First, I must apologise for my relative silence over the summer period. Any excuse would seem disingenuous, so I’ll keep the explaining to a minimum. In an odd kind of way, summer can be a pretty dead time in terms of music. Everyone’s so preoccupied with who went to which festivals, sometimes the reason they’re actually there seems to fall by the wayside. Radio 1 becomes a continuous loop of “summer bangers” a.k.a DJs that use Z instead of S in their name. Everyone’s too busy sunning themselves in some far distant land (Majorca most likely), that they forget to look for new music. I include myself in this category, by the way.
But upon my return from sunnier shores, I discovered something that gave me the musical slap in the face I needed. The Netflix Original show, “The Get Down”. Brainchild of the fantastical filmmaker Baz Lurhmann and a slew of highly respected collaborators, it charts the rise of a new art form- Hip Hop. It’s set in the South Bronx in the 1970s, with all its gritty ups and downs. In typical Baz Lurhmann style it is intensely sensory, charting the lives of teenagers trying to break into the near-impenetrable world of music. The sights, sounds and ultimately deep emotions of the cultural melting pot that was the South Bronx serves as an electrifying backdrop to the sometimes heartbreaking stories of each of the characters.
The directors’ use of sound is critical to the proceedings, as each scene is set to its own explosive beat. They seem to be trying to push you to the point of madness as each crescendo builds to an uncomfortable dissonance. For a music lover, (and a Cowbellite), it’s a mixture sent from the funky Gods. Old school hip hop, Latino music and disco combine with more modern beats to create something unique and dazzling. With original music featuring the actors and artists like Michael Kiwanuka, it couldn’t be more revitalising to a summer scorched mind.
Although most of the characters in the show are fictional, there are historical touchstones that make the stories depicted all too real. Grandmaster Flash, who gave the actors a Hip Hop boot camp before they began production, features heavily in the plot line. His example makes him a kind of God for the younger characters on the show. The epic nature of his domination of the genre make him the divine role model that they can all aspire to be. Their goal is to tell the untold stories of the Bronx, to find the illusive and mysterious ‘get down’ and to ultimately become the Kings of New York through their burning passion for funky beats and truthful rhymes.
A word must be said about the unbelievable quality of the acting. The portrayal of friendship and loyalty is what makes the show so exceptional. At a time when their city seems to be literally crumbling around them, the characters find a way to create their own concrete bonds with those around them. The actors’ chemistry makes these friendships so believable that each trial they suffer through hits the viewer with crushing weight. Particularly astonishing is Shameik Moore’s performance as the free-spirited but deeply troubled Shaolin Fantastic. Moore and Justic Smith, who plays the protagonist Ezekial Figuero, have a palpable connection and their on screen friendship is one of my favourite ever.
Although deep and intense, it’s also very funny. Like “Everybody Wants Some”, the crew’s banter is hilarious and by the end of the series you feel like you’re one of the gang (or at least you want to be). In a nutshell, the show has everything: humour, sadness, love, friendship and some of the funkiest tunes in the stratosphere. If you didn’t watch it, you’d be whack. So soak up the genius, boys and girls, it’s time to break it down.
May Grandmaster be with you,