With the Lockdown continuing across Europe and North America, there will be many of us with a bit more time on our hands than would be usual for April.
So if you are at a bit of a loose end and need a break from the music-creation side of things, but don’t want to stray toooo far; here are a few great documentaries available to watch on Netflix right now.* So in no particular order (well, with maybe one exception of the last show, which is a big favourite here at Decksaver HQ…..):
This great documentary, takes the watcher on a journey to reveal how a slightly obscure 1973 guitar-based cover version by the Incredible Bongo Band helped launch hip-hop to the world when New York’s DJ Herc used it as a creative base for some of his parties and sets.
This 2013 film traces its use and the impact it’s had to become one of the most sampled tracks in history. It features plenty of archived footage and interviews with Afrika Bambaataa, Questlove, and Furious Five’s Melle Mel amongst others.
Supersonic also ranks in our review of best music documentaries on Netflix.
The programme gives an account of Manchester’s Brit Pop mega-band Oasis, with the name of the production taken from one of their highly successful early singles.
It shows the group in their formative years through to the height of their success where they could do no wrong in the eyes of many. It also gives insight into the group’s strife and internal arguments. Could be a perfect intro to the ‘will-they\/won’t they’ reform debate.
20 Feet From Stardom
Morgan Neville directed this fascinating ode to backup singers in a project where he was tasked to explore the roles and lives of the many backing singers in the music industry.
20 Feet is a fascinating history lesson, pushing to stage-front-and-centre, the names and faces to the voices that performed on the likes of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” and David Bowie’s “Young Americans.” The unsung voices behind the finally get their due in this story of include Merry Clayton, Darlene Love, Tata Vega, and Judith Hill. It’s a powerful documentary and is one of the few music-based documentaries that have won an Oscar.
Buena Vista Social Club
German filmmaker Wim Wenders also received an Oscar nomination for his 1999 film of the band with the same name, taken from the popular music members’ club in the Buenavista district of Havana, in pre-revolutionary Cuba.
The film documents how Ry Cooder brought the Cuban ensemble over the waters to make their first trip to America, documenting the trip and concerts. It also provides a great insight into life in Castro’s Cuba too. The corresponding album, recorded in 1996 is also worth checking out.
Shot: The Psycho Spiritual Mantra of Rock
OK; so this isn’t technically a music documentary, but it drops into our list as photography is still a creative art and much of the content is from the world of music after all.
This cinematic adventure delves deep into the career of one of the world’s most famous rock ‘n’ roll photographers, from London glam to New York punk and through to the new millennium.
Mick Rock; the London-born photographer came of age in the 1960s and started his self-taught career after borrowing a friend’s camera whilst studying at Cambridge University and documenting the local music scene. Picking up friendships with Syd Barrett and Chris Jagger (Mick’s younger brother) and then Bowie in 1972 along the way, his career flourished and saw him shoot covers for many bands as well as many subjects from the rock glitterati, resulting in a mighty impressive address book and portfolio.
Daft Punk Unchained
Who doesn’t love Daft Punk or at least acknowledge their position on the world dance music stage? This 2015 film is an Anglo-French production that documents the rise to fame of the helmet-wearing, French music-producing duo of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo.
It’s a fairly straightforward run through their lives and careers to date and culminates in the release of the Random Access Memories album. It features plenty of archive footage and shows as well as interviews with key collaborators such as Nile Rodgers, Giorgio Moroder and Pharrell.
Although many will have seen this no doubt, it’s a worthy mention to those that may not have done so yet; or even for those who might care to watch it for the second time. It takes an in-depth look into the life and times of the tortured soul singer Amy Winehouse and also covers the challenges and personal problems she battled with through her life and career.
Although the Winehouse family have distanced themselves from the film to some extent, it is still worthy of a watch to understand the life of the singer that was taken from us way too soon.
Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened
Remember the Fyre Festival? Who can forget it eh? This musical extravaganza was supposed to be the ‘festival of the century’, putting the likes of Coachella to shame.
The film documents the details of the major fraud, masterminded by event organiser Billy McFarland and was co-produced by Jerry Media who were one of the promoters of the festival. It’s a fascinating insight into a major musical fraud.
I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead
This Grammy-nominated film features the life-and-times of global DJ and producer, Steve Aoki.
Commencing in 2014, around the time of the Neon Future album release, the film shows Aoki working as a DJ and producer and as a family-man at home in Japan. There are plenty of interviews with his family, friends and other musical talents such as Diplo, Tiesto and will.i.am.
Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé.
Few modern pop stars have had the self-awareness and power of Beyonce. This film takes the watcher on a journey around Beyoncé’s widely- admired performance at Coachella in 2018. It captures her performance at the event, with the huge amount of financial investment, planning and hard work required to make it happen and also gives great insight into how Coachella became a cultural movement in its own right.
Whilst her music might not be to everyone’s taste, the film is captivating and has become one of the most popular and watched music documentaries on Netflix.
What Happened, Miss Simone?
The 2015 documentary takes a closer look at the life of the legendary soul, blues and jazz singer Nina Simone.
From its opening sequence, taken from her performance at the 1976 Montreaux Jazz Festival, this compelling and fascinating story takes the viewer through Simone’s early life, through her career as a singer and the role she played as a civil right’s activist.
Definitely a must-watch.
Hip Hop Evolution
This Canadian production originally aired in 2016 on the country’s HBO network and profiles the history of hip hop music and culture, from its inception in the 1970’s Bronx parties, through to modern-day.
Hosted by Juno Award winning artist Shad, the series interviews and features many of the artists, producers and other participants from the world of hip hop, including DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Kurtis Blow, Russell Simmons, Beastie Boys, NWA, LL Cool J and Public Enemy.
It’s not a one-off though. The show has racked up 4 seasons and so it’s a really thorough deep-dive into the history of one of the most important musical cultures ever brought to us.
And last but not least. No, it’s not the crime-solving medic from the ‘70s, but one Quincy Jones; jazzman, writer, arranger and producer extraordinaire.
This 2018 Grammy-Awarded documentary, co-produced by his daughter Rashida, is about the life of this truly legendary American record producer and musician and tells the story of how Quincy was able to battle his way and became a music one-off.
With a discography of nearly 3,000 songs and 300 albums, plus over 50 film and television scores, the man had some serious talent and was so much more than the man who launched and help create Michael Jackson’s mammoth solo career. Highly recommended.
There’s plenty of shows to keep you occupied for more than a few hours here; but of course, this is just scratching the surface. If we’ve missed your favourite, do let us know on Facebook. Now where’s that bag of popcorn and remote control……
*These documentaries were available to view on the UK Netflix platform on 20th April 2020. Some regional variations may occur, so check your local Netflix app for more information.