Music and vegetating on the couch all day watching Netflix are undoubtedly two of life’s greatest pleasures. And as you might expect, Netflix is no slouch when it comes to serving up excellent music documentaries. From straight-up electronic music docs to others that touch on everything from soul to funk to hip-hop, the depth and range of their offerings is simply staggering. That said, knowing where to start can be difficult, so with this in mind we’ve compiled a handy list of some of the greatest music documentaries that the streaming service has to offer. Even if you don’t take away the life lessons offered up by the below, you will at the very least have a whole lot of wonderful new music to listen to…
Sample This (2013)
Recorded by the Incredible Bongo Band, the infamous ‘Apache Break’ has been sampled throughout hip-hop’s history. Sample This documents the journey, outlining how DJ Herc would spin it at his parties before disecting the track's contemporary popularity within the modern pop world. Narrated by glam-rock legend Gene Simmons of Kiss, Sample This features interviews with the likes of drummer and producer Questlove, MC legends Melle Mel and Grandmaster Caz and other heroes of the hip-hop world such as Afrika Bambaataa and Kool Herc. For a fascinating look into the history of hip-hop and one of its most defining sounds, look no further than ‘Sample This’.
Searching For Sugarman (2012)
For most of his life, only friends and family knew of Sixto Rodriguez. This is true so long as you weren’t a South African living behind the wall of apartheid, where Rodriguez’s two albums outsold even Elvis Presley and The Beatles. Yet despite being spoken of in South Africa in the same breath as legends such as Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens, Rodriguez had no idea of his immense fame and success.
Searching For Sugarman investigates this story, charting how Rodriguez was revered as an anti-apartheid icon and how the South African government spread rumours of his death. It recounts the filmmaker’s search for Rodriguez after the fall of apartheid and his second-coming as a singer after years of working on demolition sites in Detroit. A truly heart-wrenching but captivating watch, ‘Searching for Sugarman’ can legitimately lay claim to being one of the best music documentaries of all time. Oh, and the soundtrack ain't half bad either.
I'll Sleep When I'm Dead
Love him or hate him, Steve Aoki has an all-encompassing type of fame that most people can only dream of. A larger than life character, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead examines the DJ in the build up to his biggest show of 2016 and focuses on the primary driving force behind his persona and success: his father and Benihana founder, Rocky Aoki.
Director Justin Krook creates a surprisingly introspective documentary of one of EDM’s loudest characters with I'll Sleep When I'm Dead. Pulling back the layers of extroversion from a scene that demands its stars to be loud and proud, the viewer witnesses a side of Aoki that’s rarely displayed in public.
Hip-Hop Evolution (2016)
Hip Hop Evolution traces the early history of what is now one of the world’s dominant musical formats. Presented by Canadian rapper and broadcaster Shad, it features interviews with some of the legends of the scene, not least Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Rakim, Public Enemy and the infamous NWA.
The series starts off by looking at a legendary birthday party which was DJed by DJ Herc, who also features prominently in the aforementioned Sample This. We also learn about hip-hop’s early hit records, how it decoupled itself from disco and how it eventually started to break into the mainstream following the advent of gangster rap. Essential watching for any self-repsecting hip-hop aficionado.
Daft Punk Unchained (2015)
A look at one of the biggest names in electronic music, Daft Punk Unchained reaches all the way back to pre-Daft Punk times, when the two helmeted icons were in a band called Darlin’ alongside future Phoenix guitarist Laurent Brancowitz.
Examining their rise to fame and lasting success, Daft Punk Unchained doesn’t feature any new footage of Homem-Christo and Bangalter, but it does feature interviews with the artists they were working with at the time, meaning we hear Giorgio Marauder, Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers explain how the duo work in studio. A wonderful look at Daft Punk, their history and their place in the modern pop and dance music worlds.
Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown (2014)
Where would dance music be were it not for the brilliant James Brown? Following his musical journey from rhythm and blues to funk, Mr. Dynamite offers a brilliant examination of the Godfather of Soul.
Featuring everyone from Little Richard to Bootsy Collins, Mick Jagger (who produced the documentary) to Rev. Al Sharpton, Mr. Dynamite not only looks at James Brown’s music but also his social presence and activism. Following his rise through childhood poverty, playing the Chitlin Circuit and becoming an international star, Mr. Dynamite shows the enormous influence James Brown left on music. An intimate peek into the life of the so-called 'hardest working man in show business'.
I Dream Of Wires (2012)
I Dream Of Wires’ is focused around the history and resurgence of analogue synthesisers and is the sort of documentary that's sure to be a huge hit with producers. Reflecting the synthesiser’s incredibly diverse history, the documentary features everyone from post-punk pioneers Pere Ubu to industrial heavyweights Skinny Puppy and Throbbing Gristle, to academics a la Terry Pender and modern-day synth obsessives such as DeadMau5.
An incredibly complete re-telling of the history of analogue synthesisers and their place in contemporary music, the documentary follows the analogue synths’ rise and subsequent decline thanks to the proliferation of cheap, digital offerings.
20 Feet From Stardom (2013)
20 Feet From Stardom is similar to Searching For Sugarman in that it examines those who never received the fame their talent deserved. Only this time, there’s a twist: everyone involved knew exactly how famous their singing was. An in-depth look at singers like Mary Clayton (who gave her incredible voice to rock classics such as ‘Gimme Shelter’ and ‘Sweet Home Alabama’), the documentary traces the power of African-American male and female backing-singers in pop and rock music and the incredible reach these people had, despite most people having never heard their names. The winner of the 'best music film' at the Grammys, '20 Feet From Stardom' is a fascinating watch from the first minute to the last.
This Was Tomorrow (2015)
This Was Tomorrow is a documentary profiling one of the biggest music festivals in the world, Tomorrowland. Released to coincide with the festival’s ten year anniversary, the film combines footage from the festival with interviews of attendees and those that work behind the scenes. It looks at the importance of dance music festivals to the scene and the impact Tomorrowland has had across the board. Featuring interviews with DJs who have played on the festival's enormous stages, we learn what Steve Aoki, Afrojack, Dimitri Vegas and many others have to say about the experience.
The Art of Organized Noize (2016)
Organized Noize is a hip-hop production trio from Atlanta, Georgia who’ve produced music for the likes of Cee Lo Green, TLC, Ludacris and Outkast. As if that’s not enough, they also gave birth to one of the globe’s most celebrated hip-hop collectives, the Dungeon Family who most recently produced mumble rap pioneer, Future. Creators of the Dirty South hip-hop sound, this documentary examines their history and art.
Nowadays, Atlanta is byword for hip-hop having birthed its latest form, trap. This documentary looks back to before all of this happened, to when Organized Noize crafted the city’s hip-hop and R&B sound. It follows their business decisions and how they crafted their music, what set them apart from other producers of the era and what made them so successful.