It’s a shame that Puloma Basu and Rob Hatch-Miller’s new documentary, Other Music, is part of the Tribeca Film Festival section “This Used to Be New York,” because that means that their subject, the much-loved Other Music independent record store, is a “Used to Be,” no longer part of the city’s landscape. From 1995 to 2016, Other Music was an oasis for music lovers and musicians of all types, an escape from the mainstream; in fact, when the shop first opened, a giant Tower Records chain store was across the street, but OM thrived because it offered so much that was different. “Other Music was the quintessential place in New York City for people that appreciated music. It just was a place where you were able to search out things you had never heard of,” JD Samson of Le Tigre says in the film.
Basu and Hatch-Miller (Syl Johnson: Any Way the Wind Blows) not only focus on customers and performers but also on the devoted, fanatical OM staff that formed a kind of family, including Dave, Nicole, Clay, Amanda, Duane, Katie, Daniel, Jo Ann, Michael, Maris, Karen, Jenny, Geoff, and Stephanie, led by owners and cofounders Josh Madell and Chris Vanderloo. (Third cofounder Jeff Gibson did not participate in the film but is seen in old clips.) “People who just listen to records all day deserve to have a job where they can do that. People who work in record shops are always weirdos. Weirdos need jobs,” Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai jokes. Longtime employee Kris, noting that live shows weren’t enough for him when he first came to New York, explains why he worked at OM: “I wanted to be bombarded constantly. I wanted to have my ideas challenged, and I wanted to be fucked with.”
The documentary follows the store’s countdown to its closing on June 25, 2016, as customers come by to chat and buy records there for the last time and current and former employees share memories about their time at the shop, discussing OM’s unique categorization of music, the handwritten cards for recommended records, the confounding Decadanse section, the local musical response to 9/11, and their online business and epically detailed newsletters (which we at twi-ny relied on heavily). Josh’s wife, Dawn, and Chris’s wife, Lydia, add their thoughts on the impact the store’s two-decade run had on their lives. There are lots of old photos and archival footage, including snippets of in-store live appearances by Mogwai, Interpol, Yo La Tengo, Neutral Milk Hotel, No Age, the Go-Betweens, and cult favorite Gary Wilson; high praise from Meet Me in the Bathroom author Lizzie Goodman, Daniel Kessler of Interpol, Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend, Matt Berninger of the National, Dean Wareham of Luna and Galaxie 500, Brian Chase of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Regina Spektor, Jason Schwartzman, and former store employee Dave Portner of Animal Collective; a celebration of onetime OM staffer Beans of Antipop Consortium; and others who will make you regret either never having gone there or not having gone — or bought — enough. “It’s kind of like a religious experience,” Benicio del Toro says. Other Music has one more screening remaining at the Tribeca Film Festival, on May 5 at 8:45.