Cornerhouse AV Technicain Dave Petty reviews Upside Down: The Creation Records Story
Whist a good deal of the music featured in Upside Down: The Creation Records Story never factored in my musical upbringing (I was born in 1980, the label being founded only three years later), I can attest to the fact that their most successful act, Oasis, did. It was (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? that first dragged my attention away from the likes of 2 Unlimited (I own their first album on vinyl – I say it’s a misunderstood classic), changing my musical worldview forever and leading me on a journey that took in the strains of Nu-Metal (Deftones), Post-Hardcore (Glassjaw) and Math Rock (Battles). A far cry from the radio-friendly jangle of She’s Electric, by anyone’s standards. If it wasn’t for Creation I may never have broadened my audial horizons to such an extent, which is one of the reasons why this documentary, for me, proves consistently fascinating.
It’s fair to say that drug-taking features heavily in both the inception and business execution of the label. In the documentary, Alan McGee (the label’s co-founder) finds a way to pull back the velvet curtain on pretty much every significant event in its history to reveal that drugs were the driving force behind it (using money that was otherwise being spent on drugs and booze to set up the label itself; taking ecstasy for the first time whilst listening to acid house, only to have an epiphany and suggest to Primal Scream, who he signed early on in their career, that they incorporate it into their next album, Screamadelica). It’s these pivotal moments that prove how ramshackle the inner workings of Creation were: a proverbial house of cards waiting to fall at any given moment, though not before achieving success beyond anyone’s expectations with the discovery and subsequent world domination of Oasis, whose Knebworth gig would prove to be the start of the label’s undoing (“the fireworks and the VIP tents within VIP tents just weren’t Creation”, according to McGee).
It’s easy to almost ignore the label’s early years when focusing on this massive moment in musical history, which the documentary reflects upon with archive news footage of the Blur vs. Oasis chart battle, something not seen since The Rolling Stones fought a chart war with The Beatles thirty years previous. But McGee’s eye for talent oversaw the signing of – amongst others – My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Swervedriver (who became firm touring partners with Nirvana), The Boo Radleys, Saint Etienne, Teenage Fanclub and Super Furry Animals. No mean feat for any label, least of all one who’s stubborn refusal to take the major label dollar almost bankrupted them (before Sony stepped in to take over whilst keeping the Creation imprint, just prior to McGee signing Oasis – a fortuitous move on their part). It’s a ride that leaves you shaking your head at the sheer audacity of it all, and how the whole endeavour didn’t simply implode in a drug-induced stupor. The only time the film’s talking heads take pause for reflection is when McGee, after six years of solid partying, was taken off a plane and hospitalised – for this to only happen twelve years after the label was started seems like a minor miracle.
Upside Down: The Creation Records Story is a film which doesn’t break any conventions, it doesn’t rewrite the rules of documentary making – but it essays smartly and succinctly the story of a label that DID, in their own way, rewrite the rules. Creation was a label which was unfettered by conventions of how things should be done, and despite the drugs, really was ‘all about the music’.