Great insight, thanks for that link Don. I'm pasting it here for archive purposes, in case it disappears in time:
Piers Sanderson, the director of new club-centred film High On Hope, really is high on hope these days. It’s an impressive attitude when you consider how long his “labour of love” has been gestating for now… some 10 years or so.
Sanderson was immersed in acid house culture from an early age. He grew up in south Manchester during those formative late Eighties nights at the Hacienda; and even when he left to attend university in Bangor, Wales, he found himself zooming back to Fac 51 most weekends with the only other Englishman on his course, one Alexander Coe, now known more often than not as Sasha.
The pair started promoting house events in Bangor and when they eventually finished their studies moved back to Manchester to soak up more of the new and exciting music they worshiped. Invariably they’d end up partying in Blackburn, at one of several under-the-radar raves put on by edgy promoters keen to cater for the Hacienda’s closing time crowd. And that’s where High On Hope truly kicks in.
Blackburn’s maverick scene would provide an early platform for Sasha to establish his DJ career; Sanderson on the other hand would use it to establish his hoodie and ‘tee’ business. Over the following 11 years, Sanderson pursed other decks-less means of making a living from dance music, many in other countries. But he was never able to escape his memories of Blackburn.
In 2003, Sanderson made a short 20-minute documentary based on those classic parties, High On Hope. It was enough to get him into the National Film & Television School (NFTS) and deepen his ambition to turn High On Hope into a feature-length production. Today, aged 41, Sanderson is sitting on the finished product but his original plan was to release in 2009; the struggle to finance filming of High On Hope behind him, he quickly hit upon new problems with regards to music licensing.
And those problems still, sadly, remain. So what’s a low-budget filmmaker to do? In the spirit of Britain’s original dance music revolution, unite the community...
“I got no funding to make it [High On Hope]” Sanderson opens. “I borrowed around £60,000 to get it all done but didn’t allow for huge costs of clearing the various dance tracks I’d used. It was a blow but I hoped that by putting the film into a few festivals I’d get a distribution deal to sort everything. It just didn’t happen.
“I tried to reason with some of the labels directly but they were pretty inflexible. So, about a month ago, I looked at a crowd-funding model; it’s something that a lot of cash-strapped filmmakers are doing now. We’ve raised about three of the 30 grand we need but it’s definitely a start.”
Sanderson has a simple fundraising mechanic on the official High On Hope website; depending on the donation offered, members of the club-loving public will gain anything from a copy of the DVD (when it is eventually released) to launch party access and even placement among the end credits.
But why does Sanderson need to pursue such measures? Club culture has never been more popular in Britain, and around the world, fuelled to a large extent by the rise of a younger, more open-minded generation of music lovers.
“I know, you’d think support for the film would be a shoe-in, wouldn’t you?” he laughs. “But film distributors still see it as a risk; as something that will appeal to a niche only. It might as well be a film about flying fishing or rugby league!”
And yet some of the film’s impressive source material – grainy warehouse footage recorded on VHS cassette – has also, ironically, caused issues: “It’s a quality thing. I’ve looked at the TV angle too and the major channel controllers all have minimum quality requirements for their audiences these days. They saw some of the archive footage we’ve used and hurriedly ignored it.”
And the hugely interesting story it helps spell out. For this, Sanderson stresses, isn’t another hackneyed portrayal of clubland on big or small screen where mega-star DJs drone monotonously on about the good old days, the copious amounts of drugs flying about and the ‘amazing’ buzz on the dancefloor. This, he claims, is about earnest story-telling; about human lives sacrificed in the name of dance; and about the often unspeakably brutal reaction of the ‘system’ to newfound socio-cultural exuberance and creativity… to fun and freedom.
Sanderson has lived the lives of his film’s subjects many times over during his lengthy battle to get High On Hope released and make a “love in… not living” from dance music. He talks feverishly about characters like Preston Bob, whose parents owned a corner shop with a video camera for hire, which when not in use, would be used to film some of Blackburn’s first and finest raves. He references promoters abseiling through the dilapidated roofs of disused warehouses, unaware of what lay on the floor, as they scouted locations for events; he talks about hot-wiring traffic lights to “juice” sound systems; and about one promoter locked up in a horrifically Victorian-era Northern prison for 11 months, just so he couldn’t put on any new events in the local area.
“I considered doing an overview of the acid house revolution” Sanderson says, “but decided that a story would be the best way to convey all of that; to bring it all to life. Those Blackburn party people were an industry; they were a boom in the industrial north, not seen, perhaps, since the rise of the cotton industry in the 1950s. What was happening up there was social, political, cultural… it was real life.”
Sanderson’s film includes three long club scenes, based around the aforementioned archive footage. But it also weaves in wide-ranging, cliché free interview and some 20 minutes of animation – “the party footage tells some of the story but how do convey everything else away from the dancefloor? Animation was an ideal solution; it has a dream-like quality which fits with people’s use of substances at the time and that whole altered state perception of everything.”The High On Hope story has swayed some fairly influential clubland names, most notably KLF’s Bill Drummond, who has a ferocious reputation for declining use of his work. He was happy to grant access to two tracks, including Grim Up North, whilst 808 State helped secure a reduction in licensing rates for their included material. A Guy Called Gerald, Candy Flip and Mr Fingers are among other artists on the killer soundtrack
“Films about music can’t exist without music” Sanderson bluntly summarises. “But record companies continue to adopt these archaic licensing regulations and that’s why there haven’t been an awful lot of club films over the years. It’s a shame. Perhaps the labels are mindful of having lost revenues via the download boom, so they need to maintain their licensing structures to make money back. There has to be an easier model. Surely filmmakers and labels can sit round a table and agree a percentage of sales, for example? Otherwise I fear we risk losing important records of these pivotal cultural times. They’re our history. British filmmakers want to talk about them.”
Club culture has still enjoyed an increasingly strong connection to film over the past two decades. Soundtracks to movies such as Trainspotting and Human Traffic have undoubtedly helped pave the way; but soundtracks aside, actual on-screen dancefloor content often remains disappointing. The generally weak reviews for recent club-angled release Weekender seem to back that point up. Does the trend steep further pressure on Sanderson?
“Not really. We have an amazing story which has already won key film festival awards. Once we get the licensing sorted - and I know we can - then we’ll have the opportunity to really engage people on a wide scale” Sanderson suggests. “Club films have largely failed to date because the dancefloor is such a personal experience for everyone and just how do you convey that? What with the demands of distributors and TV bosses for high quality, stylised footage, and a host of other things, the original, musical point often gets further scrambled.
“It why I think High On Hope stands out; the basic recordings we have, the grass roots interviews and, most of all, the story… together they convey just why this time of musical change was so special and why it’s had this impact for so long.”
Words: Ben Lovett
Sanderson hopes to release High On Hope early next year with an international tour of screenings and parties. To donate and find out more visit http://www.highonhope.com/