The story of one of the most divisive hit singles of all time is also a love letter to defiance.

Dunstan Bruce, pictured here with his inner demons

In 1997, a very catchy if aggressively repetitive song broke through to the general conscious, acting as a rallying cry for the resilience of always getting back up and introducing countless American to the concepts of “pissing the night away.” Since then, “Tubthumping” has become something of a cultural touchstone of later 90s pop, a brash but infectious curio, gloriously celebrated and something of a camp object of easy mockery. And perhaps just as easy to snicker at was the strange name of the otherwise unknown band/anarcho-collective, Chumbawamba.

25 years later, the legacy seems to haunt band member Dunstan Bruce, both a symbol of the height of his personal celebrity and larger cultural relevance and the moment when his personal credibility as a meaningful actor of punk ideology was most easily questioned.

The contradiction so seemed to hound him, along with a gnawing sense of helplessness at how little his acts of youthful rebellion seemed to improve the world around him. This feeling led him to spend five years making I Get Knocked Down, a film about both the past and present in equal measure, which made its U.S. debut at SXSW. Co-directed by Sophie Robinson, the film is part video memoir, part inner monologue, and part cultural criticism. What it is throughout is engrossing, especially for anyone who has ever interacted with the punk ethos or circles.

The film opens with Bruce expressing his concern and distress about the state of the world, while also being followed by the Ghost of Chumbawamba past, a figured dressed identically to himself but wearing the strange grimaced grin mask from the “Tubthumping” album cover.

Even at the time of the release of “Tubthumping”, Chumbawamba’s anarchic and troublemaking spirit was always known and was a feature of their appeal. But as is, was, and will always be with bands that suggest a punk-ethos, having a top ten hit certainly will rub against the suspicions of those who might hold tighter to the outsider identity. The perspective of Chumbawamba was that having a massive hit could give them a platform for more message-centric stunts, such as throwing water in the face of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott in the middle of the 1998 Brit Awards.

But at the end of the day, this strange position of being the biggest punk band in a very specific moment with a decidedly unpunk song essentially made the band a community without a home, ostracized by all sides as either doing not enough or too much. Thus all these years later, entering his late 50s, Bruce looks back as well as forward and asks the question: Was the ultimate decision to push into the mainstream a mistake, or at the very least, did the band actually accomplish anything?

He goes on this journey by interviewing other members of the band, as well as other members of the punk rock community, including legendary punk artist Penny Rimbaud of Crass. The film never really settles into easy answers, if mostly because that pesky Ghost is always lurking around to spread doubts of self-worth. As Bruce’s journey unfolds, including watching his new band Interobang?! on tour, the film shifts from a personal narrative into a general celebration of the spirit of defiance and determination. As Chumbawamba themselves argue, punk was a mentality, not any particular sound or look, and through exploring his own story and others in this turbulent age, a fairly compelling portrait opens up that defiance is as unique as the one who’s choosing to stand up.

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