"Other Music" Movie Review
It’s doubtful that many people sipping their Kombucha over a Shrimp Sesame Soba Noodle bowl at Broken Coconut in New York City’s East Village have any idea of the history surrounding them. Just four years ago, that location at 15 East 4th Street was the home of one of the most influential record stores in the world.
For twenty years, from 1995 to June 2016, Other Music was the little indie record store that could—helping launch the careers of acts like The National, Animal Collective, and Interpol. Now a new documentary by Puloma Basu and Rob Hatch-Miller offers up a touching eulogy to not only the shop but the entire struggling industry business of tiny neighborhood record stores. (In fact, when you rent Other Music from its website, half of the payment goes to your local music shop.)
When owners Chris Vanderloo, Josh Madell, and Jeff Gibson (who bowed out in 2001) opened Other Music directly across the street from a Tower Records megastore in December 1995, many people called them crazy, but it turns out the three friends were geniuses. Offering a hole-in-the-wall alternative for people who were more interested in Yo La Tengo and Pavement than Hootie and the Blowfish, the staff at Other Music prided themselves on their encyclopedic knowledge of alternative, off-the-beaten-path music, and in turn, opened a multitude of eyes to music that would have gone largely unnoticed otherwise.
Looking for Jackie DeShannon’s New Arrangement, which includes the original recording of “Bette Davis Eyes”? Or Jackson C. Frank’s self-titled 1965 folk classic? Or how about the latest decadanse, noise, or krautrock release? We watch as all of those happen in the film, which offers a fly-on-the-wall narrative of the way things used to be. Sure, there’s a certain amount of music snobbery at play, and Basu and Hatch-Miller don’t sweep it under the rug any more than the Other Music staffers deny it. The in-store team knows they truly (and unapologetically) were the source for— well, other music.
The film not only features interviews with Vanderloo, Madell, and their staff but plenty of celeb fans of the store, too, including Regina Spektor, Benicio del Toro, and Jason Schwartzman, all of whom sing its praises as an influence in the world of underground tunes. The highest praise, though, may come from Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore, who tells us early on that “per square meter, Other Music probably had more interest value than any other shop that I’d ever been in, in the world.” Well, then.
Of course, the film rightly points to the rise of streaming services like Spotify and digital platforms like iTunes as the source for Other Music’s demise, but that may be the only predictable thing about Basu and Hatch-Miller’s documentary. The film is a fitting and well-crafted tribute to a tiny store in the East Village that, when taken as part of the bigger picture, is but one of too many recent casualties of a mournful reality, which is as inevitable these days as it is heartbreaking.