“I like the conservatives,” said Matt Berninger from the National in the Other Music documentary it’s streaming from today. “People who are passionate enough to comb everything and write a hundred words on a little card and make sure it stays stuck to the shelf.” Those little cards at Other Music, New York’s beloved record store that opened from 1995 to 2016, meant a lot. Berninger added: “The first gig at the Mercury Lounge and the first time we got a card at Other Music, it was like ‘My band is real.'”
When Other Music announced its closure on June 25 in the spring of 2016, it marked the end of an era in New York City, and the filmmakers Puloma Basu and Robert Hatch-Miller document the last weeks of the store. Almost four years later, the Other Music the documentary has been released and is a love letter to record store culture, a bygone era in New York City and a small store on W. 4th Street in particular. “Per square meter, it was probably worth more interest value than any other store I had even been to in the world,” says Dispatch Mode‘s Martin gore.
There are a lot of artists interviewed for Other Music, including JD Tiger Samson, James Chance, Daniel Kessler of Interpol, Brian Chase of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend, Magnetic Fields maestro Stephin Merritt, TV on Tunde Adebimpe from radio, Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai, and Dean Wareham (Galaxy 500 / Luna), plus the actors Jason schwartzman and Benicio Del Toro. Much of the screen time, however, is spent with staff, including owners. Chris Vanderloo and Josh Madell, and many clerks who have stayed with the store for years. If you’ve spent any time with Other Music in its 21 year history, you’ll probably be thinking, “oh yeah, that guy! ” at least one time.
Some of these staff members also made music, like Animal collective‘s Noah Lennox (Panda) and David Portner (Avey Tare) who worked in the store at the start of their group, and Antipop Consortium‘s Beans who didn’t hesitate to push his own music on customers. “No matter what [customers] said they were in, “recalls Madell,” he would say “Did you check out the new Antipop Consortium?” Many other musicians were regulars and were selling CDs on consignment to Other Music, like Interpol and Vampire Weekend which both sold their first EPs through the store before being signed. Probably the most notable of these was Guillaume Basinski who talks about how its remarkable 9/11 inspired The decay loops owes much of its success to Other Music.
The film follows the entire story of the store: from when Vanderloo, Madell, and Jeff Gibson all worked at Kim’s Underground on Bleecker and decided to open their own store; to open Other Music across from one of New York’s biggest record stores, Tower Records (which turned out to be a brilliant move on their part); through 9/11 and the New York rock renaissance that immediately followed; to the store’s short-lived entry into the MP3 market and then to the age of streaming services which ultimately was a big part of their shutdown. The film culminates with their last day in business, followed by their celebratory ‘second line’ parade (with Matana Roberts, Jaimie Branch, Adam Schatz and more) to the Bowery Ballroom for a celebratory “Other Music Forever” concert featuring Yoko Ono, Yo La Tengo, Bill Callahan and more.
What the film does best is showing how record stores could be a community, where employees got to know their customers, and how person-to-person recommendations offer more than an algorithm could ever do. (not yet at least). Getting back to those little cards, one of my favorite sequences in the documentary is when they bring a few of these cards to life, bring them to life, and use the voices of the clerks who wrote them. When the staff talk about the records they loved on Other Music, you can see the sparkle in their eyes, the passion – and that’s what I missed the most.
The only thing I wanted more from in the movie was footage from the many Other Music live shows in stores. There are brief excerpts from Neutral milk hotel (1996), Fridge (who sings a song on Tower Records), The National, Vampire Weekend, Mogwai, The Go-Betweens, Yo La Tengo, Apples in Stereo, Tinariwen, St. Vincent, Handsome Boy Modeling School, Conor Oberst, foreign artist Gary Wilson and a few others but when they show a picture of all VHS tapes they don’t show … you hope DVD bonuses.
Go here for more information. A list of all participating stores / cinemas and rental links, along with the movie trailer, below.
OTHER MUSICAL DOCUMENTARY – Virtual theater screenings
Support your favorite record store or theater and rent the movie through their link below.