Published Apr 27, 2015Given their broad, built-in fan bases and their rights-free, soundtrack-ready discographies, documentary profiles of underground music visionaries are all the rage these days. It's too bad most of the titles generally vying for festival attention are painstakingly dull, blatantly promo-y, talking head affairs — never taking the glorified artists to task on some of their most bat-shit-cray behaviour, barely scratching the surface of what makes them tick-tock-till-they-don't-stop. Leave it to Sundance alum Adam Bhala Lough, who's behind compelling doc portraits of Lil Wayne and Lee "Scratch" Perry, to find an appropriate, hybrid storytelling approach for a musical prodigy (or, as he's christened in the film's opening credits, "a modern-day Mozart") like Hot Sugar.
If you haven't come across the oddly entrancing beauty of his music, the film's string of fictional and not-so-fictional vignettes take us inside the Manhattan loft space where this solitary soundscape scientist (née Nick Koenig) reworks strange noises he records around the world into lush, hypnotic beats. Repurposing sounds most of us take for granted has made the guy a Tumblr triumph and all-around digital darling. Why not use that bubble gum sound as a bass line, or record a couch being pushed off a seventh-story window, right? What's great about Koenig the character is that unlike many cooped-up creative types, he's great at explaining his unquestionably bonkers process and is keenly aware of the insecurities fuelling his obsessions. "Recording sounds is the closest I have to controlling anything in my life," he reasons at one point.
It's when Koenig's relationship with fellow viral rap sensation Kitty (formerly known as Kitty Pryde) unravels early on that Lough's doc truly takes off, with the filmmaker charting his newly vulnerable sonic wanderer's loopiest recording expeditions: Capturing silence in an empty room with a corpse! Committing a clapping felony inside the Notre Dame Cathedral! Through it all, Koenig's bond with fellow free thinkers like filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and a wildly tattooed, octogenarian World War II veteran remind us of his unremitting commitment to dreaming up imaginative sample poetry. In more ways than one, Lough's unobtrusive though eye-opening portrait of Hot Sugar celebrates the free radical pursuits of a true artist. (Rough House Pictures)