SIFF Review: The Otherside

This was an interesting time for director Daniel Torok to do a documentary on underground hip-hop in Seattle. In a strange way, it either seems a little late, or a little too early. (Maybe that means it's right on time — the way a new record doesn't quite make sense, recalling memories of other music while transitioning the mind into a new situation, the heart into a fresh appreciation.)

It's a period in which people who have been enlivening the scene for years, like Larry Mizell Jr. of Don't Talk To The Cops and Sportin' Life owner DeVon Manier (two of the most thoughtful, generous, and charismatic men you will ever meet in the music business), are enjoying the vivified, elevated energies of a scene they dug out swell up with new talent coming up around them (muchly due to them). It's also a moment in which irresistible, invigorating breakthroughs come from unexpected sources, such as the comeback of Macklemore from a once-doomed grid, jacking into gold sales from as near middle America as 206 hip-hop has ever gotten.

Torok gets down the cagey disemboguing on stage along with mad dance scrambles of the B-boy Massive Monkeys, diverse crowds full of old heads and neos all smiling and feeling it together in a brave new world of beats, primed for every pensive vibe-dangle between verses. In this, you get introduced to some new game whilst seeing Sabzi exude Clint Eastwood-level cool and Prometheus Brown breaking it down (Blue Scholars); Jake One candidly admitting his success with writing beats for the big boys in El Lay still blows him away; and for a way too freaking bit-brief glimpse of Shabazz Palaces and THEESatisfaction Seattle Calling the future (like magus-musical spectres over crap-rap dystopia).

But Torok also knows how to make music doc-heads talking like attached to people you want to spend a great deal of time with; you hang on every syllable of hard-fought-for wisdom from vet Dyme Def like it's going to come in handy in your next life-battle. He shows 'em nervous, anxious, or best of all excited to be part of something that's really happening, because it actually is. I could have used a little bit of what the plans might be besides the next joint, the upcoming release. The ad filmed for the new Blue Scholars album is pretty overt; someone needs to crack Sabzi himself open and find out what's juicing that glint in his world-dominating gaze. I know he has subliminal plans that are extra-musical, the way that other artists are attached to helpful causes. Of course, there is the inherent paradox of hip-hop self-promotion: Saving most of it for the art itself. 

Torok uses less than an hour to display the rappers and DJs and dancers confident about the peaks they're about to hit. Even in that sleek time frame, maybe there are a few too many scenes of people insisting we don't have a cohesive sound when about a third of the acts are trying to sound like each other at least a little bit. (Mom and/or pops just have to have a Sonics LP or Patrinell 45 side among those old art-lounge jazz recs, maybe?) And we all agree the rent is too damned high here.

But then punk rockers Sir Thomas Gray and Pearl Dragon switch-fling a scenario to a love-swarm at Neumos with more energy and charm than you ever see on the what-is-now-the-MTV, and my stomach hurts waiting for what will be Champagne Champagne's Raising Hell. Because I know that's happening as I type these words. 

{The Otherside screens at the 39th Annual Seattle International Film Festival on Friday, 5/31, 7:00 pm, and again on Sunday, 6/2, 8:30pm at SIFF Cinema Uptown. Director Daniel Torok and producers Vinny Dom and J.R. Selski scheduled to attend both screenings.}

, , , , , , , , ,