If a film can compel and distract you from the pathetic cliché of Manchester rain on a dreary Saturday morning, it has to be doing something right. The opening sequence of The Music Factor, which premiered at HOME on 12 December, orchestrated the film’s angle with nostalgic camera-style shots of instruments, record shops and audiences. This section’s soundtrack, ‘Payday Playboys’ by The Mantells, introduces the band acting as the focal point of the documentary, which follows their attempt to makes waves in what the narrator, Chris Ridgway, describes as the “current state of the modern day music industry”.

Chris fluently lends his industry knowledge to the film, presenting a deeper understanding of the band’s aims, how they intend to get there and their chances of succeeding. The talking point from the outset is that while contestants on TV shows like The X Factor can achieve fame and musical status in approximately 17 weeks, it’s a timeline unsigned and independent acts would find extremely difficult to replicate. Nevertheless, The Mantells gave it a shot, producing a new song from studio to shelf in 17 weeks while the cameras tracked their progress.

As the band members are introduced – three humble, almost naïve characters with an affable Manchester accent and a clear desire to be successful with their music – each is composed when answering questions for a casual interview in a bare-brick warehouse. It’s hard to understand why bands like this struggle.

Technically speaking, the film is aesthetically pleasing with its clean-cut yet moody interview sets, but when consisting predominantly of interviews and talking heads, there should have been more music playing in the background. Without it, there was a slight awkwardness and emptiness. Despite this, the film’s overall tone, sense of direction and action overrode any technical tweaks.

Its raw, uncut look at the music industry and how so many artists fall victim to it is not only insightful, but also quite touching. The use of so many different perspectives, from other bands such as The Maccabees to the notorious Manchester promoter Mr Peeps, opens your eyes to just how great the scale of the task is to achieve the band’s goal of reaching the top 100 by Christmas.

Spoiler alert: unfortunately, the band didn’t make it into the top 100. But that in itself lends a degree of humble comedy to an experiment that was more about showing the process and journey.

Speaking to the lads after the premier screening, their humbleness and gratitude displayed in the film transcended into their natural character. When I first asked what it meant to them having seen the film for the first time – and not only that but on a cinema screen – the first response from a grinning Tom (guitar, vocals) was, “It was good, that”. It was the perfect Mancunian response, which in itself linked back to the film’s overall tone of civic pride coupled with humility.

Both the band and director, Mike Staniforth, noted how worried they had been about how the band would come across in the film, but in the end realising that any mishaps on film create points of interest without reflecting badly on themselves. Each with a beer in hand, they were all the more personable, but retaining the sharpness of a classic indie band.

It was clear from start to finish just how much work had gone into the film, and as Mike said, it “relied on creativity, not number crunching,” which is certainly something to be praised and kept in mind when watching. When looking again at distinctions between X Factor and independent paths in music, Dale (bass) summed the whole affair up, “There is a difference in people who seek music, and those who take it in.”

You can watch the full film here.
mikestaniforth.com

Background image: Aye Aye Captain by Vincent James.

Sara Louise Tonge