Kill Your Friends (and five music business svengalis that need their own movie)
Anyone familiar with the literary works of John Niven will know that his novels are not for the faint of heart or the easily offended, but also that they are wickedly sharp and very, very funny. It was, then, with no small amount of excitement that we greeted the news that his breakthrough novel, Kill Your Friends, was to be given a big-screen adaptation. Directed by Owen Harris, the film arrived in cinemas at the end of 2015 and features a cast that includes Nicholas Hoult, Ed Skrein, Rosanna Arquette, James Corden and Georgia King.
For those who aren't familiar with the book, the story is set in the mid-1990s at the height of the Britpop era and follows the career of one Steven Stelfox (played here by Hoult), an A&R man working for a record label and whose ruthless ambition drives him to extraordinary lengths in order to sign the next big thing.
It's a subject Niven knows better than most; the author worked as an A&R man himself during the 90s (Niven famously passed up the chance to sign both Coldplay and Muse), which puts him in a unique position to satirise the music industry. It's an opportunity he doesn't waste, characterising the music business as a cocaine-fuelled, cutthroat world in which anyone will do anything to secure the next big hit and claim the glory – not to mention the royalties – for themselves.
Stelfox, the chief protagonist in the story, is a mid-level A&R executive for a major label trying to work his way up the career ladder by any means necessary. He's both cocky and insecure; while he deems the talents of his talent-spotting colleagues to be inferior to his own, he's fully aware of the fickle nature of the industry and doesn't miss any opportunity to put one over on somebody in his own team if it means the advancement of his own career.
When an opportunity to move up the ladder to become head of the A&R department presents itself, he's confident he can make the job his, but he hasn't reckoned on his boss poaching another label's star talent spotter, the high-flying Parker-Hall (Tom Riley). Riding high on a wave of success after signing the (fictional) singer Ellie Crush. Parker-Hall quickly becomes Stelfox's nemesis and as the drugs, drink and unfettered ambition begin to take their toll, Stelfox's life and career soon begin spinning out of control, to the extent that his desperation to succeed soon takes a murderous turn - and that's when the fun really starts.
For those working in the music industry, Kill Your Friends is likely to make uncomfortable viewing, but for everyone else – and those in the industry with a sense of humour – this film is a riot.
You can find the trailer below, beneath that we've picked five real-life music biz svengalis that deserve their own movie...
McLaren will probably be remembered first and foremost as the manager of the Sex Pistols, but it's worth remembering that his contribution to the punk scene was much larger than this; he and his then-partner Vivienne Westwood are the pair most responsible for the punk aesthetic that saw thousands of teenager's wandering the high streets with bright green hair and safety pine for piercings, all dreamt up by the pair at their legendary shop on the King's Road. But McLaren's influence on the music scene doesn't stop with punk – he was also a musician in his own right and his 1983 album Duck Rock was hugely influential on the hip-hop scene in the 1980s. In addition to his contributions to the worlds of fashion and music, he also worked on a screenplay with comic book legend Alan Moore and created several experimental sound art exhibitions, among many other projects. Love him or hate him, there's no denying that McLaren was one the music industry's most colourful figures.
As the founder of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertugan has become one of the most well-respected figures in the history of recorded music, and for good reason; not only did he have the vision to sign acts as varied as Led Zeppelin and Captain Beefheart, he was also a songwriter and was responsible for penning breakthrough hits by the likes of Ray Charles. His life story is like the American dream writ large, moving from his native Turkey to make his fortune in the U.S.A. and helping to deliver some of the greatest music of the 20th century.
Beginning his career as a manager for his brother's rap group Run DMC and a co-founder of Def Jam Records along with Rick Rubin, Simmons is arguably one of the most influential black figures in the music industry and his long and varied career has seen him nurture some of the hip-hop scene's best talent, launch a comedy series as a platform for black stand-up comedians and launch several clothing lines, not to mention numerous philanthropic endeavours. Starting from a modest background in Queens, New York, Simmons' story is proper rags-to-riches tale and he's provided the inspiration for countless others to follow his example.
Not all music industry figures are famous for noble reasons and Morris Levy's story is one where fame and infamy become intertwined. Levy's first dabblings in the music industry were as a club owner, where he quickly realised he could make much more money by making the jazz musicians that played there sign over the rights to their songs. Rumour has it that he actually tried to copyright the phrase 'rock and roll' at one point and his reputation as a ruthless operator was compounded in 1984 when he was arrested for extortion and links to the Mafia. By then he had already achieved notoriety as a result of several incidents, including a long-running legal feud with John Lennon and the assault of a police officer which caused the victim to lose an eye. Not an example you'd want to follow, but is it a story worth telling? We think so.
As the founder of Creation Records, the now-defunct label that was home the likes of Oasis, My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream and Ride, McGee played a large part in soundtracking the 1990s, but he also became a well-known figure for his outspoken nature and his incredible knack for being able to spot the next big thing. Such was his cultural influence at that time, McGee was even approached by the Labour party to help orchestrate their 1997 election campaign and he is thought to be partly responsible for that government's 'new deal' scheme, designed to help aspiring young musicians. He wound up the label at the turn of the millennium but is still involved in music management and runs a company called 359 Songs, apparently so-called because it's “one degree from a revolution”. Not a bad title for a film, that...