It might come as news to those who know me, but when I was at school, I was half of a ‘boy band’, rather presumptuously called What Every Woman Wants, the name of a local department store. We recorded two albums over a long summer holiday on old C90 cassettes, using guitars we could barely play a handful of chords on, with Smash-tins for drums and synths for accompaniment. This kind of precocious creative experiment isn’t unusual; film-maker Matt Hulse went through a similar-sounding experience with his band The Hippies, and his Sound for the Future documentary, screening at the 2020 BFI London Film Festival, sees him revisit his brief, shining moment of pop majesty.
Sound for the Future is a whimsical, nostalgic piece; Hulse has been a fixture of the Scottish film scene for some time, and he artfully creates a collage on material on his musical theme. There’s footage of the original Hippies in their pomp, interviews with such key figures as Ruth Pendragon, his mother, manager and arguably the band’s biggest fan, and his sister Polly, although brother Toby, in true rock n/roll break-up fashion, declines to participate. Meanwhile, Hulse works with young Scottish kids to create a new version of the Hippies, potentially a tribute band, or perhaps a full line-up change a la Menudo, refreshing their musical style with new personnel. And Hulse tracks down a few bands whose music fits the DIY vibe, from Gang of Four to Sleaford Mods.
This kind of self-regarding premise could potentially prove grating, since we’re taking a deep dive into the story of a band that only Hulse’s family know much about. But there is providence in the fall of a sparrow, and Hulse smartly leans into any accusations of preciousness, smartly imbuing his film with the same raw determination which brought the Hippies to life in the first place. What emerges is a family portrait disguised as a mockumentary, a spoof approach that drains away pretention or notions of self-indulgence. Instead, we have a slight but honest account of the bitter-sweet growing up process, sound-tracked to gritty lo-fi sounds and the echo of children’s laughter.
Sound for the Future is a small but perfectly formed film that has appeal to music fans of a specific genre, but also forges a wider, more accessible path that should work for anyone who harboured a childhood dream. Much as the Wyld Stallyns embody the dreams of Bill and Ted moving forward from their teens, Hulse’s film captures both teenage enthusiasm and the reflection of adulthood. It may not be the future of rock and roll, but it does make something relevant of the past, and for The Hippies, their small mark on music history is immortalised here forever.
Thanks to Aconite Productions and Pinball Films for access to this title.