Thanks to 13 extra minutes of time on the PBS schedule, Seattle-based filmmaker Ward Serrill (The Heart of the Game, about Roosevelt High girls basketball) was tapped by local public TV station KCTS to make a short feature about the current music scene in the Emerald City.
The resulting film, Something in the Water, premieres on KCTS this Friday (Oct. 21) at 9 p.m. with the presentation of Cameron Crowe’s American Masters series film, Pearl Jam 20, about Pearl Jam. The final length of the Pearl Jam film created a 13-minute window, which KCTS was asked by PBS to fill.
With some of the most gorgeous footage of local precipitation (and Pike Place Market and Gas Works Park), Something in the Water uses world-renowned online (and terrestrial) radio station KEXP and record label SubPop as hubs to explore the present-day Seattle music scene. KEXP DJ John Richards riffs about the weather’s impact on the scene, while SubPop co-founder Jon Poneman plugs up-and-comers The Head and the Heart. Along the way, we also hear from Patrinella Wright, Shabazz Palaces, Macklemore, and Mayor Mike McGinn.
The theme that emerges is that, as Milli Vanilli once said, we can “blame it on the rain” when it comes to Seattle’s enduring music culture, some 20 years after Grunge went international. Cruddy weather, so the theory goes, gives aspiring artists encouragement to stay inside and create. While the same could be said for why Seattleites are such avid readers and filmgoers, a member of The Head and the Heart adds another music-related real estate twist to the rain theory. “We’re not an apartment culture,” he says — rainy Seattle is, “mostly houses with basements, which are easy, reliable practice space.”
As a time capsule of the here-and-now of local music and culture, the film offers terrific, glowing visuals — the band Pickwick (which appears to have about 30 members) exuberantly playing and dancing around the KEXP live performance studio; DJ Richards in the midst of his pre-dawn bike commute along the much-under construction Dexter Avenue; and lots of earnest young musicians with beards. After watching this film, job-hungry 20-somethings from everywhere are likely to flood the email boxes at KEXP and SubPop with resumes (along with the usual crush of links to online songs and videos).
What really becomes clear through this film is that the kind of impact made by Nirvana (and, to a lesser extent, Pearl Jam) 20 years ago is relic of the distant past. The scene nowadays in Seattle is much more eclectic (though not balkanized), and changing economics and the addition of social media and online music mean there’ll never again be a style of music or particular band that shapes so much of the culture the way Nirvana did for a few years in the early 1990s.
Something in the Water is one of the first projects overseen by executive producer John Lindsay, KCTS’ recently hired VP of Content.
Up next for Ward Serrill is a film called The Boy Who Sang to the World, about Orcas Island sound healer Tom Kenyon. Serrill hopes to enter the film in the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival.