“Have you Ever Heard of that Place?”: A Review of ‘Phonic Seattle’

When searching for films about the Seattle music and arts scene, you’ll be hard pressed to find any.  On one hand, Seattle is a footnote in many bands’ histories.  Documentaries about Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Ray Charles, and a number of other performers usually have a feature about Seattle.  You might also find 30 to 45 minute specials which provide short profiles of the Seattle music scene.  However, when it comes to full length documentaries solely about Seattle music culture only two major ones come to mind, the grunge focused “Hype”, and the jazz focused “Wheedle’s Groove”.  Both documentaries feature a snapshot of Seattle music culture and have been released nationwide to a mostly positive critical response.  Last Friday I was fortunate enough to attend the premiere of a new documentary about the Seattle music scene, “Phonic Seattle”.

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Art by Izzi Vasquez on display during the premiere

The film’s director Alaia D’Alessandro looks to introduce musical spaces and performers you never knew of, by following three local musicians, Carlarans, Julie-C, and Reese Tanimura, to their favorite underground music spots and events around Seattle.  The film’s decision to follow three musicians representing different backgrounds is brilliant as the documentary spotlights a diverse range of venues and events around the city.  The documentary’s approach to introducing this premise is unique in that it hits the ground running.  The documentary lays out the premise almost immediately and goes right into the first of the three musicians.  This quick paced approach of interview, segment about the venue, coupled with clips of a live performance carries through the entire documentary, and creates a feeling kind of like a DJ mixing at a night club.  It’s an ebb and flow approach where the music being mixed, are the video segments and the great camera angles.  At first it feels a little manic, but the more you watch it, the more it doesn’t feel like a simple compilation of interviews.  Rather it feels more like a visual mixtape of our community.

The documentary aimed to introduce new venues and performers, but I believe the real takeaway is how so many diverse music experiences exist almost independently from one another within the same city space.  It’s incredible to think you could experience nearly every musical genre on any given night in the city.  The documentary demonstrates Seattle isn’t solely a grunge city or a jazz town anymore.  This documentary shows how the changes in our communities and the economic flow are helping dictate the direction of the music and arts scene, and in some cases causing others to be more steadfast in their response to that change.  It felt like the response to the changes was just more creativity.  Creativity in what a space can offer.  Creativity in what defines the audience.  Creativity in marketing campaigns.  It seems like for the community to survive the influx, the performers and the spaces adapted their definition of self to the influx, and this feeling of adaptation is on display in the documentary.

As a person who was born and raised in Seattle, I felt like this was a great representation of our city and definitely fulfills on it’s tagline of “introducing musical space and performance you never knew of”.  I attended the screening with my cousins and on more than one occasion we found ourselves leaning in and asking one another, “Have you ever heard of that place?” or “What was the name of that artist?”.  If you have people who are engaged in the local arts and music community, who grew up in the city, asking one another if they recognized something, then you really have accomplished your tagline.  When it comes to the question of welcoming “outsiders” into the music community, I felt like the best response to this question came from both Carlarans (who hosts “The Beat”) and also the owner of Clock-Out Lounge.  Carlarans explained that it’s okay for “outsiders” to come into these new experiences as long as they do so under the understanding that they’re guests.  The owner of Clock-Out Lounge, reiterated the same message and added “Also, just don’t be an a**hole.”  I feel like this is the perfect reflection of Seattle and for me the biggest takeaway from the documentary.  Everyone is welcome, be cognizant of the people who established the longstanding community structures, and above all else, just don’t be an a**hole. (haha)

From a born and raised Seattle person, I recommend checking out Phonic Seattle.

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