SIFF 2013 Face The Music Preview: The Otherside

The Otherside
(Directed by Daniel Torok, USA, 2013, 47 minutes)

Festival screenings:
Friday, May 31, 2013 at 7:00 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown
Sunday, June 2, 2013 at 8:30 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown

“I don’t think having a cohesive we-all-sound-like-this kind of thing is important. I think the most important thing is a true Seattle, or Northwest, perspective,” said KEXP DJ Larry Mizell Jr. He is one of the many hip-hop voices in the new documentary The Otherside, which premieres May 31 at The Uptown Theater for the Seattle International Film Festival, promoting the idea of eclectic community and artistic support. And his plea is important – if not, perhaps, a bit nebulous.

In an age when people are looking for specific things to hold onto in a world full of media and product overload, the beautiful, yet tenuous thing, about The Otherside is its depiction of a Seattle hip-hop movement based around the idea that we are as good as anyone out there and we love one another for that. This is the response offered in The Otherside by artists when asked: What is Seattle hip-hop about? What is its sound?

“The fact that there is no sound is our sound,” says Fresh Espresso producer P Smoov.

Within this sort of musical culture is the absence of exclusivity because there is no clear center to deviate from. Since there is no sound, there is a fluidity of sound. And because of this, the film does not center around any artist in particular – though it is impossible to escape Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ rising star. Even Macklemore, however, is fast to say how important The Town is, how fundamentally important the people – the fans – are.

The film, directed by Daniel Torok, is indicative of the conversation throughout Seattle musicians and artists: the idea that there is something happening here. There are plenty of venues (though a few years back hip-hop in Seattle was often homeless, says Blue Scholars’ Geo), there are radio stations that support, people attend shows, buy merchandise. There is a need nationally, thanks to artists like Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Jake One, Blue Scholars, TheeSatisfaction and their label Sub Pop (famous for introducing Nirvana grunge to the world), for the city’s creativity.

Perhaps the piece is just, but very powerfully, a statement on creative people and they’re support for one other. But is this enough of a thread? What about the idea of money? The idea of fame, which many of the artists in The Otherside seem to aspire to. The piece begins with a quote from ?questlove, the mastermind behind the Philadelphia hip-hop group The Roots, saying, “Hip hop needs to become a subculture again.” This is a novel idea, but maybe an incomplete one.

Rapper Eighty4 Fly touches on the idea of potential, saying, “Me, personally, I listen to a lot of music. I always try to incorporate that into my stuff. Maybe one day, Seattle will create a genre that will have it’s own name – a mesh of all of it.”

The Otherside is an inspiring movie, depicting Northwest artists in their homes, at work in the studio, grinding out music for the love of it. Capturing the lineage from humble beginnings to world fame. It is excellently produced with sharp cuts of the city’s landscape intermixed with interviews of artists like Jake One, Macklemore, Fresh Espresso and Blue Scholars. And it is not provincial, either, quoting several artists, including Macklemore, who say it is important to leave Seattle and share the city’s work with the world, while always keeping the Pacific Northwest in one’s heart.

Where the film falls short, however, is its specificity of a plan, never getting to the center of what it is that is Seattle’s export. While the absence of something can still be something, in this case that something doesn’t quite seem substantial enough. The movie, in addition, never mentions race, color or heritage. While I am not for the driving home ideas of division and separation, it bares note that with a music so steeped in race and culture as hip-hop something should be said about it without risking naiveté. The movie may be, in truth, too much of what Seattle isn’t, at risk of losing touch of what Seattle is.

The over-arching point is well taken, however. Something is happening here in Seattle. Something worth watching, worth listening to, worth the time it takes to digest. It might be worth noting, as well, that other national outlets are taking notice, like this XXL piece.

Despite being better known for coffee, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Microsoft, Seattle is working it. “A lot of people don’t know, but Seattle’s been doing it since the jump,” says DJ B-Mello. Money is now even more available thanks to web sites like Kickstarter, which helped raise over $62,000 for the Blue Scholars album Cinemetropolis. So maybe the point, at the end of the day, is simply to tell good, substantial stories. Maybe that’s all there is to this idea of art and expression. If so, according to The Otherside, Seattle is ready to speak.

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