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Sundance Channel to kick off music documentary series

By Leah Christianson

Nov. 19, 2012 4:40 p.m.

The Soho House is a swanky members-only club off the Sunset Strip that serves as a “who’s who” of the entertainment industry. The wood paneled dining room offers a breathtaking view of West Hollywood, and looks as though it could house my entire apartment.

Gary Clark Jr. and New Orleans rapper Nicky Da B stood less than five feet from me. It quickly became clear why Nokia Music and the Sundance Channel chose this venue to premiere their latest project.

Thursday, Nokia Music and the Sundance Channel previewed a series of documentaries, all surrounding different music scenes across America. The documentaries were inspired by a new Nokia service released last month ““ one that gives its users cost- and advertisement-free access to nearly all the world’s recorded music when they purchase a Nokia smartphone.

“We didn’t think it was enough to just have the most differentiated features; we wanted the best music for our listeners as well. So we talked to fans and actual artists to make sure that when (listeners) go to these mixes, they get the most relevant music,” said Jyrki Rosenberg, global head and vice president of Global Entertainment for Nokia.

Complete with personal customization tools, the device also contains playlists created by the artists themselves, as well as regional playlists that highlight what music is trending in other areas of the United States. This is where the documentaries came into play.

Four young directors ““ Abteen Bagheri, Emily Kai Bock, Bob Harlow, and Tyrone Lebon ““ interviewed musicians in all corners of America to create six short documentaries that feature rich, culturally significant music scenes. Los Angeles, Portland, New Orleans, Detroit, New York City and Atlanta were among the cities featured.

Bagheri’s two documentaries focused one two polar opposite cities: Portland and New Orleans. In his first film, Bagheri paints Portland as an indie folk-rock dreamscape where artists are more concerned with honing their craft than actual recognition.

He switches gears completely in his documentary on “bounce music,” a sub-genre of rap music native to New Orleans that showcases a heavy beat. Nicky Da B, who accompanied Bagheri to the screening, plays a large role in Bagheri’s survey of the bounce scene.

Bagheri also said that he wanted to highlight the acceptance of the developing gay community within New Orleans’s rap scene.

“Gay rappers are bringing hip-hop back as a genre for themselves. This is the beginning of a new direction for hip-hop,” Bagheri said.

The directors agreed that the cities they covered took on their own character in all of the short films. Bock, who created a documentary on the underground rap scene in New York City, said that it became a city of samples, as her research led her from one rapper to the next.

“(New York) is such an easy place to capture music’s magic. It’s a kinetic place, and that really affects the rap scene,” Bock said.

Bock spoke to seven rappers, all of whom agreed that mainstream rap has homogenized the genre into something that is much shallower than rap was originally intended to be. These rappers instead focus on personal lyrics that discuss relevant and relatable issues, drawing influence from the old-school rap of the 1980s.

Lebon directed the films on Los Angeles and Atlanta, which were not screened at the event. Lebon said that his Atlanta documentary investigates rap’s ties to the strip culture, while his Los Angeles film became more of a portrait of the whole city.

“It’s amazing how little you need (to find sources). Being interested and simply talking to people is huge,” Lebon said.

The films are expected to be available on the Sundance Channel in January.

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Leah Christianson
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