rex and Roxy Music, as well as covers performed by the likes of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Suede’s Bernard Butler. 

Key track: Brian Eno – ‘Needles In The Camel’s Eye’