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Six Music Documentaries Worth Checking Out

This Thursday at Turner Hall Ballroom, we will be screening the music documentary "Big Easy Express."  The film chronicles a journey on a train from Oakland to New Orleans with Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Mumford & Sons, and Old Crow Medicine Show. So I thought I would share 6 music documentaries definitely worth seeing. These films not only are about music, but about prejudice, creativity, rivalaries, and more. If I was to curate a film festival, these films would definitely be a part of it.

The first documentary is probably the one I am most excited to see.  It is a story about a little drum machine called the Roland TR-808"Planet Rock And Other Tales of the 808" is the title of this forthcoming documentary. TR-808 was created in 1980 as a tool for musicians to create demos.  At the time, most musicians found that the TR-808's sound to be inferior. Then a young DJ and producer out of New York City by the name of Arthur Baker took the simple-sounding 808 and produced the classic track "Planet Rock" with Afrika Bambaata. That song not only became a hit in 1982, but help turned the 808 into a critical insturment for the creation of hip hop and electronic music.  The film "Planet Rock and Other Tales Of The 808," which was co-produced by Arthur Baker,examines the history the song "Planet Rock" and the instrument that later became pivotal in the creation of two of world's most popular genres of music. The film features interviews from Diplo, ?uestlove, Fatboy Slim, New Order, Felix The Housecat, Skrillex, Paul Oakenfold, Soulwax and others.  The film is scheduled to be released in 2013. Check out the trailer below.


"Planet Rock and Other Tales of the 808" - Teaser 1 from You Know on Vimeo.


I'm very surprised that no one has ever made a feature length documentary on one of the world's most influential bands, The Clash.  The documentary, "The Rise and Fall of The Clash" tells the story of the fall of the influential UK band.  The film show the behind the scenes of what really happen to this band in a very dramatic fashion. Currently the film is holding screening across the country. Hopefully, it will make it to Milwaukee soon.



No other medium has best told the story of Rock N Roll than the photograph, and that is what this documentary is about.  "Rock N Roll Exposed: The Photography of Bob Gruen" is film about the iconic images of Rock and the man behind the camera. Bob Gruen has photgraph everyone from Led Zepplin, Bob Marley, Debra Harry (Blondie), Green Day, John Lennon, Elvis Presley, Madonna, and more.  The film explores Gruen's life and the stories behind some of those iconic images.  "Rock N Roll Exosed: The Photography of Bob Gruen" was directed by Grammy Award winner Donn Letts.



The next film is about a very one-of-a-kind artist that you may or may not have heard.  She is known as the Queen Diva of New Orleans Bounce music.  Her name is Big Freedia, and she is the subject of the film "Big Freedia: Almost Famous."  Bounce music is a child of hip hop born in the city of New Orleans. The music is dominated by a call & response, a few key samples, and in some cases very hypersexual.  The music started to gain popularity due to the effects of Katrina, where New Orleans artists were scattered throughout the country.  Producer/DJ Diplo also help spread the music of New Orleans Bounce.  One of the bounce artists that help put this very unique and regional sound on the global map is Big Freedia. What make is Big Freedia's story interesting is that she, who is really a he, is gay.  That part is not that unusual, but put it in the context of the very 'masculine' world of hip hop and bounce music, it becomes a very unique story.  Big Freedia has in her own way pave the way for tolerance and acceptance in a culture that has been known as homophobic.  The film "Big Freedia: Almost Famous" not only looks at the growth of bounce music, but the challenges that Big Freedia has overcome to get to where she is her musical career.



In 2011 James Murphy's LCD Soundsystem called it quits. The band last show was on April 2, 2011 at Madison Square Garden, and the film "Shut Up And Play The Hits" tells the story in a 48-hour period of LCD Soundsytem's farwell concert. LCD Soundsystem took dance music and made it accessbile to a rock audience. The film is very unique look at the creativity and the character, which is James Murphy.

"LCD frontman James Murphy had made the conscious decision to disband one of the most celebrated and influential bands of its generation at the peak of its popularity, ensuring that the band would go out on top with the biggest and most ambitious concert of its career."

You're in luck, this film will debut at Landmark Downer on Wednesday, July 18. Unfortunately, it is the only day that it will be shown. 



The final film is the directorial debut for rapper turned actor Ice T and is documents the craft of rap in the film "Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap." The film is not about characters, stars, but something more creative and substantial. It is about the craft of a rap. Ice-T examines the root of hip hop, specifically the spoken word aspect. Through interviews with such artists such as Mos Def, Afrika Bambaataa, Eminem, Nas, Mos Def, Kanye West, Chuck D, KRS-One, Snoop Dogg, Run-DMC, and Ice Cube, the film looks at the creativity of hip hop and not the by-product.  Currently, the film is playing around the country, but not Milwaukee yet - hopefully soon!




Bonus Film: "Just Like Being There"

I wrote about this documentary before my trip to SXSW. The film is about the the artwork of the concert poster and features two Milwaukee designers, and Milwaukee's Maritime.

I hope you will have a chance to see some of these films.  I would also love to know what are some of your favorite music documentaries.  Leave your comments in the section below.




Director of Digital Content | Radio Milwaukee