A cautionary tale
Wednesday, May 6, 2020
I don’t have the statistics to back this up, but my educated guess based on anecdotal evidence gleaned from experience is that the Venn diagram of film buffs and music lovers has a whole lot of crossover. It’s as common for me to be at a concert talking to friends about movies I’ve seen as it is to be at a movie theater chatting about shows I’ve been to. Sometimes it can be tough to see where one leaves off and the other begins.
Therefore, movies about music must occupy a special place when it comes to feeding the soul—the continued appeal of films like Empire Records and High Fidelity are proof of that—and it’s in that sweet spot that the documentary Other Music exists.
Some record stores are legendary places that music fans make pilgrimages to in much the same way religious people seek out holy sites. California has Amoeba Music (pour one out for the original Hollywood location—a casualty of COVID-19). Austin has Waterloo Records. Chicago is home to Reckless Records. And, of course, in Seattle we have Easy Street Records, long may it reign.
New York boasts a veritable cottage industry of worthy record stores catering to casual browsers and crate-diggers alike, such as Academy Records, Downtown Music Gallery, Generation Records, A-1 Records, and others. And for a little more than two decades, the East Village’s Other Records was part of that esteemed pantheon.
The documentary is set against the backdrop of the run-up to the store’s 2016’s still-lamented closure, which was due to a number of factors, not least of which was the same thing killing so many similar beloved shops: the inability of brick-and-mortar indie record stores to compete against the streaming services that have given us access to a seemingly infinite amount of music while simultaneously gutting the music industry as a whole.
However, Other Music is less a lament of the woes of the music industry and more a reminder of that store’s—and, by extrapolation, all such stores—role as tastemakers, musical museums and creators of community. There’s a case to be made that before we had social media, places like record stores were the true influencers—even though that term now brings with it its share of eye rolls.
When a trio of video-store clerks broke out of their day jobs to open an old-fashioned record shop in 1995, they made a decision that, at the time, seemed foolish at best and suicidal at worst: They sited it directly across from a giant Tower Records emporium in the East Village. Cheekily naming it Other Music in honor of the type of inventory that would become their stock in trade—the music of indie labels, up-and-coming bands, genres that would not be found in the Top 40 of any chart, experimental sounds, etc.—their foolhardiness proved to be a stroke of genius as they’d draw curious folks from Tower who would then return again and again, many for the lifetime of the shop.
As all good record stores do, Other Music did more than just sling rare vinyl dispense suggestions, it and the community that sprung up around it also played a very real, discernable role in helping to break bands that would go on to more mainstream success, many of which are featured in the documentary. During the film’s runtime, you’ll spot Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, Stephen Merritt of the Magnetic Fields, the National’s Matt Berninger, Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore, Le Tigre’s JD Samson, Daniel Kessler from Interpol, the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Brian Chase, and others, all of them only too willing to attest to the kind of crucial support that stores like Other Music give to bands on the rise.
Of course, in this area, we have our own similar stores, and the filmmakers of Other Music wish for their documentary to do more than simply act as a reminder of how valuable these places are before they too are gone. As other folks have done during this time of business shutdowns and social distancing, they’ve released their film online, making it available for rental at their website (http://www.factorytwentyfive.com/other-music) and in the virtual screening rooms of various art house movie theaters, with half of the proceeds from each rental going to the record shop or indie theater of your choosing. In our region, that means you can choose for your rental to benefit the Business in Anacortes (a record shop with a long history that has had a great impact on this area’s music scene), Bellingham’s Alternative Library, as well as the Lincoln Theatre in Mount Vernon and the Pickford Film Center in Bellingham. All of these businesses are currently closed due to COVID-19, and every day they remain shuttered is a threat to their continued existence. This is one means by which you can help them and ensure that Other Music remains a cautionary tale rather than a canary in the coalmine.
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