Other Music is a 2019 documentary focused on the closing of an eccentric NYC record store that was a hallmark for experimental and underground music collectors. Over the course of 20 years, the store became the place to discover new music and experience the warm embrace of passionate music lovers. The Blu-ray from Factory 25 and Vinegar Syndrome provides a solid A/V package with plenty of bonus features for fans of the film and the celebrated record store. Recommended.
“You could live in a dreamworld of esoterica.”
In 1995 a small defiant record store opened up in the East Village of NYC across the street from Tower Records. In a widely subversive move the shop was called Other Music. With an intent to carry only underground, rare, and experimental albums the shop slowly became a mecca for passionate collectors and those looking for something different. Other Music details this store’s legacy from its humble beginnings to the impact on the lives of physical media collectors and those whose musical tastes and personalities don’t align with mainstream offerings.
Directors Puloma Basu and Rob Hatch-Miller document the last days of the store as customers pay their respects to the institution and offer their condolences to the owners while grabbing armloads of albums. Their cameras are a fly on the wall as Co-owners Chris Vanderloo and Josh Madell handle the business of reminiscing while packing up the shop. As expected there are plenty of interesting characters that appear throughout this process further revealing how the store touched so many people.
At its core, Other Music is a love letter to niche spots whose goal was to reach people by sharing passionate interests. Vanderloo and Madell reveal the origins of Other Music and even tell interesting stories about ex-clerks who couldn’t even be trusted to run a register. Celebrity customers like Benicio del Toro and Jason Schwartzman are given some time to extol the virtues of Other Music to those who’ve never experienced it. In creating the store there was a space for emerging artists to find a place to distribute their work before risking it all with a big label. Artists like The National, Vampire Weekend, and Animal Collective hinged their early success on in-store performances.
Anchoring the feature is the sense of community formed by the store’s adherence to high standards and carrying true underground and experimental artists. Where the film succeeds is by maintaining a relaxed momentum with the cameras savoring even the most random moments for posterity. Just like its grungy interior, the film doesn’t shy away from the nuts and bolts of this altar to music. We see its failures and triumphs but never once does this effort feel pompous or grandiose.
Live performances and recorded tracks fill the feature highlighting artists that made Other Music such an amazing place to discover new sounds. Therein the film finds its footing as it documents the store’s legacy: the power of tangible media versus the rise of cold, impersonal digital files. Devotees hang their hats on physical media and the power of discovery and conversation rather than algorithms and file-sharing.
For such a small store Other Music had an enormous impact that was felt through 20 years of NYC underground music and the growing tide of digital music. The only negative criticism I have is how laser-focused the film can be on the store’s physical location and its impact on the community which can leave audiences unfamiliar with NYC microcosms left out to dry. Thankfully Other Music presents the stories of passionate collectors with deep affection which allows the legacy and impact of this record store to live forever.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Other Music arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Factory 25 and Vinegar Syndrome. The All-Region disc is housed in a transparent keepcase with reversible artwork and insert booklet. Loading the disc offers the Factory 25 logo before landing on the Main Menu screen with typical navigation options.
Other Music arrives on Blu-ray with a detailed 1080p presentation in 1.78:1 featuring a crisp HD image with bright primaries and dark inky blacks. Fine detail is present within skin textures, clothing, and room adornments. SD archival footage used in the film looks as good as it can given the limitations of VHS and early digital formats. Here it adds a welcome sense of nostalgia for the in-store performances and daily life of the staff.
The sole audio track on Other Music is a solid Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo that handles dialogue and store atmospherics with varying quality depending on the environment. Performances are subject to the same limitations of the source material. The soundtrack for the feature is an ecclectic mix of artists and genres all of which are presented in excellent fidelity. Subtitles are offered in English and Spanish
While there isn’t a bevy of bonus content I recommend starting with the Extras Reel then moving on to the commentary track to keep enjoying the film well after the first watch.
On the surface Other Music is about the heartbreaking loss of a community focused record store but at its core the film is about the decline of physical media and the emotional journey collectors have experienced. The film lovingly highlights the nasty bits of retail while embracing the quirky lives of its employees and customers. This film is a must for those who are passionate about tangible media. Factory 25 and Vinegar Syndrome bring Other Music to Blu-ray with a solid A/V package and enough bonus features for fans of the film. Recommended.