“They’re the hubs for music communities.” – Stuart Braithwaite on record stores.
A simple statement that carries with it a huge amount of truth and an undeniable weight. Within the first five minutes of this documentary you can see for yourself that that statement is a fact. Directed by Puloma Basu and Rob Hatch-Miller, Other Music is a documentary about the legendary NYC record store that closed in 2016. The store itself is a focal point for a community of music lovers and artists the world over, helping to launch the career of many indie musicians. Other Music embodies that thrown-together, eclectic feeling that is born from such passion and energy that the staff and owners had for both music as a medium as well as the store itself. Indeed to call those that worked there staff feels like a disservice, they were more akin to curators and their knowledge and love for what they did was plain to see.
If you couldn’t feel the love and the emotion that runs through this documentary before, at the moment it’s announced that they’re closing you most certainly can. The pain and the sadness written onto the face of owner Chris Vanderloo is akin to that on the faces of those who have lost loved ones. A feeling that I can certainly understand. I admit I’ve never been to Other Music, but I am passionate about passionate people. I love listening to them talk about their loves, whether it be music, literature, art. Those people who get caught up in what they’re saying as their mouth can’t keep up with the plethora of words that tumble from their minds. It’s fascinating and hard not to get swept up and to learn from them in those moments. You get that vibe from those that talk about Other Music because it’s not just a store, it’s a home. It is a safe place for those with a passion for music to meet and to discover new things in the warmth of somewhere they know and trust.
In truth this isn’t a documentary, it’s a eulogy. A long and heartfelt goodbye from those who gave life to a musical wonderland. The documentary is dotted occasionally with famous faces, yet in their time speaking about Other Music, whatever else they have accomplished doesn’t matter. They speak simply as music lovers who felt a connection to a place and the people who worked there.
Opening in 1995, directly across from Tower Records which was itself already a centre for musical love, Other Records had set themselves up for a hard slog. However people flocked to the store because those with a passion for something always want to explore. It got its name due to one of the co-founders, Jeff Gibson, describing what kind of music they listened to whenever they were asked. Utilizing their encyclopedic knowledge of music to educate and entice customers Other Music became a haven for those who needed music in their lives.
The interviews with staff and customers flesh out both the life of Other Music as well as in a way the lifestyle of those who walked through the doors. Given my background in the independent wine and spirits sector, I found I could relate a lot to what they were saying. Indeed one part I found fascinating was the discussion about staff, customer service and an accidental snobbishness that comes from having such an extensive knowledge of something that it can be intimidating. More than one person even comments on reading about music because they love it, but then taking that knowledge to Other Music was like “going to school.” In reality it’s a place that welcomes those who have been swimming in the pool for years as well as those who just want to test the waters. However mixing passion and knowledge can lead to an intimidating air that, if you can stand it for a few moments, you’ll see fade to reveal the warmth that accidentally created that imposing façade.
One thing you see more and more throughout the documentary though, through all the innovation, the fun, and the camaraderie, is the honest, no-frills hardship that any independent store owner has to go through. In this rapidly evolving world where technology continues to advance and dominate, the existence of a record shop is one that is constantly at threat. Towards the end you see two men who have fought hard to keep this fantastical land afloat. That fight is one I can tell you is exhausting, with even trivial decisions possibly having dire consequences. The knowledge that sales not being made doesn’t mean just a bad week or month, it could mean the closure of the store, loss of a house, a life spiraling. The stark realities of their existence are emphasized by what you hear from their wives. The anxiety inducing truth of what sometimes has to happen to keep something you love going.
When you have put so much effort into something, in some cases a very literal amount of blood, sweat and tears, to have to move on is something that resonates deep within you. The nights you stayed up late to work on it, the times you sat with your head in your hands before rising once again thinking “we have to go on” because failing isn’t an option. Failing means so much more than just closing. Other Music didn’t fail. It went out gracefully as all grand establishments should.
This documentary as a whole shows so much of not only what Other Music did for both music and its fans. It also showed the hardships that come with being a small business owner. To see the passion these people had for what they did is awe inspiring and to see the doors close makes my chest feel tight.
Other Music closed four years ago. I never went there. In fact, before I wrote this, I didn’t even know it existed. Yet as I said, I have a passion for passionate people, and now I feel a depth of sadness that feels strange for something I never knew. In many ways though I can relate to them. The creators of this documentary bring it all to life in such a beautiful way that makes it all feel real and tangible even as I sit here. The music throughout seemed so perfect at every moment and quite frankly you’d expect nothing less in what is a love-filled goodbye to a haven of wondrous sound.
With that in mind I’ll leave with this thought. Other Music closed in 2016 and I’m writing this in the twilight days of 2020. From this documentary I’ve heard music and artists they championed and I want to go investigate and hear more. Well played Other Music, well played.
Other Music is available now from Factory 25. Watch Other Music on Amazon Prime.
Directed and produced by Puloma Basu and Rob Hatch-Miller
Featuring: Tunde Adebimpe (TV On the Radio), William Basinski (composer), Panda Bear, Avey Tare & Geologist (Animal Collective), Matt Berninger (The National), Stuart Braithwaite (Mogwai), James Chance (The Contortions), Brian Chase (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Benicio Del Toro (actor), Janeane Garofalo (comedian), Martin Gore (Depeche Mode), Daniel Kessler (Interpol), Ezra Koenig (Vampire Weekend), Mac McCaughan (Superchunk), Stephin Merritt (Magnetic Fields), Keigo Oyamada (Cornelius), JD Samson (Le Tigre), Jason Schwartzman (actor), Regina Spektor (singer/sonwriter), Dean Wareham (Galaxie 500/Luna) and more…
Festivals: Tribeca Film Festival, Montclair Film Festival, Maryland Film Festival, Oak Cliff Film
Festival, Taoyuan Film Festival, SoundTrack Cologne, Middle Of The Map Fest, Lake County
Film Festival, Calgary International Film Festival, POP Montreal, Vancouver International Film
Festival, Nashville Film Festival, New Hampshire Film Festival, Cork Film Festival, St. Louis
International Film Festival, Sound Unseen, Reel Music Festival and more…
About FACTORY 25:
FACTORY 25 is a Brooklyn-based independent film + music label founded in 2009 by Matt
Grady. FACTORY 25 releases films theatrically, digitally, physically, and curates provocative
limited edition DVD/vinyl combination packages. Specializing in indie niche projects, FACTORY 25 is committed to delivering films and music in perfect analog or digital quality. In addition to Other Music, indie film label Factory 25 released the critically-acclaimed Ham on Rye, Werewolf; Sylvio; The Great Pretender; Kid Thing; For the Plasma; MA Almost There; Little Feet; Ape; Bloomin Mud Shuffle; Jobriath A.D.; Sex and Broadcasting: A Film About WFMU; All the Light in the Sky; Sun Don’t Shine; Marvin, Seth and Stanley; The Sheik and I; The Color Wheel; Green; Francine; The Oregonian; Richard’s Wedding; Fake It So Real; Bad Fever; Convento; Frownland; Shit Year; You Won’t Miss Me; Brock Enright: Good Times Will Never Be the Same; New York Export: Opus Jazz; Rio Breaks; New Jerusalem; Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo; Until The Light Takes Us; Wah Do Dem; Kids of Today; Two Gates of Sleep; Family Jams; and Make-Out With Violence; Better Than Something: Jay Reatard; Homemakers; The Other Side of Sleep; Buttons; and Pavilion.