For its legion of fans, Other Music was more than just another independent record store. Trading for over two decades, the renowned New York premises achieved something approaching mystic status as the go-to shop for music lovers. Situated across the street from Tower Records, the David and Goliath gamble paid off handsomely, and Other Music proved to be a huge success, also pulling in its fair share of high-profile fans (Benicio Del Toro is caught on camera asking for advice at one point, while Jason Schwartzman shows up as an enthusiastic contributor in the film).
Right from the bat, this warm and diverting documentary is a bittersweet exploration of the store. The film’s opening – shot a few days following Other Music’s closure in 2016 – finds a trumpet-heavy procession heading down a busy Manhattan street, a banner with the store’s logo proudly displayed upfront. This could certainly be read as a eulogy, but it’s also a heartfelt celebration of a community and cultural hub eroded by gentrification and the digital revolution.
Directing duo Puloma Basu and Rob Hatch-Miller do a wonderful job of capturing the tangible joys of visiting a record shop, whether it’s the seasoned crate-diggers or those less-discerning music fans looking for the next recommendation. They really get to the heart of what makes such a place flourish. Other Music’s seemingly endless collection of rarities, imports, old classics and a dizzying array of esoterica undoubtedly contributed to its reputation and cache. Wisely, Basu and Hatch-Miller focus much of their gaze on the assortment of savant-like staff members who helped established the store’s reputation.
These employees are given equal billing amongst the notable musicians and well-known former patrons of the store, and the camaraderie between the team is keenly felt, particularly in the various cultural shifts which occurred during Other Music’s existence (there’s a small but touching recollection of the aftermath of 9/11). Ultimately however, two of the store’s initial founders, Chris Vanderloo and Josh Madell – complete with their supportive and equally music-obsessed wives – are whom we feel acutely sympathetic towards as we edge ever closer to that day of reckoning.
Their woes prove to be distressingly apparent in the days leading up to the store’s fateful closure and mammoth clean-up operation, essentially boxing up and discarding those many years of happy memories. You’d be hard pressed to find a sadder ending in any film this year, and all of it is shot in unflinching and almost agonising detail by the filmmakers – right down to the last piece of dust being swept up in the now barren retail space. It’s genuinely heartbreaking stuff.
Yet that joyful and infectious feeling of being part of a collective – both customers and staff alike – is what shines through in Basu and Hatch-Miller’s film, offsetting the final downer. For those feeling nostalgic towards a time when their music choices weren’t largely dictated to them via an algorithm, but rather by an informed and dedicated employee of their local record shop, Other Music is just the tonic.
Other Music is available to stream in the UK on Vimeo on Demand.