Review – Upside Down: The Creation Records Story

After a week of subzero temperatures, I’ve ended up with a cold. Not having a ton of energy yesterday, I spent the afternoon curled up on the couch with one of my cats while I treated myself to a viewing of Upside Down: The Creation Records Story. It’s available on the US version of Netflix right now. As in, right this very minute.

Creation Records. Home of The Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream, Ride, The House of Love and Oasis, to name but a few. One of the truly legendary indie labels.

The documentary opens to the sounds of squealing feedback and guitar fuzz from JAMC’s glorious “Upside Down” and then we’re pulled back in time to when label founder Alan McGee and Bobby Gillespie first met, still just schoolkids in Glasgow. One of the running jokes throughout the documentary is the fact that people, particularly in America, were unable to understand most of what Alan McGee was saying most of the time, and I confess that, just 10 minutes in, I had to turn on the subtitles. Between McGee and JAMC’s Douglas Hart, I was feeling increasingly lost, and that’s from someone who has lot of friends from across the pond.

If you’re at all familiar with Creation Records and the bands associated with it, you’ll find very little in this documentary that is new or surprising, but I don’t think that’s really its goal. It’s clearly a love letter to a place and time, to a particular style of music, and most of all, to people who live and breathe music, who believe in it as a life force and a source of pure joy. Says JAMC’s Jim Reid “Everything we were and everything we had, we got from rock and roll. And it was totally heartfelt.”

At the centre of it all is Creation Records co-founder, label boss and musician Alan McGee. Various artists and business partners describe him as a “raging bull”, “one man charge of the light brigade” and capable of “starting a riot in a paper bag.” What struck me was how many interviewees mentioned that McGee didn’t sign bands, he signed people he liked and hoped that they would produce something great musically. It was also interesting to hear the truth behind some of the more notorious Creation myths, particularly the one about how the making of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless bankrupted the label and drove McGee to a nervous breakdown. To hear McGee tell the story, the myth is only partially true. The recording of Loveless did indeed turn into a death march, and McGee cheerfully admits that he used to pretend to have a breakdown by crying on the phone with Kevin Shields, anything to get him to deliver the damn album already! He attributes his breakdown in the mid-90s to several years of constant heavy drug use. When Noel Gallagher is impressed by the amount of drugs you have access to, you know you’re playing with fire.

And the music, oh the music. That feedback-laden wall of sound that shoegaze bands honed to perfection is still one of my favourite genres, and this doc is crammed full of a ridiculous amount of good great music. It reminded me that I need to pick up tickets to Primal Scream’s upcoming Toronto date, and made me wish and hope, for the millionth time, that I might yet see The House of Love and Ride live before I die.

McGee has hinted in recent interviews at the return of Creation Records. Be still my shoegaze-loving heart.

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