301. the Great Hip Hop Hoax (UK 2013)
Director: Jeanie Finlay
Stars: Documentary: Gavin Bain, Billy Boyd
Music: Silibil n' Brains
Editors: Jim Scott
Cinematography: Roger Knott- Fayle
In One Line: Scottish chancers enter the world of hip hop
Two Scottish rappers (Bain and Boyd) are fed up being rejected by the music business because of their perceived uncoolness and their nationality. They reinvent themselves as Californian rap stars Silibil n' Brains. The doors are opened for them, but minor fame and riches come at a heavy price.
Have you ever wanted to be someone else? I know I’ve pretended to be footballers and rock stars over the course of a kick around or the duration of a song, but I’ve never (as far as I can remember) “masturbated in an American accent” in order to maintain an outlandish persona. Musician Gavin Bain did, and there are more tales of ordinary madness in Jeanie Finlay’s absorbing identity/blind ambition documentary.
The Great Hip Hop Hoax tells the story of Bain and his fellow Dundee student Billy Boyd who reinvent themselves as Californian rappers Silibil N’ Brains in order to penetrate a closed recording industry. Starting out as B-Production, the duo are rejected and laughed at for not being ‘real’ and performing in Scottish accents – “You’re the rapping Proclaimers!” claims one particularly vindictive A and R man.
Heartbroken after a series of London auditions which sees them “drowning Eminems in a sea of Ushers”, the boys vow revenge and a chance piece of American-accented phone blagging by Boyd (Silibl) sees a series of dead phone lines transformed into offers of work and gigs back in London. Silibil N’ Brain make a vow that until they achieve success, they will act, think and most of all speak like Americans. One slip will give the game away. It is a Faustian pact that will give them temporary riches, but will have near tragic consequences.
Reality – especially the hip hop notion of keeping things real – is a major theme of the film. Dundee/Arbroath boys couldn’t be talented, couldn’t be real according to the music industry philosophy of 2002 (the film’s starting point), but as unknown authentic Californians, Silibil N’ Brains win recording contracts, five figure advances and spend the next eighteen months ripped to the tits in a sex, drugs and booze-fuelled frenzy.
The boys end up in MTV’s Most Likely to Achieve list for 2004 (their talent is undoubted) with the likes of Kasabian and Bloc Party, but Bain’s search for musical perfection combined with his drug use and the giant psychological pressures of being American for eighteen months lead to the duo splitting up and their obvious bromance ends in the usual ‘rock and roll’ acrimony.
Bain is seen clinging on to the edges of the biz in a series of sparsely-filled London pub gigs; Boyd ends up on the North Sea rigs. Boyd re-joins the real world as a loving family man; Bain’s lonely fall is spectacular - without support, his extreme role-playing leads to a total psychological breakdown.
TGHHH is an intriguing, but not a great film. It’s difficult to have too much sympathy for such solipsistic characters and if I never see another film where one man pisses into another man’s hands, it won’t be too soon. The film is not particularly cinematic and is probably best seen on the small rather than big screen, but its central idea of the dangers of separate identity immersion will definitely resonate with TV /film buffs. Although a documentary, the film has shades of Performance, I.D., Reservoir Dogs and (for the real hardcore anorak) Michael Bryant’s landmark performance as an RAF officer feigning mental illness (with tragic consequences) in DVD box set classic Colditz.
And anyone who knows the story of early-80s Dundee pop legends The Associates (Tom Doyle’s The Glamour Chase is essential follow-up reading for this film) will be shocked at the similarities in the stories of these two duos. I’m expecting a third instalment in 2023.
Oh, and if I were forced at gunpoint (by the Mafia, say) to relax in the gentleman’s way using an American voice, I’d choose the Elvis - it would allow for plenty of pleasurable uh-huh-huhs, but on the downside I’d be scared that the odd ‘mama’ would slip out and ruin the moment.
November 10th 2013