Directed by C.B. Stockfleth, The Elephant 6 Recording Co. is a fascinating documentary that explores the creative explosion of one of music’s most unique collectives. Set in the 1990s, Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel and The Apples in Stereo grew out of rural Athens, Georgia into a production company fueled by psychedelic sounds and a creative explosion unlike any other.
While the bands of Elephant 6 may not be well known to the general public, their name is held with honour and respect by those in the music industry. Coming during a time of social change, these kids were using their music to distort the system. Embedded in a hotbed of creativity, the bands associated with Elephant 6 felt that nothing was impossible. Often times, there are rules to the creation of ‘popular music’ but the Elephant 6 recordings broke them all. To these young rebels, the whole of life was music and they wanted to play with the toys that they’ve been given. (For example, the film tells the story of one man who wanted to include the dribbling of a basketball in his recordings, even after his teacher discouraged him because it’s simply ‘not how things are done’.)
In this way, Elephant 6 is an encouraging reminder of the creativity that can take place when the mind is allowed to run free in a healthy environment. For the bands of Elephant 6, the importance of their music begins and ends with fun and mutual admiration. Operating as a collective, there is a sense of community between bands that brings life to their music. From The Apples in Stereo to Neutral Milk Hotel, the music of each band becomes a celebration of its members, allowing everyone to have their moments in the sun, without fear of ego or hesitation.
And the more they played together, the more exciting their music became.
As a result, in a lot of ways, Elephant 6 is more of a mood than it is narrative. While information is given, it’s not the primary focus. Instead, Stockfleth chooses to adopt the band’s unique style in his approach to filmmaking. Through his use of filtered colours and distorted sound, Stockfleth wants you to feel the vibe of the Elephant 6 recordings as opposed to explain the history in great detail. As a result, Elephant 6 is infused with an infectious joy that helps it become more of a cinematic experience than narrative construct.
In other words, like the bands, it’s one of those films you need to be a part of if you want to truly understand.
The Elephant 6 Recording Co. is now playing at DOC NYC. For screening information, click here.