In the midst of last summer came a TV series of disproportionate ambition, the likes of which no one would dare imagine. A crazy project about the birth and rise of hip-hop, that took nearly a decade to bring to life by director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin rouge!), The Get Down went through every possibly delay and misadventure possible before finally being shown on Netflix: scriptwriters exhausted by the work load and demands of the creator walking out, filming taking longer than expected, budgets blithely exceeded… It could have easily joined the burgeoning cemetery of grandiose projects that become industry accidents, but the on-demand streaming operator finally decided to throw caution to the wind and try its luck. Six episodes were offered to the public last August with great success. The next batch of episodes weren’t yet ready, but this spring they’ll be completing the first season. People are waiting for it with a Game of Thrones-esque impatience.
“In 1977 disco ruled and continued to soar. Rock was really very decadent. There’d been the arrest of serial killer, Son of Sam, terrorism, a petrol crisis, crazy cults and the death of Elvis. And during that time kids in the Bronx were carving out their own culture ignored by the rest of the world. How could this singular artistic gesture, born from so little, end up changing the world?”
With empathy and enthusiasm the series deals with a golden age, a time when everything seemed possible, in other words quite the opposite to our own. New York, summer 1977... While disco was busy permeating the mainstream, in another part of town punk was turning things upside down, and visionaries like Afrika Bambaataa, Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash (the series producer and inspiration behind one of the main characters) were spinning crazy mixes on their turntables at unknown clubs and block parties. The black and Latino youth adored them and wanted to look like them. “The DJs competed in setting fire to the dance floors,” explains Grandmaster Flash, “When we went to buy records, we looked everywhere, in the pop, rock, jazz, blues, funk, RnB, disco and Caribbean crates… Kids today often think that hip-hop was born only of rap, but that just isn’t true.” While he might not have dealt with this genre of music before, director Baz Luhrmann explained why this part of history and culture interested him so much. “In 1977 disco ruled and continued to soar. Rock was really very decadent. There’d been the arrest of serial killer, Son of Sam, terrorism, a petrol crisis, crazy cults and the death of Elvis. And during that time kids in the Bronx were carving out their own culture ignored by the rest of the world. How could this singular artistic gesture, born from so little, end up changing the world?”
While today’s entertainment masters are called Jay-Z and Kanye West, The Get Down looks back at the roots of a movement. The series shows political as well as sentimental reality, the colours, the sounds and the lyrical flights, all with a breezy communication. In it we meet a group of young men and women learning to build their own destiny, under the bewildered gaze of the adults. Closer to a musical than social or historical realism (even though the episodes are punctuated with real archives), The Get Down assumes its share of naivety by constructing a ‘flow’ – hip-hop terminology – that never falters under pressure. The second part of the first season is composed of six episodes and takes the protagonists up to 1979, in other words from the shadows of the early days to the bright lights of success. The Get Down saga has only just begun…