Here is proof that even the most bird-brained internet takes can lead you to incredible places full of wonder and intrigue. A few weeks ago, there was an indie romance author who wondered aloud to her (presumably ascetic + bookish) audience on on Twitter whether it was morally correct to write fiction featuring characters who drank alcohol. I'm not sure if she follows a religious doctrine that forbids alcohol, or if she just teetotals for the hell of it, but regardless, she seemed to think that writing characters who drank was controversial enough to merit discussion. Then her tweet broke containment and many people chimed in to say things like "What da fuck are you talking about?"
Scottish writer John Niven tweeted this in response to the since-deleted inquiry, and it ended up in my 'for u' feed:
What is thisssssssss??? I said in my head, like a cartoon snake. Cosmopolitans, ecstasy, "Praise You," references to Paul Oakenfold?? Has someone actually written The Perfect Novel? This excerpt is from Kill Your Friends, Niven's 2008 novel about gleefully evil British music industry dudes. The setting is 1997 London, with Britpop at its peak; the narrator is young A&R agent Steven Stelfox, a sociopath who careens from Cannes to SXSW to New York and back in a tornado of drug-fueled rage, seeking glory (but mostly money) through the process of wringing out hit records from promising young artists by any means necessary.
I tore through this book, which would I describe as 24 Hour Party People crossed with American Psycho. I'm not going to give anything away but if you are a fan of druggy, blood-soaked pop lit crammed with Blur and Pulp references, you are going to like this shit so much.
Now, not everyone reads books. But lots of people watch movies! And they turned this book into a movie in 2015, starring the shark-faced Nicholas Hoult, who recently was great in The Menu as a rich and foolish restaurant dork. Now I don't believe Kill Your Friends did very well, critically or commercially. If the dreaded Tomatometer is to be believed, it has a 24% rating, with corresponding splatter emoji. Critics called it "a thankless experience," "toothless, boring, predictable," and even "one of the most unpleasant afternoons I've ever spent in the cinema."
🗣️ I BEG 2 DIFFER
I think the movie is great and worth a watch if you like music and mayhem! It has that certain postnasal drip...you know the one! It's a perfectly tuned adaptation of the book, likely because Niven also wrote the screenplay. Hoult is chic and menacing as Steven Stelfox. Maligned television host James Corden appears as a sloppy, coked-out record exec, in perhaps the only role I've ever seen of his that didn't deeply bother me on a cellular level (never going to forgive him for his Bustopher Jones in Cats). There are excellent mid-to-late'90s needle drops like Blur's "Beetlebum," Oasis's "Cigarettes and Alcohol" and Radiohead's "Karma Police." There's a scene where Stelfox, approaching a rock bottom of sorts, is prodded by his colleague into recalling what song inspired him to start working in the music industry and he tearfully mumbles "'Blue Monday'....the 12-inch..." Come on, this is some good fucking food!!
The movie also manages to turn fictional music into real music. In one instance, a German-produced club banger with a chorus that goes Why don't you suck my fucking dick? — a sexually disturbed cousin of recent '90s Eurodance parody "Planet of the Bass" — plays in a Miami club, and it manages to capture the same trance-y vibe that my friend Matthew infused into his playlist "Jack Nicholson Partying In Miami 1998."
The only distracting music missteps involved the tunes of The Lazies, a fictional Swedish band Stelfox tries to scout over the course of the film. I don't know why they sounded like Chvrches doing indie car commercial — it would be more likely for the Lazies to sound like the Hives, who in 1997 were reviving garage rock just a smidge earlier than the White Stripes. Whatever, at least they gave the lead singer a proper Robyn-style haircut, even if it's closer to Robyn in 2010 than Robyn in 1997.
And to me, the costuming didn't go far enough to scream 1997. Other than this mod guy...
...everyone looks a little too clean and classy and millennial, and not as off-kilter and garish and skinny-eyebrowed as the actual late 1990s were. Come to think of it, eyebrow shape should be the only real marker of period pieces, and actors willing to compromise their eyebrow health for period-accurate brows should get as much adulation as those who gain or lose weight for roles. Christian Bale whom?
Where was I...oh yes, I also just wish Kill Your Friends had a hundred million dollar budget so they could shoot at Glastonbury, which featured prominently in a shroomy segment of the novel that climaxes in Radiohead's epic rainy Glasto set. Over the years, "the movies" have shown us everything from a time-traveling cybernetic assassin, to the Titanic sinking, to a bunch of blue guys in space who love their bioluminescent trees — but an accurate and entertaining fictional depiction of a music festival seems beyond our cinematic reach. Am I going to have to do it??
(Some noodling around the internet has revealed 2018's The Festival and 2016's XOXO as festival movie options...I promise to watch both and report back, as I know you'd all be clamouring for a review from moi.)
Anyway, we're not clearly not over Britpop even in 2023, with fashion/aesthetic podcast Nymphet Alumni coining the term "blokette" for the '90s-Brit-jock style currently bowling everyone on the Lower East Side over, Pulp touring this year, Blur putting out their new album The Ballad of Darren, and ever-swirling rumours of an Oasis reunion. If all of this flotsam pleases you, I fear you must try Kill Your Friends on for size and let me know what ya think...