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The Origin of the Origin Story

Kelly Tokarz, Creative at FRUKT London, takes a look at origins of music, represented in TV and film, and how the new trend towards these backstories plays a powerful role in nurturing fandom and making music more accessible to all.

Music is a deeply personal art form. It conjures first loves, solidifies last laughs, and permeates every feeling between. But as we grow in our musical fandom, we often find ourselves asking ‘why do I love it?’ or ‘how did it start?’ just as we would with any other media we’ve sunk our teeth into. Enter the origin story. That is, the story of how our favourite things came to be.
We’ve had a heaped serving of superhero backstories over the past few years, but now trends are leaning towards the music industry as a dominating player of the silver, and small, screens. Vinyl, The Get Down, and Miles Ahead: all 2016 debut titles, just to name a few. While each story focuses on a different movement–rock, hip hop, and jazz a la Miles Davis, respectively–what they have in common is the promise of more from genres we already know and love. They form a new platform on which to engage fans, satisfying the ever-begged question: how can I make this experience more powerful?

The Get Down

We, as consumers, don’t want to remain in the doorway–we want to come inside, welcome and familiar. Films like Amy and Montage of Heck intrigue us much the same way as Batman’s motivation for donning a tight black suit and cape does. Regardless of where a genre begins, its origin story fills in the early gaps and gives us a new insight into a channel we’ve already begun to invest in. So though they are often rife with struggle and issue, viewing the ‘early years’ of music somehow makes us feel closer to being able to grow in it. It’s a reward for our fan fervour. 

Miles ahead

The trend towards ‘origins’ isn’t strictly the blockbuster experience it has been of late. Consider musical theatre, which often tackles the same history. Particularly through currently-showing titles like Jersey Boys, Beautiful and Thriller Live, which draw niche crowds through an integration of facts, flashy theatrics and the music itself. Alternatively, the humble documentary–favourite of super-fans. Since the 1967’s Don’t Look Back about Bob Dylan, rockumentary films (a portmanteau of ‘rock’ and ‘documentary’) have been drawing viewers of every demographic. In highlighting artistry this way, they’ve drummed up interest in backstories for decades–the first to pave the way, experimenting with formats and content alike. 

While rockumentaries, in all their forms, have built a bridge between auditory and cinematic arts, the silver screen (and series-based) release trend offers more easily digestible, shinier access for a wider audience base. So what does this mean within today’s media landscape? A rise in appreciation for the genres presented? Sure. An increase in sales and engagement? Highly likely. Most importantly though, this new breed of origin story drives us deeper into our fandom, while simultaneously bringing new fans into the fold. 

Montage of heck

In short, to know how a type of music developed is to know it more intimately and, with everyone from Bob Marley to Nietzsche touting that “without music life would be a mistake,” it follows that this is one trend we’re looking forward to seeing more of. While we’re waiting patiently for new releases, a few favourite ‘beginnings’ to whet the appetite (in no particular order):

Woodstock [1970]: Chronicles the August 1969 Woodstock Festival

Often regarded as a pivotal step forward in music’s counterculture.  In 1996, it was selected by the US National Film Registry for preservation. Want more? Though it has taken more liberties regarding a narrative, 2009’s Taking Woodstock also covers the same period.

The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years [1988]

Like the others in its trilogy, The Metal Years hinges on concert footage and interviews from industry powerhouses like Aerosmith, Kiss, Motörhead, and Alice Cooper as well as from groupies and fans of the genre. It is often described as ‘a painfully honest portrayal’ of metal.

American Hardcore [2006]

Highlights the rise of the Hardcore Punk movement across the United States, that spread like wildfire in the 1980s, through underground footage and exclusive interviews with artists from Black Flag, Minor Threat and more.

Scratch [2001]

Scratch takes newbies through the induction of the turntable into hip hop creation, beginning with originators like Jam Master Jay and covering more modern, experimental artists like DJ Shadow.

Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme [2000]

The early days of hip hop have been depicted many, many times but Freestyle focuses on the crux of the genre: the rhymes themselves. Rap battles, interviews, and explanations of the nuances of what makes a good track live, expertly interwoven, at the heart of this film. It opens the genre to even the new listener.