Documentary captures Mekons’ punk perseverance
Fame and success have eluded the 18 albums the Mekons have made over the past 38 years. In fact, the group jokes about splitting the $10 to $15 they make at small shows.
It’s that humor and spirit that has kept the Mekons alive since 1977, when the original five University of Leeds students – Andy Corrigan, Tom Greenhalgh, Mark White, Kevin Lycett and Jon Langford – started the band. Some members have left and others were added, like Sally Timms, Susie Honeyman, Lu Edmonds, Rico Bell, Sarah Corina and Steve Goulding.
Joe Angio’s documentary “The Revenge of the Mekons” follows the band through its ups and downs in punk rock music history. The film will be shown at 6:45 p.m. Friday at Logan Theatre, 2646 N. Milwaukee Ave., as part of the Chicago International Movies and Music Festival. A Q&A follows with Angio, Langford and Timms. The film also will be shown this weekend at the Music Box Theatre, 11:30 a.m. Saturday and 11:30 a.m. and 9:45 p.m. Sunday.
[There’s a UIC connection to the band. Langford, who lives in Chicago, was the speaker at 2013 commencement for the College of Architecture, Design and the Arts, where he advised the new graduates, “Get the money, and don’t leave anything behind.”]
The documentary reels in music critics and producers from across the country and England. Their viewpoints share a common thread: the Mekons have always tried to mimic genres, and in getting it wrong they created their own sound.
So what’s their genre? Some classify it as post-punk, while others call it cowpunk or even alternative country. But the Mekons aren’t looking to fit a mold. They’ve always gone after the feeling and expression, and simply did their own thing.
To take an intimate look at the Mekons, Angio successfully brings the creases of their smiles or the wonder in their eyes to the foreground. One-on-one interviews with each band member – even the ones who are no longer a part of the group – allows viewers to hear the individual voices and stories of a group, a movement, of wannabe musicians that brought their own sound to life.
Angio decided to focus his fifth film on the Mekons after two previous projects fell apart. He’s been a fan of the band since his college days.
“So many people have never heard of them,” said Angio, who spent two years following and filming the band. “They never made it by any conventional way of ‘making it’ in the music industry.”
Two of his favorite things to record were the Mekons’ live shows and their methodology of creating music. “There’s a very communal thing with the audience,” said Angio about their performances. “There’s standup comedy at times, that’s fresh and spontaneous.”
But what shocked Angio the most was that members, despite living across two different continents, meet every now and then to create music together. “It’s pretty amazing,” said Angio. “They go in and only have four or five days together, and they write these songs organically.”
“It was one the great things to witness and capture.”
Angio’s favorite song? “Orpeus,” from the “I Have Been to Heaven and Back” album, which plays during the documentary’s end credits.