Interview with Alan Cross, Director of ‘For The Love Of Noise’

The often-repeated adage – “it’s not what you know but who you know” is perhaps irksome, but the case of director Alan Cross shows that being in the know and knowing the right people can be the golden combo. Cross possesses a motley and enviable background as a member of a successful band from the 80s, years of songwriting, international DJing and music video direction. After bumping into Kevin Hough who would ably contribute to the writing and production of ‘The Love Of Noise’, he commenced an epic 10 month journey to provide us with a fascinating insight into a twilight world. It is a film celebrating Brighton’s underground and experimental noise scene and the city itself, a lieu known for embracing creativity and the downright weird. Our festival audience can expect alluring drone videos of Brighton, in depth and revealing interviews and most importantly, a rare view of a relatively unknown world.

A UK documentary pulsing with passion, filmed in lockdown where we see a city and people going through trying times whilst the throbbing pulse of noise and experimental music is itching to come back to life before our eyes. 

S.S: Where did the inspiration for the film come from?

A.C: The film came out of a chance meeting in the street during lockdown between Kevin Hough and myself. I was loosely looking for a subject that was music-based to make a documentary about and he told me he always wanted to make a film about the noise scene, so we just got cracking to make it happen!

Kevin is a key player on the noise scene and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of its history and all the precarious components. The scene is firmly rooted in live performance and encompasses a huge spectrum of styles, so Kevin’s knowledge was invaluable in putting the film together. Initially the idea was to put together a potted history, but the scene goes way back to the 20s and even has roots in Italian futurism so it was too big a subject for one film. Therefore we decided to make it more about recent history, mainly the last 20 years. 

While making the film, it took on a life of its own and really became a celebration of the Brighton scene and the diversity of Brighton as a city. It encompasses everything from pure noise to more experimental jazz aspects.

S.S: There are unique chapters and movements to the film – how did you go about your storyboarding and planning for these?

A.C: Storyboarding and planning was fairly fluid. We knew from the start that we wanted to include sections on Brighton’s musical history, a run down of Brighton’s noise venues, women in noise, cassettes, DIY and the future of noise, but while we were interviewing people I was listening out for patterns and themes that we could build on. Some of it wasn’t planned but evolved from those early recordings and into the edit. I spent months of late nights listening to, labelling and tagging all the material. I built a massive library to pull stuff from then just went for it. 

S.S: How did you connect with your interview subjects in a time where going to venues wasn’t an option?

A.C: The first job was to find people who were happy to be interviewed, as a lot of people on the scene don’t want to put themselves in front of the camera. We knew we had to base the film mostly on interviews because the live venues were all closed due to lockdown under Covid. Awkward! Thankfully, Kevin is a big player in the noise scene and plays in Noiseferatu and Three Bald Knobbers among other bands, so he knows most of the key personalities. It’s a close knit family and Kev had the access.

S.S: As it is such an underground scene with fascinating characters, how did you find the right technique to draw out their stories?

A.C: By being as nosey, impertinent and rude as possible! Asking personal questions and threatening never to let them go if they didn’t tell us their innermost secrets!

Seriously – I was genuinely interested to know why people would spend their time doing noise work or performing live in the strangest of ways, so we just tried to get them to reveal the motivation behind it. Their dedication and belief meant I was genuinely curious so we asked! There’s a lot of humour in the scene and there’s a real bond between people making noise – it’s a great group of characters so there’s a lot of love involved.

I’d like to have gone further – I think performing a noise gig also embodies a strong rebellious streak so it would’ve been good to get their take on that. It’s a kind of rage against the machine. We should’ve maybe asked why they feel the need to be so rebellious or whether they think it’s attention seeking, or just being antisocial even? But that would maybe be too much “on the nose”. We went as far as we could in the time available.

In the end we just tried to let the speakers provide us the story they felt most comfortable telling.

S.S: It might seem obvious due to the subject matter but how did you put together the soundtrack for the film and where did the material come from? 

A.C: The soundtrack is mostly made up of tracks from the Spirit of Gravity catalogue on Bandcamp which they kindly allowed us to use when artists gave permission. All tracks are listed in the end credits. There are a couple of sections where I improvised short bits of noise or ambience myself during the editing process purely for the fun of it, or where I didn’t have any music that fitted. You can probably spot those pieces! 

S.S: Among other things you are clearly a very talented drone photographer – were the shots in the film specifically for this documentary and what do you think they add to the film?

A.C: Thanks! Apart from the YouTube footage, which is framed on the screen with a black border, all the other shots were captured specifically for the film. I try to capture a big library or pool of shots before I start editing so that I have plenty of material to play around with in the edit – that’s the fun part.

When we were planning the film, the challenge was to avoid the film becoming an endless string of talking heads so we set about creating entertaining visuals to create as many layers as possible while the interviews played out, and to portray Brighton as the vibrant and diverse city that it is.

S.S: Alongside the stunning aerial shots we see a big dose of  daily street life in Brighton – why did you want to include these? 

A.C: As we couldn’t shoot inside live venues we were shooting scenes of people on the street (the only place crowds could go during the pandemic) and while we were going along we realised we were creating a kind of portrait of the city during the pandemic and it became a story of two worlds: one of the overground Covid world with people wandering aimlessly around the city waiting for a solution to the global problem, and the other a portrayal of the underground night club live performance world we are all missing so badly. 

There’s a duality between the normality of sunny, overground Brighton and its underbelly, home to the darker, rebellious underground noise scene. Hopefully we succeeded in portraying that contrast at least in part with the visual elements. We wanted to give the noise scene a context and show where the scene has its home, whilst also showing the city under lockdown during the day, then moving into night at the end of the film. It’s a sort of contrast between “normal everyday life” and “those crazy weirdo freaks” making wild noise and daring to call it “music”!

S.S: What do you hope for your film?

A.C: We hope the film receives some recognition for showing an otherwise undiscovered part of Brighton’s culture – some awards would be great, but it’s already rewarding to see an otherwise unrecognised scene being documented in one place. We are both really proud of how the film pulls all the elements of the noise scene together into one unique document. We hope we’ve done a good job and that people will find it as fascinating and enjoyable as we did putting it together. 

There is so much creativity out there in Brighton city and beyond, so we hope the film gives due credit and exposure to the artists that we have involved and included in the making of the documentary. It’s a vibrant scene and one we felt needed documenting so people can maybe get involved and create new acts and live performances to showcase their own talents in the amazing venues Brighton has to offer. There’s life beyond the stifling digital world – live music and the analogue audio cassette tape are not dead! 

DIY is available to everyone and costs nothing so we hope potential future artists will watch the film then go out and make some noise!

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