Documentary Review – REM: Out of Athens produced by Ken Sweeney (RTE Radio)

Producer Ken Sweeney is plainly a R.E.M fan. You can just feel it in his voice as he narrates the links between interviews with band members and Athens ‘scenesters’ in this hour long documentary (Soundcloud link of full documentary below). Perhaps this enthusiasm is engendered from a heightened appreciation of the R.E.M craft arising from his time spent as the front man for early 90’s Dublin jangle-pop band, Brian (Click here for Brian bio).

His is a genuine infectious enthusiasm that hints at all things fanboy without crossing that line into ‘gushing’ (one of my biggest documentary/interview pet hates) as he delivers a superbly sequenced series of anecdotes that offers plenty for both the most committed R.E.M fan to those that have just began to take an interest in the four piece from Athens.

As a committed janglepop fan REM, if not my favourite band of the genre, are largely responsible for the sounds emanating from the bands that I cherish the most as theirs is a definitive influence upon the janglepop scene. As such I have absorbed many things R.E.M over the years both through my love of the genre of music they help pioneer and by virtue of the fact that their gradual growth into musical manhood coincided with my gradual ascent into physical manhood.
However, this documentary, interviewing everyone from their roadies to major journalists, offers even the most knowledgeable fans extra insight, especially from a pre-Murmur perspective. Of particular interest may be the insights about the impetus behind tracks such as Stumble (see below) and Camera..

The death of a friend scenario revealed in Camera and the subsequent revelations of the battle Stipe had with performing it, is not something that would necessarily be revealed to all interviewers and certainly adds credence not only to the documentary in general but also to the relationship that has developed between the band and producer/interviewer, Ken Sweeney of Ireland’s RTE Radio.

It is hard to imagine every interviewer being able to cajole such personal information from band  members whose personalities have allegedly prevented any sort of civil relationship with the music media. In fact Sweeney’s interviewing style provides the foundation for R.E.M fans to see a far more realistic appearance to their personalities, which backed by anecdotes of affability from friends and other Athens scenesters, severely interrogates the conferred assumption that R.E.M. are the archetypal surly rock stars.

However this documentary is not just about catering to the committed fan. To any newly interested members of the MTV generation it might be difficult to understand the sheer journey of hard work and independent idealism that REM fought through/with to create a platform for other college rock / janglepop bands to thrive upon and that they relunctantly ended up using to become one of the most successful bands in history. 
Even without ever having heard a single note played by the band the story portrayed in this documentary still has immense interest from the perspective of both band and genre evolution as well as giving insights into how the independent US music scene eventually flourished..
Producer Ken Sweeney and RTE Radio provide a superb hour long slice of R.E.M janglepop history…I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Links to RTE Radio and Ken Sweeney

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