How far will you go to realise your dreams?
On the outside Silibil N Brains were a young up and coming hip hop duo from California. They were taken on by entertainment impresario Jonathan Shalit, they signed a deal with Sony and were on the verge of bringing out an album and single.
But underneath the American accents, low-slung jeans, skip caps and bravado was a huge secret. They were Scottish, lived in Dundee and their real names were Gavin Bain (Brains) and Billy Boyd (Silibil). Astonishingly they fooled everyone for three years.
This film documentary excellently put together by Jeanie Finlay tells their fascinating story.
It’s hilariously funny, remarkable, sad and thought-provoking. It raises all sorts of questions about identity and highlights the fickle nature of the record industry.
The boys met at college, bonded over music, and became best friends. They spent most of their time rapping, crafting hip hop tunes and dreaming about making it big. However their dreams for the future were quickly quashed by record companies who cruelly dubbed them “the rapping Proclaimers”. It seemed that “Scots boys can’t rap”, according to the so-called industry experts.
After a failed London trip, stubbornness set in, the boys returned home and pestered people on the phone. Again they were met with the same laughter and distain.
Fed up and for a laugh, they picked up the phone, spoke in an American accent, and got the record company’s attention. It was the same people, the same songs but as far as the record company was concerned, coming from a different place.
They were invited to London and when they arrived – they had a choice – own up or carry on with the charade. Sweating and waiting to be found out, they went with the charade, a decision that put them on a different path. They become “American”.
They donned the accents and constructed a back story of their origins and American life.
And they got away with it. It seemed as if they began to believe it themselves. They were living some kind of American dream funded by the coffers of their record company. They partied hard, mingled with stars, Billy went to the Brit Awards and they appeared on MTV.
This was a situation that grew arms and legs and showed no sign of slowing down but living with such a huge lie inevitably brought its problems. The sad casualty was their friendship. So while Billy legged it back to Scotland to his girlfriend back home, Gavin remained in London wondering what was going to happen next . He dealt with a few demons and wrote a book, which became “Straight Outta Scotland: A True Story of Fakery, Money and Betrayal in the Music Industry”. (There is also another version called – California Schemin’) It seemed to have been a cathartic process for him. Having picked up on the story, Jeanie Finlay set about making the documentary.
When the film was shown at Glasgow Film Theatre, there was a Q&A session with Gavin. Hearing about the actual filming process was interesting.
Quite a few years had passed, Gavin and Billy still weren’t on speaking terms. For the purposes of the film, they were interviewed separately. This meant each of them quizzing the interviewer “What did he say about that? How did he answer that?” It must have been strange for them to see the finished product.
At the GFT, we wanted to know – had they made up?
They have, and Gavin expressed regret for the missed years of their friendship. They eventually made up in a typically male and Scottish kind of way.
When they met it went something like this – “How are you doing? Listen to this mix/rap I’ve made. What about this piece of music?”
It was as if the preceding years hadn’t happened.
They are apparently recording again and seeing where this latest chapter and renewed interest takes them. They are both likeable chaps and you can’t help but wish them lots of success.
You can now buy the film on DVD.
It’s also available on BBC iPlayer for two more days and the film is showing on BBC4 Storyville on Wednesday October 23rd at 10pm.
For more information about the film and an interesting Q&A feature with filmmaker Jeanie Finlay – see BBC Storyville Link
For more information about the film – BBC Feature
Also worth mentioning is the great animation throughout the film by Jon Burgerman.