Our Chemikal Romance: Interview with Niall McCann

Home to a scene that spawned Mogwai, Arab Strap and Franz Ferdinand, Chemikal Underground is one of the most influential indie labels of the past 20 years. Irish director Niall McCann’s new documentary, Lost In France tells the remarkable story of the label. It also offers a unique starting point for a discussion on politics, social welfare and the odds that are stacked against artists. Interview: Roe McDermott

“Is this us peering back into the past, or gazing hopefully into the future?” Stewart Henderson, the founder of Chemikal Underground, in Irish filmmaker Niall McCann’s new film, Lost In France, doesn’t quite know the answer.

The music documentary-meets-concert film reunites acts of Glasweigian record label Chemikal Underground and brings them on a nostalgia-tinged roadtrip to Mauron in France, where they all played in 1997. Featuring artists like The Delgados, Mogwai, Arab Strap and Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos, the musicians reflect not only on the importance of that time in their lives, but on the impact they had on the music and arts scene in Glasgow.

McCann’s previous features include An Exile’s Home In The Bronx, about Irish immigrants playing Gaelic football in New York, and Art Will Save the World, his 2012 film about English musician Luke Haines of The Auters. It was so hard to get Art Will Save The World made that McCann contemplated abandoning film altogether. But he encountered Arab Strap’s Aidan Moffat after a gig in the Grand Social in Dublin and decided to visit Glasgow. There, the idea for Lost In France was born.

“I knew I wanted to make a film about Glasgow because it’s one of those great musical cities,” says McCann, “but it doesn’t really get the attention it deserves compared to places like Detroit. It’s just a far more interesting and diverse place, art and music wise, than somewhere like London. There are a load of great characters, and what I like about Glasgow is that it’s not just one unified sound.

“It’s not like Britpop or the electronic scene in Sheffield. You’ve Mogwai, you’ve Arab Strap, you’ve the Delgados, you’ve Chvrches now – they’re all very diverse. So when I was over with Aidan, we were talking about his memories of being in Arab Strap and working with Chemikal Underground. He mentioned this trip they all took to Mauron, and the minute he mentioned that to me, I figured that I had a way to tell this story.”

Class Is A Huge Factor

Getting the bands to remake the trip to Mauron works as a brilliant device within the film, as it brings the musicians together and allows them some space and time to look back over the intervening years. There have been monumental changes since Chemikal Underground’s original visit to Mauron. At the time of the trip, most of the musicians didn’t even have mobile phones – now the internet completely dominates their industry. 

“It’s a bit like journalism or filmmaking now,” says McCann. “All these creative arts have become so much more difficult. People see the arts as something that’s meant to be a hobby. I know loads of journalists and filmmakers who have to work for free, and musicians aren’t making money. So I wanted to draw a parallel between the two time-frames and talk about what happened.”

A predominantly working class, industrial city, Glasgow was hit hard by the recession in the 1980s. 

“There’s an attitude that London is great and Glasgow is an afterthought,” McCann muses. “There’s a needling thing there which I think is a class-based issue. Glasgow is a very working-class place. And what we’re talking about in terms of the music industry is, I think, inherently linked to the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of proto-capitalism.

“I think people don’t really want to talk about the impact of class and economics. You can see the resistance we’re having to conversations about achieving some form of gender parity in the arts. But I think class is huge factor, too. I don’t know many working-class people in Ireland who make films. It’s nearly impossible, and I think it’s intentional. Because who are the people who get to make films, and what are the messages going to be in the films getting made? It’s not going to be anti-status quo, or anything going against the grain.

“Of course wealthy people are angry, but it may be a different form of anger. So the whole film isn’t about class, but it is a thread. Because if the music industry continues going the way it is, working-class musicians are going to be completely crowded out. It would suit governments if there were less angry voices from marginalised people getting out there.”

No Happy Endings

One telling moment in the movie is when Alex Kapranos mentions that all the musicians he knew were on the dole: far from the small-minded modern view of social welfare catering to the lazy, it was the way artists survived.

“The changes in attitudes towards social welfare over the past 20 years are a part of this changing political landscape,” asserts McCann. “In Ireland, it used to be that everyone was on the dole at one point. But now, I see people on the dole and they’re made to feel worthless.

“I was on the dole a while ago, and they make you feel like a criminal,” he adds. “The media’s against people on the dole. People on the dole are the enemy, like they’re somehow scamming your money. The real enemy is above all of us. When those conservative, right-wing attitudes about social welfare creep in, it does affect the arts because people aren’t given the time and space to create.”

McCann is openly critical of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, as well as the Tories in the UK. 

“What amazed me about Glasgow is that people are openly socialist,” says McCann. “There’s a real collective sense of organisation that I’m not seeing in Ireland. Socialism here is seen as a brand, it’s a t-shirt, it’s not a real and viable form of political organising. Though maybe I’m just not hanging around with the right people.”

Like the musicians of Chemikal Underground, McCann feels compelled to keep fighting the good fight and making art – all the while raising awareness about these issues.

“I don’t really believe in happy endings,” says the director. “When it comes to capitalism, the odds are stacked against all of us. And so you just have these minor victories – excuse the bandname pun – to keep you going. Even Chemikal, they’d do anything to keep these musicians going. It’s very easy to become despondent. But you have to find ways to keep on.”

 

Related Articles

Fashion: Putting It Into Neutral

For men, it’s all about staying low-key this season, as neutral tones come roaring into fashion – in a tastefully understated way, of course. By Roe McDermott

Read More

Film Review: The Big Sick

Funny and touching film addresses culture clashes, family dynamics and romance.

Read More

Film Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

Superhero flick fails to swing into action.

Read More

Cillian Murphy opens up about Dunkirk and his relationship with Christopher Nolan

Irish star Cillian Murphy discusses his excitement about once again working with celebrated director Christopher Nolan, the man behind Inception and the Dark Knight trilogy. Their latest film, Dunkirk, is a powerful account of allied soldiers’ evacuation from France during World War 2.

Read More

The Big Picture: How cinema took on a new political relevancy in the modern age

In the contemporary political climate, many writers and filmmakers have found their work taking on new meaning and relevancy.

Read More

Film Review: Pilgrimage

Excessive violence proves numbing in lacklustre Irish film about faith.

Read More

Film Review: 47 Meters Down

Clever, claustrophobic premise elevates mediocre shark thriller.

Read More

Fashion: Georgia on our Mind

Having moved to Ireland after spending her childhood in Tbilisi, Georgia, Nino Sanaia became fascinated with fashion and is now one of the country's most promising young designers.

Read More

Fashion: Bright Young Things

There's no doubt which colour is dominating fashion this summer, with yellow all the rage on the catwalks. By Roe McDermott

Read More

Film Review: Twice Shy

Powerful Irish indie tackles love, abortion and growing up.

Read More

Disability, Representation, and the Law: the importance of Irish film Sanctuary

New Irish film Sanctuary is groundbreaking in its portrayal of intellectual disabilities – and has had a very real effect on Irish law.

Read More

Film Review: The Beguiled

Remake of lurid Civil War flick needs less manners, more fangs.

Read More

Film Review: Risk

Conflict of interest results in incomplete portrait of Julian Assange.

Read More

Will Communication: Interview with Will Ferrell

Comedy superstar Will Ferrell discusses his latest movie The House, reflects on his time withSaturday Night Live and explains why he'd like to take on some more serious roles.

Read More

Film Review: The House

Promising comedy proves frustratingly uneven.

Read More

Film Review: Halal Daddy

Irish comedy about a Muslim abattoir is well-intentioned but not fully convincing.

Read More

Andrew Garfield's comments about gay men spark backlash

The internet and the LGBTQ community are not too pleased with actor Andrew Garfield after he said that he’s “a gay man right now just without the physical act.”

Read More

Anti-Defamation League Criticizes Jay-Z Over ‘Story of O.J.’ Lyrics

Jay-Z’s recently released album 4:44 has been dominating the headlines, mainly for its personal revelations regarding the rapper’s relationship with Beyonce. However, the album has also stirred up controversy regarding its use of stereotypes, and has been accused of being anti-Semitic.

Read More

Kesha Drops ‘Praying,’ Her First Solo Song in Four Years; New Album Due August 11

Kesha dropped her new song, ‘Praying’, yesterday, and also announced that a new album titled Rainbow is on the way. Kesha has been embroiled in a hideous and oppressive legal battle with her former producer/collaborator Dr.Luke, in which she accused him of sexual assault among other charges. While Kesha managed to release some music and did a small tour last year, the lawsuit largely silenced her for the past three years as she fought for the right to be released from her contractual obligations with Dr.Luke’s label RCA. However, Rainbow will be released under RCA, indicating that she still can’t completely free herself form her former mentor.

Read More

Alec Baldwin Criticized for Portraying Blind Man in Upcoming Film

These days, Alec Baldwin is most likely to be annoying conservatives and Republicans stir with his unflattering (and accurate) impressions of Donald Trump, but the actor has now come under fire from a leading disability rights group.

Read More

Ava DuVernay to make Netflix series about the Central Park Five

Ava DuVernay, director of Selma, The 13th and the upcoming adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, is set to write and direct a mini-series about the Central Park Five for Netflix. The Central Park Five were a group of teenagers who were wrongfully convicted of assaulting and raping investment banker Trisha Meili in 1989. The trial and publicity was an important event in American history due to the maelstrom of racially charged discourse around crime and punishment that emerged in its wake. Donald Trump took out a full-page advertisement in four of the city’s major newspapers advocating for the return of the death penalty, stating he wanted the criminals “to be afraid”.

Read More

Director Ken Loach speaks out against the right-wing press, supports Jeremy Corbyn

Ken Loach and Paul Laverty made some pointed social commentary while accepting their Crystal Globes at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival on Monday.

Read More

Academy invites record 744 new members in effort to increase diversity

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced this morning that it had invited a record 744 new members to its governing body, including many women and people of colour.

Read More

Andy Serkis' Directorial Debut to Open BFI London Film Festival

Andy Serkis may be best known for his motion-capture performances in film such as the Lord Of The Rings trilogy and Planet Of The Apes, but his directorial debut, Breathe, has been given a huge vote of confidence by a major film festival.

Read More

Spike Lee Directs Music Video Criticising Trump

Director Spike Lee has never been one for subtle work, and his latest project is no exception. Lee directed a video for Stew, the singer-songwriter-playwright, whose band The Negro Problem has released a new song called ‘Klown Wit Da Nuclear Code’ – a pointed commentary of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Read More

The Style Council: Reliving four decades in music fashion

Roe McDermott looks back over the past four decades of music and selects some of the most influential sartorial moments.

Read More

Film Review: Gifted

Warm performances save this cynically formulated drama about child prodigy.

Read More

Film Review: Cardboard Gangsters

Frenetic film about young Irish drug dealers captures the devastation of violence.

Read More

Film Review: Whitney: Can I Be Me?

Glib answers detract from tragic rise and fall story of Whitney Houston.

Read More

Film Review: Wonder Woman

Directed by Patty Jenkins. Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, David Thewlis. 141 mins. in cinemas now

Read More

Film Review: Berlin Syndrome

Unnerving thriller explores the psychological messiness of confinement.

Read More

Film Review: The Red Turtle

Studio Ghibli's latest is an achingly beautiful tale of man, magic and nature.

Read More

Film Review: After The Storm

Delicately constructed family drama simmers with emotional resonance

Read More

Film Review: My life as a Courgette

Exquisite Stop-motion film subverts what we expect from children's narratives

Read More

Wonder Woman is A Triumph For Gal Gadot

Directed by Patty Jenkins, Wonder Woman is a thrilling, witty and visually sumptuous celebration of truth and justice.

Read More

The Wonder of You - an interview with Wonder Woman

Israeli actress Gal Gadot talks about her joy in playing the iconic role of Wonder Woman – and discusses the character’s status as a feminist hero.

Read More

LA Confidential: the hacking problem in Hollywood

As Hollywood faces another hacking scandal, we ask, can the film industry survive constant cyber attacks- and are we all a little bit to blame?

Read More

Film Review: Snatched

Amy Schumer clowns and Goldie Hawn falters in lazy, casually racist comedy.

Read More

Film Review: I Am Not Madame Bovary

Satire of Chinese bureaucracy is slyly funny but self-indulgent

Read More

Fashion: Blank Generation

It's all about keeping it simple this summer as white makes a comeback on the catwalks.

Read More

Film Review: In View

Caoilfhionn Dunne is incredible in uncompromising portrait of depression

Read More

Film Review: Colossal

Genre-defying dramedy tackles terrifying monsters and toxic masculinity

Read More

Jude Abides: Interview with Jude Law

Hollywood star Jude Law discusses his cracking new historical romp, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, his fruitful working relationship with director Guy Ritchie, and the film's resonance in the current political climate. Interview by Roe McDermott

Read More

Is Ireland's Film and Television Industry a Boys' Club?

Recent events and initiatives have highlighted the gender disparity within the industry – but is it changing? By Roe McDermott

Read More

Film Review: Sleepless

Jamie Foxx stars in sloppy and substandard remake of brilliant French action flick

Read More

Film Review: Frantz

Subtle drama addresses post-war grief and the tricky morality of comfort

Read More

Film Review: Miss Sloane

Jessica Chastain is electrifying as ruthless lobbyist in political thriller

Read More

Designs For Life: Interview with Liadan Scott-Keogh

Read More

Fashion: The Jean Genie

Time to retrieve those jackets and jeans from the wardrobe- denim is back in a big way this spring.

Read More

Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy 2

Glorious Guardians sequel is a smart, hilarious, character-driven triumph.

Read More

Film Review: Without Name

Human drama needed in atmospheric thriller about forces of nature.

Read More

Film Review: The Journey

Timothy Spall steals the show in this safe drama about Ian Paisley and Martin McGuiness.

Read More

Film Review: The Journey

Timothy Spall steals the show in safe drama about Paisley and McGuiness.

Read More

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Out Tonight

The sequel to James Gunn's science-fi adventure is finally here

Read More

Film Review: Rules Don't Apply

Warren Beatty's passion project about Howard Hughes falls flat.

Read More

Film Review: The Promise

Horrors of Armenian genocide undermined by romance.

Read More

Fashion: Here Comes The Sun

It's spring, it's been a hard year, and it's time for some sunny optimism.

Read More

Deb of Intrigue: Interview with Deb Fanning

Milliner Deb Fanning has earned widespread acclaim and numerous awards for her stunningly imaginative designs.

Read More

Film Review: Handsome Devil

Witty, warm, and quietly subversive coming-of-age tale

Read More

PREVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Three years ago, director James Gunn reignited Guardians of the Galaxy, a giddily irreverent intergalactic journey that acted as the hyper kid brother of The Avengers. More family-friendly than other Marvel outings, Gunn imbued his cosmos-crossing adventures, cliff-hangers and daring escapes with an irresistibly playful self-awareness – and the most charming cats you ever did see.

Read More

Doing His Devil Best: Interview with John Butler

Set in a rugby-playing boarding school, Irish director John Butler's new movie Handsome Devil is a superb buddy comedy that explores issues of identity and sexuality. He talks about his youthful adventures in San Francisco, challenging traditional notions of masculinity, and why he wants to be a mainstream comedy director.

Read More

Film Review: Lady Macbeth

Florence Pugh is ruthless and mesmerising in disquieting period drama.

Read More

Film Review: A Dark Song

Psychologically disturbing and audacious horror tackles grief and the occult.

Read More

O'Dwyer State of Consciousness: We meet Dublin fashion designer Conaill O'Dwyer

Sexuality, gender and the exciting possibilities of fashion are explored in the work of innovative designer Conaill O'Dwyer.

Read More

Film Review: A Quiet Passion

Biopic of Emily Dickinson is tonally jarring

Read More

Losing Our Religion: Jim Sheridan on Ireland's problematic relationship with The Catholic Church

Jim Sheridan talks about the challenges of adapting Sebastian Barry's novel The Secret Scripture and his participation in the recent Apollo House occupation.

Read More

Film Review: Beauty & the Beast

Disney remake only partially succeeds.

Read More

Hollywood's Ongoing Diversity Problem

As films have become more diverse, so too have their audiences – but when it comes to representing different demographics, Hollywood still has a long way to go.

Read More

Film Review: The Autopsy of Jane Doe

Chilling autopsy-based horror film plays with gender and genre

Read More

Film Review:Graduation

Beautifully constructed portrait of national and personal dysfunction

Read More

Film Review: Personal Shopper

Kristen Stewart is tremendous in this unconventional ghost story.

Read More

Fashion: Gold Standard

Ex-2FM DJ Jenny Huston is generating quite a buzz for her new venture, uber-hip jewellery label Edge Only.

Read More

Fashion: When the Going Gets Ruff

It’s all about timeless elegance on the catwalks this spring, as the versatile ruffle takes centre-stage. By Roe McDermott

Read More

Film Review: Elle

Isabelle Huppert amazes in cocktail of sex, violence, & dark humour

Read More

Exclusive: We caught up with Tom Hiddleston ahead of the release of Kong: Skull Island

Hollywood star Tom Hiddleston sounds off about the gruelling physical training for his new blockbuster Kong: Skull Island, acting opposite Samuel L. Jackson, and his unforgettable experiences during the movie’s globe-trotting shoot.

Read More

Trust us, we know what we're doing - Notorious marketing disasters in modern film

Following on from the recent 20th Century Fox fake-news controversy, Roe McDermott rounds up other notorious film marketing disasters.

Read More

Keeping It Incorporeal - An Interview with French arthouse maestro Olivier Assayas

The controversial new movie from Olivier Assayas, Personal Shopper, features Hollywood superstar Kristen Stewart as a young professional trying to communicate with her deceased twin brother in the afterlife. “I want to take people into weird areas,” he tells Roe McDermott.

Read More

Film Review: Lost In France

Music doc explores impact of indie label on ’90s Glasgow

Read More

Film Review: Certain Women

Subtle, empathetic drama about three rural women is slight but powerful

Read More

Wildlife: Fashion, Breaking Bad

It’s all about rave culture and glam rock on the catwalks this spring as the Bad Girls aesthetic comes into vogue. By Roe McDermott

Read More

Fashion: Dreaming of Electronic Sheep

Brenda Ahern and Helen Delany, aka Electronic Sheep, have earned widespread acclaim for their imaginative knitwear designs, and count the likes of Kelis and Liam Gallagher among their growing army of celebrity fans.

Read More

Oscar Mix-Up Fiasco

In a hugely embarrassing upset, Oscars announce incorrect winner of Best Picture...

Read More

The Jokes, The Politics - And The Biggest Mistake In Oscar History

Roe McDermott takes you through the rollercoaster of emotion that was the 89th Academy Awards, including that truly shocking twist in the ending...

Read More

Oscar Prediction: Emma Stone Will Trump Ruth Negga

But not for the right reasons! Hot Press film correspondent Roe McDermott looks over the major categories and predicts the winners, losers and controversies in store at this Sunday's Oscars ceremony.

Read More

Film Review: Patriots Day

Everyday heroism is the focus of gripping homage to Boston.

Read More

Bricking It: Interview with Lego Batman's Zach Galifianakis and Will Arnett

Hollywood stars Zach Galifianakis and Will Arnett discuss their roles in one of the best comedies of the year, the brilliantly satirical Lego Batman Movie.

Read More

The Hero's Journey and Punching Nazis

What do modern images of heroism and masculinity mean at a time of political and social divide?

Read More

Film Review: Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures, with its focus on prejudice and privilege, features great performances and some simplistic optimism

Read More

Wildlife Fashion: Bringing Sexy Back

Valentine’s Day is upon us, which means it’s high time to treat that important person in your life… You. By Roe McDermott

Read More

Film Review: Fences

Powerhouse performances create a storm of emotion in period drama

Read More

Film Review: 20th Century Women

1970S-SET DRAMEDY IS A SERIES OF WARM, WITTY MOMENTS THAT FAIL TO COME TOGETHER

Read More

Film Review: Lion

TEAR-JERKING TRUE STORY LACKS NARRATIVE SUSPENSE

Read More

Film Review: Christine

Rebecca Hall is captivating in shocking and unnerving true story

Read More

Film Review: Loving

Ruth Negga shines in dignified drama about love and race.

Read More

Mulholland Drive: Interview with fashion designer Fintan Mulholland

Read More
 

Advertise With Us


For information including benefits, key facts, figures and rates for advertising with Hot Press, click below

Advertise

Find us elsewhere