Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Tribeca ’19: Other Music

The internet sure has been Schumperterian when it comes to music. You always used to be able to find experimental music magazine Signal to Noise at the East 4th Street music store co-founded and operated by Chris Vanderloo and Josh Madell. Neither is still in business today. The final days and lasting legacy of the beloved retail store are documented in Puloma Basu & Rob Hatch-Miller’s Other Music, which screens at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.

The name Other Music was more or less intended to imply all sorts of outside-the-top-40 music, but downtown indie rock always seemed to get the most merchandising attention. They sold CDs, but vinyl was everyone’s passion. Many bands, like The National were championed by the stores staff and many notched their first sales through Other Music’s consignment program. They even had the foresight to open a download service, but the tide they were swimming against was just too strong.

Basu & Hatch-Miller record plenty a tearful farewell from regular customers, as well as a bounty of talking head testimonials from a who’s who of indie rockers. They also had intimate access to Vanderloo and Madell, as well as their staff and wives. Seeing the once-familiar store logo is sure to bring back waves of nostalgia for anyone who was vinyl-hunting in New York during the late 1990s and early 2000s, but the doc’s commercial current appeal will be even more limited than the store’s customer base at the time of its demise.

Still, watching the Other Music doc brings on the realization that those of us who were collecting music at that time, we witnessing a golden era of New York City music stores. Yet, whenever I wanted to talk music for a little while, I wouldn’t go to Other Music (their jazz section was limited and honestly, the staff wasn’t that inviting). Instead, I went to the corporate bogeyman across the street, Tower Records, which had a terrific jazz section at the 4th Street location (you could often find reasonably priced Japanese imports). The also had a knowledgeable jazz staff and the friendly crew working the ground floor information desk also knew quite a bit about the music of Armstrong and Zorn, even though it wasn’t their specialty. In fact, to their credit, Vanderloo and Madell both readily agree they were sorry to see Tower close.

As it happens, Vanderloo, Madell, and their third original co-founder first met while working at Kim’s Video & Music, another East Village landmark that sadly gave up the ghost. Plus, we see one of the tweets lamenting Other Music’s closure came from Academy LPs, which was formerly located near Astor Place, but was forced to relocate to Alphabet City. I bought a lot of great music from those stores, but not so much from Other Music. Nevertheless, it contributed to the critical mass of the neighborhood.

If you knew these establishments, Basu & Hatch-Miller’s doc will unleash a flood of memories. It will also make you wonder what happened to the people you used to see so often. Various musicians and commentators are not wrong when the bemoan throughout the film the current lack of community spaces for serious music fans. For some people, Other Music provided that, so it is a shame it no longer exists. Recommended for the store’s former customers and the artists it stocked, Other Music screens again this Sunday (5/5), as part of this year’s Tribeca.