OTHER MUSIC

The Record Store

(The 2019 Maryland Film Festival ran May 8-12 in Baltimore, Maryland. Lead Critic Chris Reed traveled far to cover the fest for HtN! Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not pay just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)

The nine years I lived in New York, from 1997 to 2006, overlapped with the early existence of the independently owned Other Music, located at 15 E. 4th St. in Manhattan. As we learn in this eponymously titled documentary tribute to the now-closed store, it was just a few blocks away from a Tower Records, which was to its benefit, as customers who didn’t find what they wanted from the mainstream catalog would wander down the street to check out the different offerings and deeply committed aficionados of the alternative scene. The store’s 2016 closing, perhaps inevitable in a world increasingly dominated by online sales, subscription services and YouTube (and the death of Tower), was traumatic for staff and customers, alike. As someone who has personally played a part in the destruction of small brick-and-mortar retailers through my love of online shopping, I nevertheless feel the pain of folks who miss visiting local places filled with knowledgeable salespeople. What is lost when we give up such experiences? Such issues and more form the backbone of directors Puloma Basu and Rob Hatch-Miller’s thoroughly engaging eulogy to the recently departed.

As we travel through Other Music’s history, which began in 1995 when three music lovers – Jeff Gibson, Josh Madell and Chris Vanderloo – opened the shop, we meet a fascinating cast of characters eager to offer testimonials, from music journalist Lizzy Goodman (Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001–2011) to diehard fans like actors Benicio Del Toro and Jason Schwartzman, actor/musician Tunde Adibimpe (TV on the Radio), and musicians Matt Berninger (The National), Brian Chase (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Keigo Oyamada (Cornelius) and Regina Spektor, among many others. For 21 years, Other Music offered more than just records and CDs (and a brief, failed attempt at downloadable files), but a public space for conversation, experimentation and concerts. It was more than a neighborhood institution, but a shining beacon of vendor idiosyncrasy that, sadly, could not survive in our 21st-century commercial landscape.

Bittersweet paean that this is, however, it is filled with the joy of happy memories, as one interviewee after another pays homage to what once was. And where can these people now trade recommendations of the best new music to sample? There’s always the virtual world of social media, or whatever comes next. Perhaps, once we tear down all the degrees of differentiation in the physical universe that allow bold, unconventional ideas to flourish and realize what we’ve done, we can then decide whether the bland sameness that remains was worth it. But what do I know, as I am apparently part of the problem? My Amazon Echo tells me I have a package waiting. Alexa, I’m on my way!

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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