It seems fitting that Other Music’s genesis can be traced to Kim’s Video. Both are institutions of a pre-digital era New York City; both functioned as fertile ground for 21st century indie artists: Alex Ross Perry and Sarah Adina Smith for Kim’s, Animal Collective for Other.
Kim’s is no more: They closed their doors on Aug. 25, 2014. Other Music didn’t fare much better: They closed up shop on June 25, 2016. You could say the internet killed them both, and you’d be right. Why would you want to rent a DVD when you’re paying for two, maybe three, monthly streaming services? Why shell out $29.99 for If You’re Feeling Sinister on vinyl when you can punch it up on Spotify for nothing? And listen to it everywhere you go?
If You’re Feeling Sinister, by the way, was Other Music’s best selling album. They sold a thousand units. New Yorkers must have loved the Scottish chamber pop group because at least three of their albums were in Other Music’s Top 100 sellers when they closed up shop. Most of the albums featured on that list date to the late-’90s, early 2000s—the heyday of the CD, which was cheap to produce, cheap to distribute, and cheap to sell. It kept the lights on. Once it went away, all the vinyl in the world couldn’t save the record stores.
Other Music, the new documentary from the husband and wife team Puloma Basu and Rob Hatch-Miller, captures the legacy of Other Music through interviews with employees and customers, all through the lens of the store’s last few weeks. Their connection to the store is palpable: Hatch-Miller worked there, and Basu was a longtime customer. They make the most of their closeness, using it to get employees to recount stories other documentarians might have difficulty sourcing.
There’s a joyous nostalgia to Other Music, the kind that works on two levels: A remembrance of things past for those who frequented independent record stores, and the sense of something lost for those who didn’t—kind of like watching a movie from the 1940s and feeling envious by the light traffic on Hollywood Boulevard.
There’s also a tinge of sadness for the loss of specified knowledge. One of Other Music’s greatest hallmarks was the staff, fully versed in everything left of center. Nowadays, you can read up on anything in minutes from just about anywhere, but in pre-smartphone days, shopping at a record store meant asking questions, engaging with the staff and customers. They turned you on to things you didn’t know you were looking for, and validated the ones you were. I remember one trip to Amoeba Music in Los Angeles when my otherwise silent checker—a woman who looked like she stepped out of a Cameron Crowe film—paused when she saw a copy of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless among my purchases. She held the album in her hands as if it were holy text, her eyes caressing the back cover’s tracklist.
“This is good,” she said and went back to whisking my CDs under the scanner.
To this day, Loveless remains a personal favorite.
Record stores had that effect. Some customers interpreted it as snobbery, but the rest of us knew it as dedication. The co-owners of Other Store were just as dedicated. As the times shifted, so did they: They opened a digital downloading store when the industry moved in that direction, and they took it down when it became apparent they couldn’t compete with iTunes. As CDs vanished and vinyl found a home, they accommodated their customers. They provided in-store concerts, a place to talk, and a place to kill a few minutes flipping through the racks. Now it’s all gone. Some days the past feels farther away than others.
Other Music (2020)
Directed by Puloma Basu, Rob Hatch-Miller
Produced by Puloma Basu, Rob Hatch-Miller, Emmett James, Derek Yip
Factory 25, Not rated, Running time 83 minutes, Video on Demand/Amazon Prime