by Michael Menachem // Photography by Brian Nevins
Filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev knows his documentary has wide appeal. “If you don’t like music, this movie isn’t for you,” he says of RE:Generation, produced in association with The Recording Academy and presented by Hyundai Veloster. It’s a musical journey for all ages, illustrated through original works of five very different artists who all step out of their musical comfort zones to explore new genres from established stars and legendary musicians. Hip-hop veteran DJ Premier, electronica duo The Crystal Method, vintage revivalist Mark Ronson, dubstep visionary Skrillex and trip-hop artist Pretty Lights took on the challenge of creating an original track, opening their world to fresh sounds unlike their own. They represent a fearless generation of artists standing up to any critics in doubt of hip-hop and electronica as culture-defining genres with worldwide dominance and appeal.“I think Picasso said, ‘Art is the lie that tells the truth,’” says Bar-Lev. “Similarly, this project is a contrived situation that allows us to see something very natural, something that audiences don’t usually get the privilege of witnessing. And that is the way great musicians explore what’s come before them, then build upon it, to create something new.” Premier traveled to Boston, thrown into the world of classical music, and was handed a conductor’s baton for the first time in his life to lead the Berklee Symphony Orchestra. He later mixed in various hip-hop beats and orchestral samples and topped off his song with rhymes from Nas. The Crystal Method journeyed to Detroit, playing alongside remaining members of The Funk Brothers and co-writing a soul-stirring tribute to Motown with Martha Reeves. Mark Ronson went to New Orleans for a Big Easy jazz groove with Erykah Badu, Trombone Shorty, Mos Def, Zigaboo Modeliste and members of The Dap Kings. Skrillex visited members of The Doors in a Los Angeles studio for a psychadelic/classic rock track, while Pretty Lights headed to Nashville to record with bluegrass pioneer Dr. Ralph Stanley and created an introspective and down-tempo duet that featured LeAnn Rimes.
Best known for directing The Tillman Story and co-producing Trouble The Water, Bar-Lev said that there’s always been a connection to music with his work. “When The Tillman Story was completed, I redoubled my efforts to get involved in a music-related project,” he says. “I’m currently developing something about The Grateful Dead. When they called me with this project my first reaction was: I had this idea myself many years ago.”
Bar-Lev instead saw his vision come to fruition as the five acts covered in RE:Generation lived completely different experiences. “I was absolutely bowled over by the amount of access we were given, and the entry these musicians gave us into the most vulnerable moments of their creative process,” he shares. “I recently read, ‘Journalism is what people don’t want you to see about themselves. Everything else is publicity.’ For this project, I just assumed we’d be given a lot of ‘publicity’ – that is, our musicians would be guarded and private about certain parts of their process. After all, they had to work in a compressed timeframe and collaborate with people from vastly different musical backgrounds. The opposite was the case: our cameras and our audience get a real peek behind the curtain of great artists at work.”
Scott Kirkland of The Crystal Method
ON ARTISTS SELECTED FOR THE DOCUMENTARY “The project was driven by Hyundai initially, and they went to Red Light [Management] and we talked with Amir and Nick, one of the executive producers. This was being talked about at last year’s Coachella, so I had a great opportunity to talk with Nick about music in general. Fast forward a few months, things have evolved even more. Our manager who now works with Red Light asked if we’d be interested in the project. Of course we were excited about it and started moving forward. I’m not sure how everyone else was invited.”