When Finalists Have More Fun

In this occasional series highlighting what our alumni get up to when they’re not pitching to us, we sent reporter Sam Stone to “Sashay to Hell’ with audio creatives Dan and James. Studded biker jackets and pearls at the ready?

I’ve had a some strange Thursday evenings, but few have involved a bunch of metal fans packed into a gay bar. While Kylie Minogue plays over the speakers, I shimmy through a crowd of black band tees and studded jackets to find a place to perch.

We’re all here for the premiere of ‘Sashay To Hell’ a BBC Radio 1 rockumentary which sees Dan Hudson on a mission to share his love of metal with pop-fan James Barr. The duo are the hosts of ‘A Gay and a NonGay’, one of the UK’s leading LGBTQ+ podcasts exploring sexuality from James and Dan’s different perspectives.

Around the room there’s pretty much non-stop laughter as James (somewhat reluctantly) dips his toe into the metal community at Bloodstock, the UK’s biggest independent metal festival. We see James’s journey from being possibly the first person ever to wear pearls and a tropical print in a metal crowd, to full metal-head makeover. Alongside its lighter moments there’s discussion about how to tackle homophobia and sexism in the metal scene and the safe space the community can provide for people who feel like outcasts.

The next day I caught up with Dan to discuss how they made the piece, issues they faced along the way and the transition from audio to visual documentary storytelling.

How did this project come about and what was your relationship working with Radio 1 like?

I wear a few hats, but one of them is being a freelance producer at Radio 1 so I make a lot of radio shows for them. We had a meeting with a senior person at Radio 1 where we pitched this idea based on the idea that I really like metal and James hates it.

James said to him “Oh yeah we’re going to go to Reading Festival”, which is hilarious because that used to be quite a rough festival, but now it literally is a mainstream festival. He thought that it was gonna be dirty or whatever, but Reading is as clean cut as it gets. We were having this whole con-versation in front of them. I think they could see already that this was going to be fun because James couldn’t even get the name of the festival right. The plan was originally to do it at Download Festival, which is a much bigger festival, but then Download didn’t happen because of COVID. When it looked like the world was opening up a bit I thought if we can get this done by this year, that would be incredible. We caught up with Radio 1 again and I suggested Bloodstock and they were all over it basically. It was remarkable how quickly it all happened. Before we knew it, we were there.

After you’d finished filming, Vicky Hungerford one of the directors of Bloodstock Festival tweeted that she’d like to bin the emails of those who gave their pronouns in their email signatures which resulted in a backlash. Could you tell me more about that?

That was absolutely ridiculous. My whole point this entire time, which I kept making to James, had been that these festivals are safe spaces for LGBTQ+ people. I do believe that nobody cares what you are or who you are, because everybody who goes there, to some degree will identify them-selves as an outsider. I’ve never seen any homophobia or anything even close to that at a metal festival. That was somewhat undermined by one of the organisers tweeting this.

When that happened we were incredibly frustrated and there was quite bit of a back and forth be-tween all of us about how we were going to handle that. In the end, we filmed a bit where we were in the studio discussing it but James felt that we were giving it a bit too much airtime and actually, the best way was to acknowledge with a text. We didn’t want to make a big song and dance about it and have the whole thing torpedo the message that we got across for the previous 33 minutes.

I was pleased to see that the metal community pretty much unanimously spoke out against this. All sorts of bands, the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, everybody was like you can’t say this, this isn’t right. I don’t think she (Vicky Hungerford) speaks for the people who go to Bloodstock at all and she certainly doesn’t speak for the wider metal community. I’m glad that she stepped down and that Bloodstock have said they are committed to creating a safe space for people to go.

Was there anything else you’d have liked to include if you had a slightly longer format?

Well, we filmed for over 25 hours so obviously loads didn’t make the cut. Something that was in the film a bit, was I went into a mosh pit with a camera on. I’ve always wanted to do that. I’m in the rock world, so me and all my friends know what that’s like but I wonder if the wider world do know what it’s like to be in that environment. It’s quite aggressive, but ultimately, it’s just fun. People pick you up and if you get into any trouble the whole thing stops stocks until you’re better.

How did you find the transition from making an audio documentary to making a visual doc?

The transition for me that was weird was going from a being the producer to becoming the talent. That was pretty strange when we did our first Radio 1 audio documentary, but it’s particularly bi-zarre doing it for TV. My instinct is to be like “right, what are we doing?” and just get stuck in. But when you’re the talent, you’re not supposed to do that so you’re just waiting around for people to tell you what to do.

In terms of the transition from radio documentary to film, on TV the viewer will see everything and to accommodate that you have to record so much stuff. Whereas with radio, in post production it’s possible to tell a different story from one that you intended. With TV you’ve got to be much more prepared before you shoot and then be fairly militant about getting all the stuff that you meant to. That’s also true with radio, but I think to a lesser extent. You can follow up with contributors some-times, just phone them up and have another chat if you need to.

I actually made a little audio package of our documentary to send to a radio station and it was so hard because so many of the jokes and reference points are visual. Trying to make an audio pack-age out of it was like, “Oh yeah… that doesn’t work”. I’m not saying that the documentary couldn’t work in radio, but it would have to be totally different. You have to paint the picture and set things up.

Were there any conversations that came up in the process of filming that surprised you, or things that you hadn’t planned for?

I think because we were the talent on this one, a lot of this stuff was probably done in conversations among other people that we were never privy too. They knew what was going on and whatever they told us to do, we did it.

One thing that came up was on the way to the festival, I said to James, “isn’t it funny how the pro-duction team think it’s hilarious that there’s vegan food at this festival?”. And James started laughing and he’s like, “do you not see why that’s funny?”. I said, “I honestly don’t know why that’s funny be-cause there is vegan food everywhere in 2021”.

Metal bands might sing about animal slaughter and whatnot, but that’s not necessarily because they think it’s a good thing, they’re just commenting on it. That was a conversation that we had on the way there and I was thinking what turn is this gonna take? There was an interview with Dani Filth where James was like “are you a Satanist?”, which, to me, is a bit of a stupid question because of course they’re not. But I do understand why other people would want to know that.

Another thing that really surprised me was lot of people shouting anti BBC stuff at us. A lot people were shouting at us “f*** the BBC” and “tell the truth”. I kept my opinions to myself but you want to say to these people, you can have this opinion about the BBC, but that’s just your opinion, it’s not a fact. Also, if the BBC didn’t exist we wouldn’t be making this documentary that’s providing exposure for our scene and community. Even if you don’t like the BBC can you not see that? If it wasn’t for the BBC, or organisations like The Whickers, that give money to projects to make this kind of stuff then they just wouldn’t exist. I think that gets lost sometimes in the wider world, because I don’t know how much profit something like this would make for somebody else. It’s the kind of thing that only places like the BBC, The Whickers and other public service organisations can do. It’s brilliant, that these kind of places exist in the UK because otherwise this stuff wouldn’t get made.

Interview by Sam Stone.
Sam is currently studying creative audio documentary at Goldsmiths College in London.

Sashay to Hell is available to watch on BBC iPlayer HERE.