(Greenlight Media) The Re:Generation Music Project is pretty fascinating. Essentially, it's a documentary film chronicling an event in which five popular DJs — Skrillex, DJ Premier, The Crystal Method, Pretty Lights, and Mark Ronson — worked with musicians from five different genres — rock, classical, R&B, country, and jazz, respectively — to record and produce tracks that blend the old with the new. The musicians who participated include Nas, the Berklee Symphony Orchestra, Martha Reeves, The Funk Brothers, Dr. Ralph Stanley, LeAnn Rimes, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, members of The Dap Kings, Zigaboo Modeliste, Trombone Shorty, and members of The Doors. What's really interesting about the project is the way in which it highlights the changing nature of our relationship with music.
There's a conversation early in the film between DJ Premier and classical composer Bruce Adolf in which Premier admits that he only really listens to classical music in short segments as he's sampling it. Adolf starts explaining to him the importance of structure and flow in a classical piece. This seems to be the crux of the Re:Generation Project — to reconnect our current culture of reprocessed and re-purposed sounds with the cultures that originally produced them.
Not everyone is happy with their assignments from the outset. Pretty Lights, AKA Derek Vincent Smith, candidly admits, at the start of the film, that he's not wild about working with country music. As might be expected, though, he has enough basic interest in music as a whole that he soon becomes engaged with the genre in unexpected ways. Listening to Burl Ives' version of “Wayfaring Stranger,” for example, seems to open up something in him and allow him to fuse with a tradition he's had little previous connection to.
No one is going to argue that sampling and creating an electronic composition isn't a craft in its own right, and one that requires a lot of talent to do well. What's provocative about the film is seeing practitioners of that craft interact with practitioners of the older crafts of traditional songwriting, music theory, and instrumental performance. Some of these DJs have not picked up a musical instrument since they took lessons as a kid; they're very accomplished in their own realms, but there's an entire world of music they haven't explored.
The film itself is well-made and beautifully shot. It tells the individual stories of these people in intercut scenes without losing the overall trajectory of the project's narrative. Each vignette is filled with so many details of history, place, and experience that it's a balancing act to keep the film from getting too involved with one particular story. For example, you could easily make a whole film out of Skrillex's collaboration with the surviving members of The Doors. The scenes in which they hang out together are — for lack of a better word — heartwarming. They reinforce the conviction that music has the power to cross generations and boundaries of culture: two people who care about music will always have something to talk to each other about.
Seeing the musicians rehearse together is probably the best part of the film. Their camaraderie and dedication, not to mention the ways in which they inspire each other, are exciting. The various scenes in which they finally perform their compositions are very gratifying as well. Watching DJ Premier conduct an entire orchestra is especially emotional.
The Re:Generation Music Project seems like it was a real journey for a lot of the people involved. It's a great concept, and the execution is excellent. In the tradition of great documentary films about music, such as The Buena Vista Social Club and Standing in the Shadows of Motown, this film provides an addition to our cultural record, and a great deal of entertainment as well.
For Fans of: The Buena Vista Social Club, Standing in the Shadows of Motown, The Last Waltz
Why We Like It: palpable sense of history, generation-bridging dialogues, great performances
Check out Buzzine's full coverage of the 'Re: Generation' Music Project, including our interviews with The Crystal Method, Amir Bar-Lev, DJ Premier, a music galllery of the film's preview, and our review of the soundtrack.