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The Beat is the Law – Review

From the opening scenes of Sheffield with Jarvis Cocker’s vocals for ‘Sheffield Sex City’ to the final shot of a young Jarvis gazing into a carrier bag, The Beat is the Law is the story of Sheffield’s music scene, England’s social deterioration under the tyranny of Thatcherism and the rags to riches portrayal of Sheffield’s most iconic band. Pulp are the band that wrote the soundtrack to my life, whose lyrics are tattooed on my heart as indelibly as their logo is tattooed on my arm, and their success at the end of a difficult journey to stardom is well-known, particularly in the light of their spectacular shows last summer. The Beat is the Law tracks the band at the beginning of their career and carefully places them in the context of Sheffield’s music scene and the social turmoil that is so prevalent in many of the band’s lyrics. The film is an in-depth insight into the politics and the arts of the late eighties/early nineties and is a must-see for all music lovers out there.

Particularly poignant for a girl from Doncaster, born into a mining family, are the scenes from Orgreave, accompanied by the track ‘Last Day of the Miners’ Strike’ from Pulp ‘Hits.’ These are scenes of such intensity that everyone should watch them, particularly during a time when protest against inequality had once again become a necessity. This is the backdrop, then, to an emerging Sheffield sound, its origins deeply steeped in the economic disaster that many young people found themselves mired in and its experiences related by members of some of the bands who lived through it; Cabaret Voltaire, Chakk, ClockDVA, The Longpigs and, of course, Pulp. Jarvis is engaging as always, particularly hilarious is his attempt to recreate the dance version of ‘This House is Condemned’, and early footage of Pulp performing a variety of tracks, including ‘Babies’ at The Leadmill in 1991 shows their artistic side (plastic bags filled with coloured water adorning the stage.) This is a fantastic film for anyone who has recently fallen for Pulp or an established fan who wants to know more about the band’s origins. There is also some fascinating footage of the establishment of The Leadmill and of Chakk building their own studio.

The film ends with the inevitable, Pulp become stars of the Britpop scene, culminating in their headline slot at Glastonbury in 1995, probably the defining moment of my youth and quite possibly the point when I decided to become a music journalist. The video captures the atmosphere of those heady days perfectly and the fickle nature of the record industry is shown through the development of Fop and Warp records and the contrasting experiences of Pulp and The Longpigs. Footage of Pulp at Glastonbury shows Jarvis promising the audience that if he could do it, they could too. This perfectly encapsulates the feeling of the mid nineties…anything was possible and we could really change things if we tried. Perhaps we even did for a while. The Beat is the Law is the best music documentary I have seen for a long while; a backstage peek into the motivations and thoughts of the Sheffield music scene. The times tracked in the film resonate with today’s audience in an uncanny way. Thank goodness Pulp came back to help to resurrect the soundtrack for the common people. Use the one thing you’ve got more of and get a copy of The Beat is the Law today


Tanya Russell

Editor of LLR since 2005

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