If you’re less aware of the unique talents of Gary Numan, he’s an English musician and producer who appeared on the scene in the late 70s/early 80s and, unless you’ve been living in a dark hole, you’d know him best for ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’ and ‘Cars’ which were huge hits between 1979 to 1980 and easily stood the test of time by becoming cult classics. His use of synthesizers on a commercial scale make Numan one of the pioneers of modern electronic music and ‘Cars’ broke down those barriers when it became a worldwide hit.
Gary Numan: Android in La La Land follows Numan, his wife Gemma and three daughters as they relocate from the UK to LA. While it delves into his past to highlight his struggles with fame and fortune, it also turns a positive eye towards the future as he builds up to release 20th studio album Splinter back in 2013. Always considered a distinct kind of character, Steve Read and Rob Alexander’s documentary really opens up his life and gives the viewer – whether a fan or newcomer – an insight into his deeply focused hopes, even during the bad times and the fears of the creative unknown.
We start at the origins and the success of the aforementioned mega-singles as Numan explains how his move into electronica was in some senses just a coincidence of a moment. While originally intending to produce a punk album, another musician had left a synthesizer on a particular sound, he played a note and the sound instantaneously changed his perceptions of what he wanted to do. From there everything flooded forward and into those two early albums. It’s actually extraordinary that from a single, unintended moment such unique sounds would eventually explode across the music scene.
What we also learn from those early days is that no-one really saw Gary coming and because of this he was somewhat separated from the punk scene and especially by music journalists. While punk ripped up the vision of hiding behind something, Gary (real name Gary Webb) embraced his Numan creation because he had previously been diagnosed with Aspergers, which caused him to be both separate from his on-stage persona and more anti-social than the media wanted him to be which, in turn, meant the music press dug into his life and eventually started to rip him apart… unfairly and very personally without ever really acknowledging any truth. As a man already suffering from the anxieties that come with instant success and wealth, it hit him hard and he admits that “the bottom fell out”.
Gary Numan: Android in La La Land is an inviting insight behind the original persona we all think we know. It reveals Gary to be someone still pushing to be original and 2013’s Splinter is a fine example of finding a place you want to be and putting everything in to produce a significant album. While the documentary does takes a look back it doesn’t really feel like it’s about the past, it’s about the future and although he’s still overly self-aware or fearful of anything new he’s working on, he states that “You must love what you’re doing…” and that’s an important point because in some circumstances it might feel like a throwaway line but as part of a creative mind, it’s everything. Overall, this may not delve quite as deep as other similar music docs but is still perceptive, honest and intriguing and one for music lovers across the genres.
Gary Numan Android In La La Land review by Dan Bullock, August 2016.
Gary Numan: Android In La La Land opens in UK cinemas on 26th August.