The Art of Listening Locally: How Portland Became an Indie-Rock Mecca

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This New American Noise documentary reveals how Portland's artists build on the past to create deeply personal music.

Branded as the place where “young people go to retire,” Portland, Oregon, has become synonymous with hip subculture, thanks in large part to its budding music scene (and delicious coffee). A project with the Sundance Channel, this installment from the six-part New American Noise series paints the city as a safe haven for artists, a makeshift “creative collective.” Testimonials from indie artists and musical ingénues reveal why Portland produces some of today’s most popular music. Some attribute it to the weather, saying that the coastal city’s rain and cloudiness results in more sentimental lyrics, or a general melancholia. Others interviewed insist that the city’s artistic crowd is so intertwined that it is impossible to be in just one band.

Over the past three decades, the population in Portland has grown at an exponential rate, faster than even San Francisco, San Jose, or Boston. And experts expect that trend to continue for a while, despite the city’s strict anti-sprawl policies. Whether it’s the perpetual drizzle or the "Dream of the ‘90s” (or 1890s), one thing is clear: When it comes to local music, Portland means business.

As one musician in the video says, “There are things that poison your brain – in one way or another – and it’s best to just leave that out of your system and listen to organic programing.”

For more from New American Noise, visit their site.

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Alessandra Ram is a former writer and producer for The Atlantic Video Channel. Her work has also appeared in Foreign Policy.

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