The Nonsense Express, a short documentary by filmmaker Rob Dumas, follows London band The Highly Skilled Migrants as they embark on a self-booked tour of Russia and Belarus. And it’s DIY insanity and piss poor luck for the band from the very jump, as the initial flight out of London results in a severely damaged bass, followed by the first gig being a rousing show for… no one. At almost every turn, the band runs into another misfortune (and no audience). Even the tour’s only redemptive show winds up being extremely bittersweet when all is said and done.
While the documentary paints an unfortunate picture that is not all that unique to DIY touring bands, what it doesn’t show is a band that turns on itself. Sure, bassist Ned questions singer/guitarist Sasha’s show-booking skills and preparedness quite a bit, but at no point does it devolve into a shouting match or fisticuffs, as could very well happen with different personalities in a similar situation. At worst, the band handles the tour with a “keep moving forward” attitude, even when it shows that the lackluster crowds (or non-crowds) are deadening their spirits.
The Nonsense Express employs a fun mix of animation, musical performance and fly-on-the-wall documentary fare. It doesn’t languish with talking heads or give an exhaustive history of the band, or why we should find them important (or anything like that). It sets up the basics, and lets the tour speak for itself. The result is a life experience captured for all its pluses and minuses, an example of the hard road that can exist for touring bands.
While fans of the band will no doubt find this film that much more indispensable, I had no problem enjoying the film despite my lack of knowledge of the band or their music. I think, as a document of DIY touring, it is as potentially educational to other bands as it is entertaining. It also sheds some light on a few upsetting situations in Belarus, giving the film a bit more political and humanitarian value beyond just “band on tour” footage. All around, a solid moment-in-time, fly-on-the-wall “Belarusian rock”-umentary.
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