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More Than a Benny Benassi Song: Dance Music in Cinema

For all the hoopla around dance music’s second mainstream ascent in the U.S., there’s one aspect that hasn’t returned: the clubbing movie. Sure, filmgoers have sat through painful efforts like those Step Up movies, but the confluence of culture and sounds of late ‘90s/early ‘00s efforts Human Traffic, Party Monster, and Groove are nowhere to be found – not even within the independent circuit.

Resurrecting this trend is Diplo, who, while he just put out a second Major Lazer album, has been promoting another project: an EDM movie described as 8 Mile meets Project X.

muiscfilmsOn April 11, The Hollywood Reporter revealed the producer and business partner Kevin Kusatsu are putting together a plan for 20th Century Fox. While production has yet to start, the premise, according to the DJ’s reports, is this: three teenagers attempt to get into one of his concerts. Adam Weinstock and Andy Jones are writing and Trevor Engelson producing.

This still-untitled project, however, isn’t Diplo’s first foray into film. He studied film at Temple University and more recently did Favela on Blast, a documentary about Rio’s carioca scene.

Since the news broke, Diplo went on radio show Kevin & Bean to discuss the project. “Dance music and the culture of going to a festival and shows is part of every young kid’s life, but it’s not really been represented on anything,” Diplo explained. “People are still doing the same movie ideas about high school problems and this and that, but kids they love to go to these festivals and dance and have a party, so we kind of came up with an idea of something to do where it takes place at a festival.”

He continued, saying, “It’s got to do with me because I’m one of the main DJs who are there at the festival, and these kids are trying to meet me and give me one of their demos. It’s just going to be a funny story, you know? We’re still working on the script, but the storyboard is amazing.”

While playing himself in the film, Diplo seems to be putting the soundtrack together at the same time. Reports have him in talks with Ellie Goulding and Cat Power.

Diplo’s idea might be original – or it may be ridden with clichés. At least based on the news so far, the premise appears awfully like Depeche Mode’s 101 meets any Ultra Music Festival documentary, only with a script and actors.

Regardless of how the final product turns out, the dance music movie cannon isn’t that small. While fare veers more in an independent direction, documentaries and films focusing on the music, production, and the culture have seen the light of day over the past 15 years.

Documentaries

Moog

A 2004 documentary by Hans Fjellestad, Moog is essential for the gear heads out there. With a side of electronic music rarely captured on film, the narration-free footage focuses on Dr. Robert Moog’s conversations with other artists (the most notable being Stereolab and DJ Spooky) and interviews.

Even though Moog’s a documentary, its soundtrack pushes the envelope. 17 tracks, all produced on Moog instruments, replace the typical club tunes offering.

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Idris Elba’s How Clubbing Changed the World

Out on BBC4 less than a year ago, Idris Elba’s How Clubbing Changed the World is surprisingly better than it actually sounds. Actor Elba may be a less-typical host, but his narration is secondary to the comprehensive account of dance music in club culture, first in the U.S., then in the U.K., and back again across the pond. Disco and the 1970s New York club scene provide a solid introduction to an up-to-the-moment history of dance music.

Interviews, as well, are many, with the typical (David Guetta, Will.i.am) and less so (Nile Rodgers, Orbital, Mark Moore from S’Express).

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High Tech Soul – The Creation of Techno Music

A must for techno fans, High Tech Soul represents the genre’s history through and through. Juan Atkin’s soundtrack moves between interviews with techno’s biggest players, including Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Richie Hawtin, Jeff Mills, and Carl Craig, and pinpoints why the genre developed in the Motor City – and nowhere else.

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Modulations

This 1998 documentary, called a multimedia exploration, attempts to capture all sides of electronic music up to the turn of the century: the gear, the craft, and the culture. An extensive list of artists is crammed in: a who’s who of electronic music history from Frankie Knuckles to Photek to Sasha to John Cage to Giorgio Moroder. While the notion Modulations is the definitive genre film is a bit dated, it’s an enjoyable experience nonetheless.

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Melbourne Shuffler

When it comes to a dance music documentary, the music and the culture emerge at the forefront – and the actual dancing is secondary. 2005’s Melbourne Shuffler attempts to give a history to the dance craze that began in the Australian city in the 1980s and eventually spread throughout the world.

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What the Future Sounded Like

Although modern electronic music frequently gets attributed to disco, sounds that found their way onto the records of the 1970s emerged practically 20 years earlier. What The Future Sounded Like captures this oft-forgotten side, specifically focusing on the U.K.’s Electronic Music Studios and the producers and composers behind the sounds, with animation and never-seen-before footage included.

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Speaking in Code

2009’s Speaking in Code attempts to capture the passion behind making techno music. While this documentary might be moderate insight into the outside-of-Detroit world of techno, don’t count on it for history. Instead, through six individuals followed, including DJs and producers, and a supporting soundtrack, director Amy Lee Gril details the focus and determination of those making the sounds at a point in time.

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The Drop: The EDM Culture Explosion

Already premiering at major film festivals, including Sundance, The Drop is the latest documentary attempting to explain the phenomenon of dance music. Only, instead of 1990s rave culture, the aptly-titled film provides some history on the buildup to the recent explosion in the U.S. Covering the current culture to festivals, director Edward Platero speaks with fans and artists, including Avicii, Nadia Ali, Moby, and Morgan Page.

Can U Feel It: The UMF Experience

With two Ultra Music Festival documentaries out in the mid ‘00s, Can U Feel It seems superfluous except as a marker of dance music’s sharp turn over the past four years. To get a feel for just how fast EDM has exploded in the U.S., pair this back to back with Put The Needle on the Record. Footage from Ultra 2012 is spliced with interviews and information about the event’s top headliners, from Tiesto to Avicii to Boys Noize to Carl Cox.

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Maestro

Although a jumping point for many dance music documentaries, New York’s club culture gets front-and-center attention in Maestro, directed by Josell Ramos and released in 2003. The timeline extends from the days of disco up through the present, touching on the city’s legendary clubs and the sounds. But while the escapism, house music, and euphonic atmosphere get a nod, the downsides of club culture aren’t glossed over.

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Better Living Through Circuitry

Perhaps the most well-known documentary of rave music and 1990s club culture, Better Living Through Circuitry serves as a multifaceted time capsule. The top DJ, production, and musical talent of the time (BT, Moby, The Crystal Method, DJ Keoki, and Carl Cox, among others) come out for interviews, while the promotional side behind clubs and warehouse parties gets a mentioning. Although somewhat dated and depicting a culture now a distant memory after crackdowns on warehouse parties in U.S. cities throughout the ‘00s, Jon Reiss’ offering is both a nostalgia piece and a fascinating, comprehensive look at the first mainstream emergence of electronic dance music stateside.

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Feature Films

24 Hour Party People

While it doesn’t start with disco (a Sex Pistols concert opens it instead), Michael Winterbottom’s definitive film goes through four key moments not only in dance but also U.K. music: post-punk helmed by Joy Division, synth-pop with New Order, acid house and Madchester through the Happy Mondays, and, finally, rave culture at the Hacienda club. Not only does a killer soundtrack support the flick, Steve Coogan’s portrayal of Factory Records head Tony Wilson is spot on and the humor tying everything together.

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Party Monster

Although a documentary by the same name exists, the feature film follows the rise and fall of promoter Michael Alig in New York’s club scene. A colorful look, quality supporting soundtrack, and frenetic feel draw the viewer into the late ‘80s and early ‘90s club scene, while Macaulay Culkin, Seth Green, Wilson Cruz, and Wilmer Valderrama all turn in decent performances.

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Human Traffic

1999’s Human Traffic started a string of flicks in which the rave serves as the backdrop for a group of diverse individuals to come together. Starring John Sims (who also appears as New Order’s Bernard Sumner in 24 Hour Party People) and Danny Dyer, Human Traffic offers a look into Cardiff, Wales’ club culture, taking a neutral stance on the obviously drug-influenced scene. While the characters, save for Sims’, get grating at points, a soundtrack of the top producers of the moment – Armand van Helden, Fatboy Slim, Ferry Corsten, Carl Cox, Felix da Housecat, Orbital, and Underworld – supports.

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It’s All Gone Pete Tong

Neither starring the BBC Radio1 DJ nor a commentary on radio’s influence, this 2004 flick offers up a strange premise: Can a DJ maintain his career once going deaf? While the mid-‘00s were a low point in dance music, It’s All Gone Pete Tong foreshadows the mega-DJ culture of the present. Appearing are Carl Cox, Tiesto, Paul Van Dyke, and Tong, among other top DJs of the time, and notable Ibiza clubs, including Pacha, Amnesia, and Privilege.

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Groove

Essentially the U.S. version of Human Traffic, this 2000 flick is set in San Francisco’s underground dance culture. While darker, Groove has the same premise of a diverse group of individuals coming together at a rave. Out of the cast, only The Craft’s Rachel True is somewhat well-known, but check out for a cameo from John Digweed, who additionally contributed to the soundtrack with collaborator Nick Muir.

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Rave Macbeth/A Midsummer Night’s Rave

Just how well do rave culture and Shakespeare go together? 2001’s Rave Macbeth and 2002’s A Midsummer Night’s Rave awkwardly take advantage of the trend that began with the Claire Danes/Leonardo DiCaprio version of Romeo and Juliet by bringing the premises of both plays into a club setting. Out of these two films, Andrew Keegan (10 Things I Hate About You) is the only notable star.

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Miami II Ibiza

One of the few films to attempt tackling modern EDM culture, Miami II Ibiza wants to be It’s All Gone Pete Tong but suffers from a low budget and clumsy “authentic” dialog. What’s surprising in this fictional rags-to-riches tale is the number of high-profile DJs that appear (Tiesto, Carl Cox, Robbie Rivera, Bob Sinclair, Ferry Corsten, and Marco V, among others) and that practically nothing was said about this film when it was released last year.

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True Vinyl

Clichés abound in this 2004 movie about a DJ competition: A small-town guy goes to the big city, goes after a girl, and faces competition in his strive to become a DJ. Even if the DJing premise seems promising, bad dialog and forgettable music make this flick one to skip over.

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Rolling

What tries to be an unvarnished take on drug-influenced club culture turns into a preachy mess. Like Human Traffic and Groove, an underground rave in Los Angeles gets a cast of diverse characters talking about their experiences with Molly. A documentary look neither adds nor detracts.

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Universal Groove (Groove Society)

Dance music, club culture, and Corey Haim form one of the hardest-to-find films about the genre – with some even doubting its existence. Based on the trailers found, it has the same Human Traffic/Groove premise, only with the late Haim wandering around and looking confused at a rave. Filmed in the late 1990s, it was officially released in 2007. Spike TV has a rough trailer available.

By | 2016-12-02T14:52:15+00:00 May 3, 2013|News|2 Comments
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