ADr. Martens wore a teenager in the 90s, I hated the anarchist indie band Chumbawamba and their chart-topping anthem tubthumping. (What a bunch of clowns, I thought.) Well, I take it all back after watching this funny and surprisingly sweet documentary co-directed by frontman Dunstan Bruce and Sophie Robinson. It begins with Bruce, now in his late 50s, overwhelmed by a sense of powerlessness as he ponders the future of the planet, wondering what he can do (“I’m a washed-up, retired fanatic”). As a filmmaker he has a bit of fun here: taking the negative voice in his head and bringing it to life, played by an actor wearing a papier-mâché head, who spits the piss out of him.
But from here the film settles nicely into a fun blast of pop history. Chumbawamba began as an anarchist group in Leeds in 1982: living together in a squat, they became vegetarians (“I’m from Burnley! I don’t like vegetables”), shared money equally and took turns cooking. . They were going for years when Tubthumping topped the charts. With a global hit on their hands, the band decided that here was an opportunity to do something positive – become a political band within the bowels of popular culture. They gave away much of their earnings, and at the Brit Awards in 1998, singer Danbert Nowacon poured a bucket of cold water over Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, furious at the Labor government’s treatment of the Liverpool Dockers.
Chumbawamba was huge in America, and did the talk show circuit. (“If you can’t buy our music, steal it,” said bandmate Alice Nutter on Late Night TV.) In the present day, Bruce interviews their big-time American record label owner from that period, who says it hasn’t changed a thing. thing No one listened to the political message. “It pretty much went over everyone’s head.” That’s what’s so unusual about I Get Knocked Down: it has a gentleness that’s completely alien to most music documentaries. Bruce puts on beats every other band on the planet would skip. which includes a 90s montage of music critics slamming Chumbawamba. (“They’re not very good pop stars and they’re not very good political activists,” is the cynical verdict of young Caitlin Moran.)
Chumbawamba seceded in 2012. They are still friends and come across as very likeable, not taking themselves too seriously. The scenes of them rejoicing together, now laughing, are adorable. So are the end credits, featuring clips from YouTube of ordinary people singing tubthumping—everyone finds power and defiance in the song, from Christian singers to heavy metal bands and little kids.