Best Music Documentary Films: 5 must-watch documentary movies set in the world of popular music including Summer of Soul

It’s officially festival season, with Radio 1’s Big Weekend recently rocking Dundee and TRNSMT just a month away.

To get you in the mood, we’re looking at some of the best documentary films set in the sometimes strange – and often excessive – world of contemporary music.


Rarely has the fickleness of the music industry – and the tension between artistic idealism and commercial realism – been writ so large as in this access-all-areas look at competing rock bands ‘The Dandy Warhols’ and ‘The Brian Jonestown Massacre’. Shot over seven years, it’s fascinating to see how wildly different career projectories impact the relationship between warring lead singers Courtney Taylor-Taylor and Anton Newcombe.

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English rock band Wolf Alice are the subject of Michael Winterbottom's film 'On The Road'.English rock band Wolf Alice are the subject of Michael Winterbottom's film 'On The Road'.
English rock band Wolf Alice are the subject of Michael Winterbottom's film 'On The Road'.

20 Feet From Stardom

Featuring a range of big name talking heads, from Bruce Springsteen and Sheryl Crow to Sting and Stevie Wonder, this Oscar-winning documentary takes a intriguing, inspiring and heartbreaking look at the backing singers who lend their voices to the songs that soundtrack our lives. You may not know the names Darlene Love, Judith Hill and Merry Clayton, but you certainly know what they sound like.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil

There are many points during this jaw-dropping film when you have to remind yourself you are watching a documentary, rather than the type of mockumentary favoured by Christopher ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ Guest. It follows the underachieving titular Canadian heavy rock band as they set off on a European tour organised by a passionate but somewhat misguided fan. The final act seems plucked from a classic Hollywood underdog story.

Summer of Soul

Another Academy Award-winner, Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson’s impressive directorial debut is largely made up of stunning footage of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, which featured a who’s who of black music. Taking place during the same summer as the Woodstock Festival, commentators and artists examine why one became iconic while the other was largely forgotten.

On The Road

Something of an oddity, acclaimed British director Michael Winterbottom (‘24 Hour Party People’, ‘The Trip’) adds a slippery fictional element to what initially appears to be a straighforward tour film starring charismatic young rockers Wolf Alice. A love story between two of the band’s tour crew plays out against a backdrop of endless tour buses, anonymous hotels and wild nights out.



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