words by director Gus Sutherland
I'm a filmmaker based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I have a particular interest in documenting Hip Hop production, which stems from wanting to demistify an often misunderstood, largely unseen artform. This journey has taken me to Los Angeles to film All Ears, on the Beat community there and now is leading me to Detroit. The core influences in All Ears were Detroit based, notably J Dilla, and the project concept has evolved naturally over years of conversations with people from the city. The music the artists involved are making draws heavily on sampling and has a timeless feel. Though the urgency for the film to be made is very timely. Detroit is a largely documented city at present, though The Unseen will provide much needed fresh perspectives and document powerful music in a time when they are badly needed. The film will only be possible through your donations and I couldn't be more excited to make the film. The whole basis of the project is in a hugely influential artistic community. By making any level of donations or simply spreading the word you will be hugely contributing to this film being made and subsequently acquiring the worldwide attention and audience it deserves. Reaching the target of £6000 will enable this to become fully realised. Here's some more words on the content and contributors in the film...
“Detroit Hip Hop cats are completely anonymous…you can go overseas and rock shows for thousands of people and when you come home people recognise the mailman before they recognise you” – House Shoes
The Unseen will be a film documenting the broad spectrum of Hip Hop production from Detroit. The artists involved (ahk, Sterling Toles, Slautah, Waajeed, House Shoes, dak & more) share foundations in Hip Hop while ranging from innovative traditionalists to avant-garde experimentalists.
The project research has been a natural progression from All Ears after ongoing conversations over the past year with dak & his Butter Made collective, by email & file transfers. This then resulted in a research trip to Detroit in March, which included location scouting and filming with Waajeed, Sterling Toles and Slautah & Konphlict from the Almighty Dreadnautz. The breadth of research accumulated so far has provided the basis of what will become a really exciting and important documentary.
With no one dominant ‘sound’, I’m
using Hip Hop as a loose but identifiable reference point rather than a strict
classification. The producers’ common connection stems from deeply personal
relationships with sound and records that have been developed over entire
careers and since childhood. The diverse approaches reflect a city with a
largely genre-less outlook, drawing from and expanding on the continuum of an
extremely rich musical history. The open nature of the music and interviewees
will see the film’s direction deviate from the structure of a traditionally
“Some people say ‘oh you’re a musician’…it’s kinda more like I paint with sound, I feel that’s more accurate.” – Sterling Toles
The title directly refers to the creators of the music, largely withdrawn from the public eye, and the subtle inarticulate expressive qualities in the sounds. There is also a uniting link to the late Slum Village lyricist Titus Glover (a.k.a. Baatin) between the interviewees, leaving room to explore a great stylistic and spiritual influence that is little spoken about in the wider world. Baatin means ‘the Hidden’ in Islamic.
“He was always looked at like an extremist...This was a black dude in Detroit, talking about chakras, eating vegetarian, doing yoga…that was unheard of. It was way beyond what people really realise. What people call Neo-Soul, Baatin is the father of that shit.” Ahk on Baatin
The Unseen will act as a prequel to
All Ears, which centrally featured Detroit-born artists J Dilla, House Shoes
The documentary’s concept emerged from a drive to pursue the core influences in the global beat culture that All Ears looked into. Unlike L.A., there isn’t what could be clearly determined a ‘Beat scene’ in Detroit…it’s more of a case of dedicated influential individuals rather than a highly visible community.
“I subscribe to a quote that Theo Parrish said…-‘if you haven’t been DJing in your basement for 5 years, you should not play in front of a crowd of people’…Detroit allows for that luxury, there’s not a lot of venues to flash at here anyway…it’s the house of hermits.” – Waajeed
It’s clear that artists stepping outside strict genre traditions are doing so out of an instinctive necessity to progress and experiment, often without intentions to share music publicly either through releases or live performances. The Unseen will reflect on how a very esoteric culture has permeated the mainstream…In acknowledging J Dilla’s ubiquitous influence, the documentary will explore the dedication, innovation and privacy he was known for as common traits through similarly-minded but much lesser known Detroiters.
“I want to make a note on King James…James Yancey was the Duke Ellington of Hip Hop and I believe that history will shine on him in a proportionate way. He was the one that was able to crystallize the culture and elevate it to a place that it was damn near regal, and majestic. Not too many musicians are able to touch those places once or twice, let alone live in them, exclusively.” - dak on J Dilla
The £6000 funding target will cover travel & equipment costs for a crew of myself and Ryan Moffett (also based in Belfast) to go to Detroit and film for a month at the end of 2013. We will be working with a local soundman and will be travelling around the city daily when we are there. Nobody involved in the production of the film is being paid, it is a really modest budget. If we are able to exceed the target that will allow an additional crew member to be on board. That would be truly amazing. Also extra funds raised would go towards the marketing of the film, including festival submission fees. If we vastly exceed the target (£10,000 or over) we will look towards producing a limited vinyl release of music from the artists involved. I appreciate the time you have given to reading this, I'd like to end by mentioning I've a very talented small team I'm working with on the project, here's a little more information on each of them:
Stuart Sloan- Editor
Based in Belfast, Stuart Sloan directed the short doc Counterweight ahich showed at various festivals in Ireland. Stuart also edited and co-produced the Alzheimer's documentary You're Looking At Me Like I Live Here and I Don't that premiered on PBS in 2012, gaining very positive reviews from The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle. He most recently completed Roots and Webs, a doc about mushroom hunters in North Western United States, with Sundance-winning producer Josh Penn (Beasts of the Southern Wild). Stuart co-edited and assisted shooting All Ears, forging a strong editor-director relationship set to continue with The Unseen.
Ryan Moffett - Cinematographer
Ryan Moffett is a visual artist and filmmaker based in Flax Art Studios Belfast. He has produced a number of film and photography works that have gathered local and international acclaim. He operated 2nd camera on All Ears and will assume a central cinematographer role on The Unseen. Moffett is currently working on a music video- 'No More Mista Nice Guy' by House Shoes.
Marie-Therese Mackle - Production Manager/ Co-ordinator
Mt has been a producer at a Belfast based production company for over 10 years, working on various commissions spanning drama, lifestyle and documentary television. Through her professional work she has also had the opportunity to executive produce short films on Northern Ireland Screen's 'Short Steps' scheme 2012, with some success on the festival circuit. With a keen interest in the creative side of producing, Mt has also worked as a production designer on various dramas, and as a photographer on a semi-professional level. The aesthetic sentiment of any film is where her heart lies. Music is central to her life and she has been exposed to various tastes and strands since childhood. The Unseen gives her a chance to work with a local filmmaker on an international level, in a subject she is becoming increasingly inspired by.