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Pulp: Steve Mackey talks about homecoming gig documentary

Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets will be screened in Sheffield on 7 June at this year’s Doc/Fest. A genre-bender of kitsch and kitchen sink, the documentary by filmmaker and Pulp fan Florian Habicht charts the feverish build-up to the band’s 2012 homecoming reunion gig at Sheffield Arena. Picking out the unlikeliest of fans, he daubs an eccentric and endearing sketch of Sheffield, the city behind the songs. Seemingly an overnight success when ‘Common People’, their “anthem for the Netto generation”, charted at number 2 in 1995, it had actually taken Pulp 16 years to find their feet. In the decade since the band broke up, bassist Steve Mackey has forged a successful career with former Fat Trucker Ross Orton, writing and producing game-changing songs for artists such as like Florence and the Machine and M.I.A. The film documents the build-up to your comeback gig. How was it for you? It felt like an appropriate end. Everyone in Pulp knows the records wouldn’t have been made without coming from Sheffield. The sound and the lyrics and the atmosphere of those songs, wherever we play them, have something of Sheffield in them. The point of that evening was to acknowledge that we know that and we’re proud of it. Did it exorcise some of Pulp’s less successful moments? Quite often when you see music when things are falling apart it can actually lead to something quite interesting. The last concert we played in Sheffield at Magna in 2002 was an interesting night, but it wasn’t a joyful experience. We knew as soon as we’d done that the equipment was getting packed up and taken to a lock-up, so there was a shadow over that concert. Whereas this time, we did that concert at the arena with an atmosphere of wanting to enjoy it. The documentary also celebrates Sheffield. What memory or location do most cherish? The thing about the film that maybe people won’t understand is that we didn’t make this film, a director called Florian Habicht from New Zealand approached us. He’d made a film before that we liked called Love Story which was really about New York, and I thought it was interesting the way he’d depicted that city. We said we wouldn’t really like to make a concert film, we’d like to jettison you in Sheffield on your own and we’ll give you a few pointers from our past and it’s up to you to go and find out what the film is about by meeting the people of Sheffield. It’s his view of Sheffield reflected through the prism of Pulp. It reflects what happens if you drop somebody in the city and give them some clues. It captures something of the spirit of Sheffield, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. What would you have included? I spent my formative teenage years around the Sheffield music scene and around that time it had the remnants of Cabaret Voltaire and bands were coming through like Human League, there was also things like Warp Records and bleep music. The film doesn’t get to the musical culture outside of Pulp. We’re just one band in a long line that starts with Cabaret Voltaire and then goes through house and electronic music and then people like Hawley, the Fat Truckers and the Monkeys. Your career is like the longest foreplay ever. Were you ever satisfied? We got to do a lot of the things we hoped we could do with the band. We spent a long time in the 80s and 90s just hoping that someone would listen to us. Everything else that happened is out of our control after that. We got to make the records in a time when we could be quite ambitious. In the 90s, you could still use an orchestra on a record. We’d grown up listening to John Barry, Scott Walker and Serge Gainsbourg. We wanted to be able to do those things and we were lucky enough to be able to. I‘m really aware that when you make records now, that’s not something many people get to do. And a lot more bands are thrust into the spotlight much more quickly. Yeah, we had a long time to mis-develop and grow into a stranger thing than we were. You get to experiment when people are ignoring you. It was a different scenario 20 years ago, when it was hard physically to get a record together. Now the hard bit is getting above the noise cos there’s so much. In the 90s, the media set up this war between the arty middle class (Blur) and working class underdogs (Oasis). As a working class art band, did Pulp break down some of the class barriers? There were a lot of ideas flying around about working class culture and once the dust died down 20 years later, the lyrics of ‘Common People’ still seem to resonate. I don’t think anyone wrote a song that encapsulated it so well. Florian has corralled lots of local oddballs into the documentary. Is there a danger the film might exploit the people of Sheffield? He’s got too good intentions to be exploitative, but I would agree that the cast of characters are definitely for effect. That’s his style. The people he chose to speak to and interview, they all ring true about Sheffield. I don’t think there’s any imposters. And maybe there’s some people missing in action he could have found as well [laughs]. You’ve had a big career since Pulp. How did you end up producing with Ross Orton? I knew Ross from Fat Truckers. They did a couple of tours with Pulp. Then I met this girl called Maya [M.I.A.] and started working with her in London, so I rung him up and said, ‘Do you want to work together on these tracks I’ve found?’ It was an experiment. We did about 6-7 tracks together for M.I.A.’s first album, and then we made a few more records together and then we played together on Jarvis’ solo record. Do you have a song that you’re most proud of? In the Pulp catalogue, ‘This is Hardcore’ is the song that I can enjoy listening to the most, because it was ambitious and we were working beyond our talents in a way, in territory we’d not really gone before. It had a strange structure and a big sonic universe going on in it. It was a big departure for us and I can still listen to it now and enjoy it. What advice would you give your son if he wanted to quit school for rock & roll? Cor, well he’s 18 years old so you’re asking a pressing question. I left college at 18. I wanted to be in a band and they weren’t mad about it, but my parents supported me. That taught me a good lesson - you’ve got to support your kids in whatever they do. In the film, there’s a really great moment when Liberty, who’s only 9 years old, says about letting your children be young and enjoy themselves and these are the things that their dreams are made of. I thought she was bang right. )
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