A Film About Studio Electrophonique – Doc’n Roll Festival

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Director: James Taylor

One of the themes running through many of the film screening at the 9th Doc’n Roll Festival is the connection between music genre and place. In Tramps! we discover how 1980s London gave rise to the New Romantics while Detroit is the home of techno as explored in God Said Give ‘Em Drum Machines. However, for the Sheffield Sound of the early ‘80s the location can be pinpointed more finely: a council house in the city’s suburb.

Studio Electrophonique (don’t forget to pronounce the eek at the end) must have sounded glamorous to early versions of pop bands ABC and Heaven 17 and so it’s easy to imagine their surprise when they found that the recording studio was in a normal suburban house, complete with a toy poodle. The studio was in a brick extension with the equipment pushed up against one wall. If there weren’t enough room for the whole band, the drummer would have to play in an upstairs bedroom, seeing the rest of the musicians through a primitive TV monitor system.

And yet, despite how makeshift it sounds, Ken Patten’s studio was where pop groups like The Future, Martyn Ware’s first band, produced their first demo tapes, which they could then take down to record companies in London. Even though they are more famous as a 90s band, Pulp, too, made a demo tape here that Jarvis Cocker was able to give to legendary DJ John Peel.

Patten and his crucial influence on 80s synth music had almost been forgotten until director James Taylor and musician James Leesley decided to rescue him from obscurity. Their low budget, no-frills documentary is a kind-hearted investigation into Patten’s extraordinary – and ordinary – life. In a wise decision Taylor and Leesley reveal their methodology and the way the 60-minute film is structured we learn details about Patten’s world at the same speed as they do. We see them interviewing neighbours and watch them collect plastic bags full of reels of Patten’s home movies.

As well as interviews with Ware and Cocker, and narration by Sean Bean, the film also looks at bands like The Electric Armpits who cut their teeth at Studio Electrophonique. Patten welcomed any musician into his house, school choirs and, delightfully, a Hawaiian duo that were his first project in the early 70s. Made with the help of Screen Yorkshire, Taylor and Leesley’s film is a small one and was mostly filmed on an old iPad 2. But this genuineness complements Patten’s own humility.

A Film About Studio Electrophonique tells such a wonderful story that it could easily be turned into a feature film with someone like Mark Rylance playing Patten. It would be sure to be a good film, but not as good as this one.

A Film About Studio Electrophonique is screening at the Doc ‘n Roll Festival 2022

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