This is the first piece in a series of blog posts from OGT volunteers recommending films they love for you to watch from home.
By Deborah Sorensen
This celebratory 2019 documentary chronicles the rise and fall of Other Music, an independent record store in New York City, founded in 1995. Produced by married co-directors/producers Puloma Basu and Rob Hatch-Miller (a former Other Music employee), the film documents OM’s final days in 2016 and demonstrates the diminutive shop’s outsized importance within the world of indie, global, experimental, and generally off-the-beaten-path music. Other Music is available in the Old Greenbelt Theatre’s virtual screening room until June 11th.
As the first post I’ve shared with this blog, I’m happy to highlight a film that delivered more than expected. Music documentaries can really run the gamut, from concert films to biopics, and many can feel like vanity projects or fan-focused products. Thankfully, Other Music includes not only good music but also captures many of the intangibles that create and sustain communities everywhere—shared space, shared knowledge, and shared experience over time.
Not far from Washington Square Park, OM’s brick-and-mortar shop stood on the edge of Manhattan’s East Village, between New York University and The Cooper Union, a school of art and engineering. The area known as the East Village was the creation of real estate developers in the early 20th century, looking to rebrand an area north of Lower East Side tenements. By mid-century, however, the East Village was firmly established as a countercultural refuge, providing a home over the years for beatniks, hippies, punks, and even the romanticized bohemians of the musical Rent.
When Other Music arrived in the 1990s, however, the area’s reputation (and costs) had been in transition for at least a decade, thanks to another wave of gentrification reshaping much of Manhattan. Art studios were giving way to renovated lofts and luxury condos, and the decision of the store’s co-founders to open their shop directly across from a massive, four-level, outpost of Tower Records might have seemed defiant if not delusional. Instead, OM enriched the area’s cultural ecosystem—countering the volume of product offered by Tower with the incredible depth of knowledge offered by its eclectic, and esoterically-inclined staff. That is, at least, until the internet and streaming services decimated traditional business models, taking physical stores along with them.
Other Music can easily be seen as simply a love-letter to underground and independent music from the last two decades. It is chock-full of rare recordings of in-store performances and contemporary interviews with musicians who credit Other Music with giving their bands’ a much-needed, and valued, spotlight early in their careers—such as Animal Collective, The National, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Vampire Weekend. And music fans would probably find gems like these satisfying enough, but Basu and Hatch-Miller have created something more meaningful. By quietly observing the final days of the store, and reflecting upon the store as a space for creative expression, they managed to capture the store’s unique role as a community anchor and celebrate OM’s owners and employees as the film’s real music heroes.