By: Nadia Ahmed
In our corner of the music industry, summertime is all about the thrill of packing up the car, cruising from one festival to the next, following around our favorite DJs, meeting new people, and “being free.”
Over the years, directors have tried to depict this experience and lifestyle with varying success. Realistically, concertgoers get their thrill of the music through actually attending festivals. For everyone else, there’s a reason they aren’t into the electronic dance music scene. Think about it…if I don’t like the sounds, the environment, the people, or the DJs, why would I go to see a movie that revolves around a world I’m not interested in?
As a festival enthusiast, these movies are most definitely intriguing. It makes you wonder… how well do the producers know the EDM scene; how will they portray it; what music will they select? There is a certain allure in watching on screen the “weekend alter-ego” many of us switch back into when we leave our day job. On the opposite side of the spectrum, why watch it when you can live it? The best part of a festival is the actual experience – feeling the vibrations of the bass; meeting crazies who will rave with you all night; dancing to the point of being drenched in sweat but you just can’t stop; looking around at the crowd and realizing you’re all family.
So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise when people all over the world criticize the plot, quality, and mentality behind these “EDM movies.”
Perhaps one of the more “well-known” (which in all likelihood you’ve never heard of, and if you have, it’s probably all negative feedback) films within the dance music movie oeuvre is We Are Your Friends (2015). Director Max Joseph overestimated the potential audience for this one, which looked to be a complete financial flop. Although WAYF (for short) pulled through with a small profit, it became the fourth worst debut for a film at the time of its release.
Let me spell it out for you: young laptop-producer, Cole Carter, dreams of becoming the next big DJ, meets a legendary old-timer DJ who becomes his mentor, falls for and wins over the gorgeous girl, creates a hit track and performs at a well-known music festival. All that with drama, excess, the everyday grind, intoxicated sex, and a drug-related death sprinkled in and that’s a wrap. Not to mention, the main character Cole is portrayed by none other than Zac Efron, the most mainstream pretty-boy who could have been cast for the part. But is this truly how society understands the “festival lifestyle?” I will admit they didn’t get it all wrong. But there is so much more to the “EDM scene” than what the filmmakers and media writ large tend to relay. Hence WAYF received so many mixed reviews and was a box office catastrophe. Sorry Zac Efron, but we’re not all your friends after this one.
In the dramatic comedy It’s All Gone Pete Tong (in no way based on the life of Pete Tong), well-known DJ Frankie Wilde loses the one thing he values the most – his ability to hear. After going completely deaf in both ears, Wilde’s career as a DJ comes to a halt. Luckily he meets Penelope, an instructor for the deaf, who works with Wilde teaching him how to lip-read. Thanks to his new love interest and spring of confidence, Wilde produces and releases a new mix CD, proving to all the haters that he’s more talented than ever. Dissatisfied by his agent, Max, and society altogether, Wilde and Penelope ran away together, happily hidden from the people who don’t get them. Although the film presents quite the tragedy for DJ Frankie Wilde, the comedic relief and melodramatic plot has gotten many reviews raving about the hilarity of it all, while others fail to see any humor or life in director Michael Dowse’s 2004 film.
By all means, these are not the only electronic music films out there. Documentaries include but are not limited to Take One and Leave The World Behind – both following Swedish House Mafia around the world to concerts and festivals, learning about their lifestyle and personalities – Justice: Across The Universe, and Rolling – capturing ecstasy usage in the then-underground rave scene. On a more serious note, we have Pump Up The Volume – everything you need to know about the origins of house music in Chicago all the way to England through the 1990s – and Electronic Awakening – digging into the spiritual connection electronic music has with the body, various cultures, and religion.
A much more heart-racing documentary, Electric Daisy Carnival Experience (2011) and its successor, Under the Electric Sky (2014), take viewers behind the scenes of one of the largest EDM festivals in the country, showing the production that goes into creating an unforgettable experience for fans, artists and Insomniac staff alike. Truthfully though, what is the misrepresentation here? It is not a staged festival – this is real life EDC. With everything from big name producers including Steve Aoki (whose own documentary hits Netflix this week) and David Guetta, to light-up toys, extravagant costumes and fireworks finales—this is the real deal. Of course, there’s more to it than just a “rave.” Festivals are about more than the skimpy outfits, wild dancing and drugs. Through the scenes and interviews, you see the time and energy that go into the making of EDC; the creativity and magical experience that unfolds in front of us; and the passion everyone has for music.
Now here we are again, as director Christopher Louie and writer Dylan Meyer bring this vision of EDM life to us in the Netflix original movie, XOXO, casting actor and comedian Chris D’Elia (as seen on Undateable), Sarah Hyland (from Modern Family) and others. For Louie, it all began back when he was 14 at a warehouse concert.
“That magic in the air made me feel I was part of something,” noted Louie. “I kept going every weekend and eventually I was inspired to become a DJ.” With an increasing obsession in the dance music scene, his career took many twists and turns to finally land him here; directing his very own movie about something he, just as many others, is so passionate about.
Our main character, Ethan Shaw, played by Graham Phillips, represents all the EDM-loving self-taught hopeful DJs who produce from the comfort of their own home. Uh oh, here comes the inciting incident: Ethan gets the gig of a lifetime. Just days before the most epic EDM festival in America, XOXO – think EDC, Tomorrowland, and Ultra Music Festival– Ethan’s tracks go viral and he scores a last-minute chance to perform. April Fools? We think not. Cue the celebratory champagne. XOXO illustrates the journey it takes Ethan to go from a small-town DJ to performing for thousands of people while simultaneously introducing viewers to six strangers who cross paths along the way.
“I always felt like this nothing kid. When I was out there in this massive crowd I felt like…you were a part of something, way bigger?” It’s exactly that. More than just a party and huge rave, the EDM scene is an experience. It’s a lifestyle that leads to friendship, brings out passion, and allows every beautiful soul to express him- or herself freely.
It is possible that questions about the film being realistic will come into play. For starters, how is it that the “biggest EDM festival in America” was unprepared and just booked a DJ days before the event? Why is this “nobody” who only became known for a few viral hits playing on a large stage during an evening timeslot as opposed to early afternoon small stages? But hey, who wants to rain on this parade.
Truthfully, any movie of this genre is a hit or miss. What XOXO has going for it is casting comedian D'Elia and comic actor Ryan Hansen (Party Down, Veronica Mars) in addition to Hyland. If it comes off over serious, they just pull back and say "Hey, we're just being silly - it's a big goof." This is not life or death (well, OK - it can be death). It's a movie about people having fun, at its heart. Hopefully that fun can be captured on the small screen.
Whether it’ll be a bigger hit than We Are Your Friends is not yet clear, but I have high hopes. With legendary Pete Tong – DJ, producer, journalist and dance music icon – serving as producer and musical supervisor the film has great potential. Whether the trailer has you on the edge of your seat itching for more or pessimistic about the success of the movie, yet curious to see how it plays out, contain yourself. XOXO comes out on Netflix August 26. Until then… “ Eat. Sleep. Rave. Repeat.”
The functionality you are trying to use is for members only. Would you like to sign in?