Sundance Channel and Nokia Music Document the Underground Music Scene in 'New American Noise'
If you’re heavily into music you’ll undoubtably be aware that certain geographical areas tend to become associated with particular music scenes. For myself here in the UK, I could quickly point to Manchester as the birth place of the aptly named ‘Madchester’ scene comprising bands such as The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, and The Charlatans, and the beautifully idealistic Factory Records, closely followed by rave culture which sprang up around the legendary Hacienda nightclub. Recently Nokia Music in partnership with the Sundance Channel raided Somesuch & Co’s director roster (Emily Kai Bock – Spit Gold Under An Empire, Tyrone Lebon – Atlanta Dream$ & SFV ACID, Bob Harlow – Lords of Detroit & Abteen Bagheri – Electric Noise & That B.E.A.T) for New American Noise; a six-part series of documentaries exposing the underground music scene in six US cities.
The six films run near the ten minute mark each, so here’s a quick look at what you’re in store for over the next hour:
Sitting comfortably? OK, let’s take that musical tour of the US underground (warning – there is some NSFW language & images here):
Selecting Portland and New Orleans — cities he’d never visited before, thereby leaving him free to take them in through fresh, unjaded eyes — Abteen Bagheri discovered that each scene dictated not only the content, but the style of its film, right down to the camera moves. Of Portland he says:
To a degree, we were the enemy — the embodiment of American corporate and monied interests, which seemed weird to me because in my mind, we’re just three kids trying to make art too. As a filmmaker, I’m always open to collaboration with other artists, and while I was frustrated, I couldn’t help but respect the integrity of their sentiments.
So the doc started to evolve. The piece took a course of its own. It became clear that the best way to represent Portland is through a montage of the sights and sounds — a mood piece — floaty, dreamy, surreal, which is how the music and the city make you feel. We focused a good deal on the landscape and the atmosphere of the city — cameras floating and twirling toward roadside forests, flying above the city and the rural landscapes.
While New Orleans demanded they get much more into the thick of things:
We were in a party scene, and I mean P-A-R-T-Y scene. We loosened up. We had some drinks. Everyone seemed super comfortable in their own skin. Girls and guys wanted to dance and perform for the camera. As soon as we hit record in interviews, people opened up and spilled their guts.
The first thing we did was strip down the camera (a Canon C300) to nothing but a camera body and a lens. The small camera enabled our cinematographer to go nuts with movement. Isaac has no fear when a camera’s in his hand — hanging out the car in the lower 9th ward, riding in a boat with the camera less than inch away from the swamp water at 60 mph. We stayed on the ground — no floating cameras, no helicopter shots. We used our zoom lens liberally, getting closer to our subjects to create something more visceral and real. We were welcomed by the scene.
Individually the films make for fascinating, varied watching; lifting the lid on musical culture you probably only had a passing familiarity with before. However, together as a series they highlight the diversity which can be found throughout the musical arena and how that, as with many things in life, is informed by location. The series also contains a few nice assumption bursting moments: Bounce, a dance style you’d expect to be bedfellows with misogyny and homophobia, is actually populated by several openly gay practitioners behind the mic and on the dance floor. While instead of viewing strip joints as disposable distractions, Atlanta rappers are actually reliant on the exposure they can gain there to break them as artists.
If Nokia Music and Sundance were to extend the series, where would you like to see the cameras head next?