Tuesday, August 07, 2007

DVD: Reuben - "What Happens in Aldershot Stays in Aldershot" (2007, Hideous Records)

For a brief moment back in 2002, the commercial future of British rock looked incredibly bright. One of the more gratifying consequences of seeing nu-metal limp towards its inevitable demise was that the spotlight shifted onto the UK’s vibrant post-hardcore scene. While the likes of At the Drive-In were busy bolstering the genre’s critical integrity across the Atlantic, bands such as Vex Red, Hundred Reasons and Hell is for Heroes were being snapped up by major labels left, right and centre while being heralded by everyone from The Guardian to Kerrang! as the saviours of British music.

And then, almost as quickly as the process had begun… nothing. It’s as if the record industry didn’t know what to do with the wealth of talent they’d acquired – they’d taken a grass-roots scene and tried to market it to an audience completely out of touch with its values and ideals. The cull was swift and brutal; of that original crop of bands, only a handful survived and are now still operative. Hell is for Heroes dropped off the radar following a sterling debut release, dogged by record-label problems which dealt a severe blow to their confidence and forced them to retreat underground. Mismarketed and misunderstood by their handlers at Columbia, Hundred Reasons were also quickly ditched, eventually emerging revitalised with last year’s excellent Kill Your Own LP. The unfortunate likes of Jarcrew, Distophia and The Copperpot Journals never even made it to the party; perhaps the only band to emerge completely unscathed (which is as much a testament to their unwillingness to play the game as it is to their considerable ability) was Biffy Clyro, whose years of dogged persistence only recently started to reap commercial dividends.

- a band whose acerbic lyrics and natural insouciance never quite seemed to complement the more rigorous workmanship of many of these acts – were perhaps unlucky to arrive slightly too late to catch the initial wave, and too early to lead the emerging current crop (yourcodenameis:milo, Fightstar, Gallows et al). With one eyebrow perpetually raised and a sense of humour equal to their penchant for driving, meaty rock, the band quickly established themselves as firm favourites on the underground circuit. You know a Reuben song the moment you hear it: they have an unmistakable authority that arises from the band’s crushing, Kerbdog-esque rhythms and Jamie Lenman’s husky but articulate bark. Indeed, quite aside from the quality of the tunes, Lenman himself is a born showman whose commanding presence and relaxed onstage patter makes the band hugely endearing to watch. They’ve always come across like the Ronseal of touring acts: they simply get in, do the job and fuck off home again. No muss, no fuss.

What’s perhaps most fascinating about the band though is that despite having built up a loyal and devoted following, commercial success seems to have casually eluded them. On the underground circuit, everyone’s heard of Reuben - and yet they continue to fall through virtually every net that’s been cast in the last five years. Following two well-received albums for Xtra Mile (the brilliantly-titled Racecar is Racecar Backwards and 2005’s Chris Sheldon-produced chunkathon Very Fast, Very Dangerous), the band’s frustrating lack of forward-momentum led to them founding their own label, for which this is the first release.

As suggested by their D-I-Y approach (my copy of the DVD arrived in an envelope addressed by the singer himself), Reuben is a totally self-sufficient, home-run operation. Amiably put together by the good folk at The Leftside, What Happens in Aldershot… is a disarmingly frank and frequently uproarious portrait of the band’s attempts to balance musical aspiration with the daily monotony of earning a crust, and as such grants us access to their spectacularly unglamorous activities outside of the band. Between amusing monologues about his hairdo and showing off his impressive collection of Dr. Who memorabilia, Jamie waits on tables at the local chippy. Personable bassist Jon Pearce stacks shelves for Waitrose. Baby-faced drummer Guy Davis (who really is that tiny in real-life) works at Debenhams and still lives with his parents. Both onscreen and in-person, the one thing that consistently hits home though is how immensely likeable they are: as the self-penned liner-notes to Very Fast, Very Dangerous attest, they really are just the kids from the local rock club who happened to go off and form a band. (Indeed, I’ll always have fond memories of Jamie wandering over to where I was DJ-ing during their UWSU soundcheck a couple of years ago and saying, “Dude! Is this The Dismemberment Plan?!” before giving me an appreciative devil-horns salute and strolling off again.)

As the group’s principal creative-force, it’s their passionate frontman who emerges as the most driven of the trio, but even his own ambitions for the band are grounded in a modest sense of pragmatism. I have no doubt that they’ll get there eventually: if there’s one thing that the steady ascent of Biffy Clyro taught us, the most important thing is to just get out there and cultivate a following - if you shift a few units along the way, bonus. However, it soon becomes clear that there are bigger things at stake than mere commercial gain: ultimately it’s their bassist who outlines their true intentions when he says, “The music industry is all I’ve known for the last five years, and that’s all I really like doing; if the band ended, I wouldn’t go and work in an office for the sake of earning some money… I’d rather earn half the wage doing something I really want to do. Having an enjoyable life is as important as having a wealthy one – it’s more important to have a good time and leave the world happy”.

With this statement, he nets it in one: there simply is no other way for Reuben. The reason they’ve been able to survive so long in such a tough climate is by playing it smart rather than opportunistic: they divide their recording advances three ways and then use that as a living-allowance, subsidising any extra-curricular activities through menial jobs. As an aspiring writer in similar circumstances, it’s a process I can empathise with completely: tedious though the graft may be, the daily grind is just an unfortunate consequence of attempting to forge your identity as an independent artist. I’ve been plugging away for years and have only recently started to see monetary recompense for my work, but when it all comes down to it I wouldn’t have it any other way - it’s either that or surrender my independence and become like everybody else: lifeless, dull and complacent. Many people rag on me for having never moved beyond my immediate surroundings upon leaving University, but I’d much rather this than getting up every morning to work a crushing nine-to-five job, only to come home and find my every creative impulse stunted.

Above all else then, it’s just about enjoying what you do. The extras on this package are absolutely hilarious: aside from an endlessly watchable slow-motion dance-off on the menu, we’re treated to all kinds of entertaining asides from piss-takes of Rod Stewart to a deliciously surreal short film in which Lenman films a group of Chinese people saying “Michael Jackson”. As an added bonus, you also get a blistering live DVD which features a typically incendiary performance from London’s Mean Fiddler: check out the punishing Stuck in my Throat for an example of the band at their most ferocious.

Regardless of whether or not you’re a Reuben fan, you really need to buy this DVD - not just because it’s the funniest and most candid depiction of life in the trenches to have emerged in many a year, but because it represents so much more than that. What Happens in Aldershot… is a testament to three artists’ persistence and integrity in the face of considerable adversity - in a revealing later scene, the band holds an impromptu conference to discuss that night’s performance of a new song and we see their underlying ethos emerge: that of a hard-working, democratic collective always striving to improve, develop and better themselves. Whereas Ondi Timoner’s similarly-themed Dig! charted the destructive relationship between art and commerce with car-crash voyeurism, here the harsh realities of grappling with day-to-day inertia are handled with good humour and a carefree shrug. Consequently, like the band itself, the film is charming, self-deprecating and at times even quite touching: in its final scene, the band exchanges gifts at a 10th Anniversary get-together and we see that above all else it is their friendship which has prevailed. For these reasons alone – not to mention the fact that chucking a few quid their way will help them carry on doing precisely that - Reuben are more than deserving of your cash. But much more importantly, on both a musical and personal level, they’re worthy of your respect.


Anonymous Dan Whinney said...

This is the best thing i've ever read, such a shame the dvd is all gone!i'm starting up a zine for early next year if you fancy submitting a review or two??


October 31, 2008 at 5:27 PM

Blogger Carter said...

Sure thing dude, hit me up when you know when your deadline is!

November 5, 2008 at 6:22 AM

Blogger gibby_5000 said...

This review is so well written! Such a shame they had to call it a day :(((

October 1, 2009 at 4:57 AM


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