The Big Screen

RBMA NYC 2013

There’s not many big brand companies that can touch Red Bull when it comes to innovative marketing. For over a decade, their long running cultural project, Red Bull Music Academy (or RBMA to its friends), has kept the brand front of mind with many an underground music enthusiast through its radio and website offering, while also allowing aspiring musicians the chance to learn from some of their more experienced peers in the form of their annual workshop style events. The project began in 1998 in the city of Berlin, and after taking in some of the world’s most musically rich hotspots, last year it rolled into New York City for what was the RBMA’s 15th anniversary. Clearly never one to miss an opportunity, Red Bull have begun to unleash a number of projects commemorating the milestone, the most recent of which dropped this week.

A 90 minute documentary filmed by award-winning director Ralf Schmerberg and set against the backdrop of last year’s Academy, ‘What Difference Does It Make: A Film About Making Music’ takes a fascinating look behind the scenes of the event, while also inviting some of the music industry’s heavy hitters to share candid insights in front of the camera. These ‘talking heads’ include, amongst others, Brian Eno, François Kevorkian, Steve ArringtonErykah Badu and a plethora of appearances from other artists and musicians, who all supply interesting tidbits on what being a musician means, discussing their own careers and creative processes, and addressing ultimately the decisions anyone interested in pursuing a career in the arts has to make.

The other premise of the film of course details the exploits of the current crop of participants, and here we follow them through the intensive five-week period as they head to lectures, work together in session rooms and play out live in the city’s venues. The footage is excellent, and really gives a flavour of how the everyday experience unfolds. Add in extensive shots of almost every angle of the city, cleverly juxtaposed with the other segments to provide a heavy dose of vibrant scenery, and you get a stylish feature length with an inspirational message. Just watch as street musician Leroy Webb bathes the subway station in his own unique soulful tones, a highlight in amongst many, and then there are Mr Kevorkian’s frank comments on the ‘beautification’ of the DJ.

You can watch the whole documentary below or head on over to the official site of the 15th anniversary to download the movie for free. There you’ll also find more information on the other projects such as a book, simply called ‘For The Record’, which delves a little deeper into the thoughts and dialogue of a number of high profile contacts in the RBMA rolodex including Chic’s irrepressible Nile Rodgers, Badu and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.

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THE MUSIC

If after watching the film, you find yourself curious about what the 62 international participants actually got up to in those studios, then you can peep a selection of the collaborations over on the RBMA Bandcamp page. Entitled ‘Various Assets – Not For Sale 2013’ (you should also try and check the contributions available for previous years – they are packed with heat!), it’s a 30 track strong collection of music composed, improvised and recorded by the band of musicians during their time in NYC. Preview each of the tracks below and if you find something that takes you’re fancy, you can download it from here.

Mel Cheren - West End Records

As a thirty something not born in London, I’m probably not the best person to paint the intricacies of the Paradise Garage, the cult of Larry Levan and 1970s New York in general. Nevertheless, having delved deeply into the history of the era numerous times during my life, visited the city on digging trips and generally maintained a healthy interest in old disco records for years, I’ve always had a soft spot for the music and record labels that would end up captivating New York clubland for nigh on a decade.

One of my favourite record imprints of that time hands down is the legendary West End Records where if you were to take a quick look through their sizeable catalogue you would be presented with several bonafide dancefloor classics, most of which still remain relevant to this present day. Founded by the inimitable Mel Cheren and Ed Kushins back in 1970, West End’s own history is fascinating and, as was the nature of the period, intrinsically linked to that of the infamous nightclub at 84 King Street – a relationship that still bears a considerable influence on today’s musical landscape.

Through a series of candid interviews with Cheren and a host of leading New York DJs and clubland personalities at the time, the documentary ‘The Godfather of Disco’ examines this influential relationship in full, as well as shines a spotlight on the late founder’s career as record company executive, influential label owner and tireless activist. Originally surfacing in March 2007, the film has never to my knowledge seen a commercial DVD release, and still to this day is very much sought after among hardcore disco fans. However, now available to stream as of this Sunday on everyone’s favourite online video channel, you finally have a rare chance to view the film in full. Not sure how official the upload is or even how long it will be available, as I suspect the lack of any physical release of the documentary was complicated by the sad death of Cheren in December 2007, so please catch it sooner rather than later, and marvel at what I consider one of the most fantastic labels of modern times, and one of the true pioneers of dance music culture.

Props to Manolo Brigante for the upload.

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