Urgh! A Music War (1981)

Genres - Music  |   Sub-Genres - Concerts  |   Run Time - 90 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Derek Armstrong

More a collection of bite-sized musical oddities than a proper movie, Urgh! A Music War is a must-see for fans of late '70s-early '80s new wave music. Director Derek Burbidge unleashes his succession of unusual acts without a narrative spine, preferring to let viewers soak in the unconventional stylings and stagings of 30 bands who helped steer alternative rock music down its current path. For every Police or UB40, there are a half-dozen hidden treasures whose influence is not so obvious. What comes through in spades is how intentionally quirky and unhip many of these bands were, and how that transmogrified into a kind of nerdy cool. The poster boys for this phenomenon are the steadfastly square Devo, but other acts really open eyes in terms of inaccessible and self-involved geek rock. Notably, Gary Numan, who penned the classic "Cars," tools around the stage in a contraption better suited to conveying senior citizens, to further the operatic mystery of his synthesizer music and blend in with the flashing lasers. Klaus Moni adds kabuki makeup and cabaret trappings to his number, while the only way Cramps lead singer Lux Interior manages to keep his leather pants from falling down is by stumbling around the stage. For those looking to be grounded in something familiar -- well, this movie may not be for you. But the Police do come through at the end with a rousing rendition of "Roxanne," led by a boyish Sting. Watch also for Oingo Boingo singer Danny Elfman in the days before he became Tim Burton's personal soundtrack composer.