On September 28th, 2023, “Drop The Needle” by Canterbury Crescent Filmworks is set to make its international debut! This documentary will be easily accessible through pay-per-view on multiple platforms, including iTunes, Apple TV, Google Play, YouTube Movies, and the Microsoft Store.
Directed by the Rob Freeman (Canterbury Crescent Filmworks), and co-produced/co-written in collaboration with Neil Acharya, “Drop the Needle” delves into the remarkable journey of Play De Record, an independent, family-run record store that became the epicenter of Toronto, Canada’s underground music culture.
When and how did you first discover Play De Record?
I grew up in a town called Kingston which was two and a half hours outside Toronto. The access to rap music during the early to mid 90’s was lacking to say the least where I grew up. We had one University radio show that played rap music from midnight to three on a weeknight.
Listening to that show and going to school the next day was difficult. So my primary source for rap came from two TV shows on Much Music (Canada’s version of MTV). One was called RapCity (not to be confused with Rap City on BET) and the other was called Xtendamix.
On Xtendamix, they would have a segment sharing the top five records for the week and it was frequently sponsored by Play De Record. Due to the importance of this show, being one of the few options I had for listening to the music that I liked, it gave me the impression that Play De Record must also be important since it was associated with Xtendamix. This was my first exposure to the name “Play De Record”.
Do you remember what you purchased on your first visit?
Truth be told, my first time visiting Play De Record was just before starting this documentary. Once I moved to Toronto in 2001, I just didn’t have a reason to go as I was not a DJ, I wasn’t collecting records at the time and the digital revolution was kicking off which meant accessing music from home was becoming a convenient option.
I will say though, after making this documentary and learning more about the store, I absolutely regret not making a better effort to visit the original location (Play De moved in 2016).
In your opinion how does the music scene back in the day compare to nowadays??
The name of the game was DJ’s break records (being the first to introduce a new song to their audience) and record stores would typically have a limited supply of the big new singles. So the vibe at record stores such as Play De was very different, especially on new release day.
DJ’s weren’t just browsing, they were battling each other to be one of the few to get the big new song or be the one to find the hidden gem.. hidden in the crates. The internet changed that completely, audiences could now hear the latest and greatest on their computers or phones, so the atmosphere in a record store is much more relaxed.
Where there any issues looking up some of the interviewees?? How is Mr. Eugene Tam?
I met Eugene for the first time as we were developing this documentary and I was very concerned after that first meeting. He was reserved, unfriendly and cold. I left that short introduction wondering how we were going to build a two hour movie with him as a main focus.
I soon discovered that Eugene is just a busy man and he takes a minute or two to warm up. When he does, he is very friendly, funny and a joy to be around. This is why getting interviewees for the film (almost 60 in total) was much easier than we anticipated. Almost everyone we met loves Eugene and believed in the idea of him getting his flowers.
Biggest hardship when doing a project like this??
One challenge that stands out was dealing with burnout. I spent a year and a half editing this movie and became completely sick of seeing the exact same footage over and over and over again. Not exactly the best frame of mind when trying to create art.
It got easier near the end when it was just fine-tuning but there was a two-three month stretch of trying to nail down the films structure that was particularly grueling. Will certainly look to modify my methods on the next film to help deal with burnout better.
How long have you been filming?
While I had made a number of attempts in the past on various projects, “Drop the Needle” is essentially my first movie. Myself and a good friend of mine, Neil Acharya, who is co-producer/co-writer on “Drop the Needle”, started development during the Summer of 2020.
We filmed everything during the Fall season, spent roughly a year and a half editing before finally sending it to a post production house in the summer of 2022. We had our sold-out premiere in October of that year.
Did you do all the filming and editing who else is on your team?
As mentioned, I did the editing. Neil and I worked with a very talented director of photography named Jon Elliott for filming, we had a great guy named Joseph Redbreast who captured the sound after which I worked closely with Anthony Abbatangelo on sound design, he basically brought the glue that put everything together in the edit.
We had additional help and support on top of this in bringing “Drop the Needle” across the finish line, we were very fortunate to have great people be a part of this film
Who are some of the music artists you interviewed?
We interviewed nearly 60 people, in including Russell Peters, Kardinal Offishall, Maestro Fresh Wes and Skratch Bastid. A few others… We interviewed the creator of Much Music’s RapCity, Michele Geister. DJ Mastermind, known for his work on Toronto radio as well as his beloved series of mixtapes.
Nick Holder, who along with DJing and running labels, has produced some fantastic house music tracks. Saukrates, who has a number of all-time great Canadian rap songs in his catalogue in addition to working with Redman & Method Man in the past.
Tons of elite DJ talent such as Starting From Scratch, Jason Palma, Agile, Matt C and MelBoogie to name a few. Drum & Bass legend Marcus Visionary. I could keep going as we are really happy with our cast list, but I’ll stop right there and let the audience discover the rest.
Oh… and of course, the star of the show…. Mr. Eugene Tam. Can’t wait for everyone outside Canada to hear his story.
Did you have sponsors for the film, what was the budget like?
This was self-financed. I like to use a lot of music in my work (the film contains quite a few classic Canadian hip-hop tracks) which is an expensive creative choice. In addition, licensing footage is not easy on the wallet either. So it wasn’t exactly a cheap movie to make.
How long did it take from the beginning to end for this project to be complete?
July, 2020 is when Neil suggested we do a doc on Play De Record and it had it’s sold-out premiere in October of 2022.
What do you hope to accomplish with the documentary?
While I have a number of personal goals, some of which, fortunately, the film has already crossed, I think what has ended up being important for myself and Neil is helping Play De Record continue to be a presence in Toronto.
The vinyl industry has changed, customers purchase their music in completely different ways now and it has been a challenge for Eugene (which is discussed during “Drop the Needle”). Covid just added another layer to an already existing problem.
Since the movie premiered on Amazon Prime in Canada last June, Play De has seen an increase in customers. I also get the sense that there is now an urgency to preserve an independently owned store such as Play De when so very few exist now in Toronto.
Everything is going corporate. The fact that our film and our work has played a part in helping Play De Record continue to be a part of the Toronto music culture has been very rewarding. My hope is that it continues as we move towards the international release of “Drop the Needle”.
Favorite thing to do while in Toronto when not filming?
I am a big Toronto Raptors fan, so hitting up a game once in a while is something I look forward to. It hasn’t always been easy being a Raps fan over the years, so that 2019 championship was a very unreal experience.
For myself, the focus is starting to shift towards the “Drop the Needle” follow-up. Not a sequel, but a cousin to “Drop the Needle”. Delivering a cinematic experience that resonates with audiences was the goal I had in 2020 and it will again be the goal in 2023.
Last words or shouts??
We interviewed nearly sixty individuals and I also tried to include more via archive material. But the Toronto Music scene is so vast with many talented individuals and unfortunately, we just could not include everyone. A shout-out to all those who were a part of the Play De Record story that didn’t get mentioned in the film.
Finally, the movie comes to an international audience via Itunes, Apple TV, Google Play, Youtube Movies and the Microsoft store on September 28th. We hope you can check it out and if you enjoy it, recommending it to friends and family is critical for us.
This remains a very indie film and its previous success, and any potential future success, is all due to the audience and community that has embraced the film. So if you like it, helping us to spread the Play De story around would make a world of difference.