BFI London Film Festival: Hot Sugar’s Cold World

Hot Sugar’s Cold World
Directed by Adam Bhala Lough
Starring Nick Koenig (Hot Sugar), Jim Jarmusch, Kool A.D., Martin Starr, Shelby Fero, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Rachel Trachtenburg
Produced by David Gordon Green, Hunter Stephenson, Jody Hill and Danny McBride

by Joanna Orland

Nick Koenig, better known by his stage name of Hot Sugar, is a New York based musician known for a style of music called associative music, with a technique based around sampling the sounds from the environment. His music is beautifully melancholic, as is the man himself as portrayed in director Adam Bhala Lough’s documentary Hot Sugar’s Cold World.

As someone unfamiliar with Hot Sugar’s music, this documentary is a revelation into a body of work most intriguing and haunting in its sound. The first thing I did post-viewing this film was to seek out Hot Sugar’s music. While a fantastic introduction into a sound that I will be listening to for years to come, the documentary falls a bit short of engaging me in a story of the man behind the music.

Hot Sugar’s Cold World begins by introducing Nick and his approach to music, stating that the idea of this documentary would be to observe Nick as he tries to make sense of the world through sound. The flaw in this study of the man is that the man himself seems disconnected to the world and uses audio not as a way to connect, but as a way to disengage from the moment. This leads to a distance between the audience and the subject matter as it’s not an engagement that we feel with the world Nick is drifting through, it is a dissociation and emotional removal. For example, as Nick visits his grandparents’ grave in Paris, he records the sound of it rather than fully engaging in any emotional connection. Again, when he is the only one in attendance at his friend’s funeral, instead of saying goodbye, he records the room tone and later describes how eerie it sounds.

Besides the spellbinding music of Hot Sugar, this film has another saving grace, and that is director Adam Bhala Lough’s visual approach to filming a documentary. Shots are composed and edited in a cinematic way rather than fly-on-the-wall style of traditional documentary filmmaking. Set alongside the dreamy soundtrack, Hot Sugar’s Cold World has a rather ambient and ethereal feel to it, depicting what I’d imagine to be the mindset of Hot Sugar himself as he drifts through the world with disconnect.

Artistically executed and a beautiful mood piece, Hot Sugar’s Cold World runs more cold than it does hot thanks to the protagonist’s emotional disengagement. For fans of Hot Sugar’s music and for those intrigued by how he creates it, this documentary provides that insight on a beautiful, but slightly detached level.


Our interview with director Adam Bhala Lough.


Leave a Reply