Sundance Channel Series Review: New American Noise

Posted January 21, 2013 in

New American Noise
Sundance Channel Series Premier @ Claim Jumper in Park City 1.18.13
Directors: Abteen Bagheri , Bob Harlow, Emily Kai Bock, Tyrone Lebon

This six-part documentary series produced by Somesuch & Co. and Nokia Music delves into the underground music scenes of six cities across the U.S.—the sticky strip clubs of Atlanta, the twerk battles of New Orleans sissy bounce parties, the guerilla shoegaze concert on some bridge thing in Portland. SPIN hosted the premier of the series, which aired on the Sundance Channel the night of this invite-only midday screening at Main Street’s Claim Jumper in Park City. Though it wasn’t part of the Sundance Film Festival, it happened at the same place and at the same time. The screening was preceded by a luncheon for the filmmakers, industry folks and media people (including Mike Abu, reporting for some organization I never got the name of). After two hours of drinking beer while watching my table full of middle-aged strangers eat their free chicken, I was forced to sit behind the tallest guy in the crowd (who happened to be one of the directors) and the back-to-back screening of six short films began.

First up was Lords of Detroit (directed by Bob Harlow), a look into the genre-blending scene of Detroit music. We see the same faces in the crowds watching garage rock band play in a packed warehouse, at an electro-pop dance party in a deli, and at an intimate hip hop house show. A part of the city that seems dead and desolate after sunset turns out to be pulsating with music in an intertwined community of people who turn everyday life into art. It’s a great start for the series—this short makes Detroit seem like a hell of a place to spend a weekend show hopping.

Now we go from dudes in funny masks playing weird rock in Detroit, to a slow crunk beat and a mostly naked girl getting ready to get real low on a stage in Atlanta—Atlanta Dream$ (directed by Tyrone Lebon) focuses on the strip club as a venue where rap records are made famous. Artists such as Trinidad James get noticed because strip club DJs play their songs, songs that are practically made for getting naked and spinning around poles to. Someone in the film says that patrons associate the music with naked ladies, which is bound to make it popular. This is a great short, and not just because I associate it with naked ladies.

After watching strippers jiggle to Trinidad James, I’m not quite in the mood for Electric Noise (directed by Abteen Bagheri), the Portland section of the series. I don’t know what was more irritating: the soundtrack of guitar feedback, bits of shoegaze and Casio-beat idie pop, and voiceovers of people talking about how totally rad and creative Portland is, or the slow-motion shots of mopey musicians riding Vespas and moping around. The filmmaker isn’t to blame—it is a beautiful and short, and really encapsulates the image of Portland as a 20-something’s wonderland. The artists and interviewees just seem to take dream-pop too damn seriously.

Spit Gold Under An Empire (directed by Emily Kai Bok) snaps us out of the dreary Northwest haze, throwing us onto the streets of Brooklyn, the hip hop Mecca.  No clubs, no guns, no hoes—just a vérité walk around the neighborhood as various artists talk about the goldmine of underground hip hop that doesn’t make it on the radio. Mykki Blanco, Angel Haze and others make their rounds about town, rapping with headphones in. As the track volume fades in, we hear how each artist is informed by their surroundings, turning a walk through a subway station into a song. This is my favorite of the series, and the segment with Mykki Blanco, rapping under a bridge clad in angel wings and black lipstick, hits real hard. Oh, shit!

Now we go west to sunny California, into the weird world of LA’s SFV Acid (directed by Tyrone Lebon). SFV Acid, aka Zane, creates his own personal underground culture out of lo-fi electronic beats, made alone in his bedroom or sitting in front of a Starbucks. We follow Zane as he visits a mondo record/book/underwear store (where one his weird drawing with a $5,000 price tag is displayed), hangs out with an old woman as she does yoga, and basically just walks around a lot. It’s an entertaining and interesting look into a one-man microculture and the music he creates.

The grand finale features way more booty than the Atlanta film—way more than I could take in. It’s That B.E.A.T. (directed by Abteen Bagheri) that makes ‘em move in New Orleans’ bounce music scene. It’s like hip hop and high-tempo dance music with loud, repetitive sexual lyrics—a combination of things that makes parties get fucking crazy. Sissy bounce, the gay/trans side of the scene, is where Big Freedia reigns supreme—and the asses clap just as hard as the girls’. It doesn’t matter who you are at a bounce party as long as you twerk it. Bagheri’s second film in the series is an immersive look into a unique regional music culture, and sent the premier out with a bang. Interior. Leather Bar and Kink are probably the only two places to see more Sundance ass than New American Noise. Oh, and according to multiple Twitpics, Lil Jon was there at the premier, too. I didn't notice him, though—I was to busy trying to photobomb the tall director.

Anyway, watch in online for free here!