Under the Electric Sky (EDC 2013): Sundance Review
Justin Bieber and Katy Perry doc filmmakers Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz turn their lens on the rave-music scene.
Contemporary dance culture gets the VIP-list treatment in Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz's concert doc, a profile of the Electric Daisy Carnival, the world's largest electronic dance music (EDM) festival, currently centered in Las Vegas.
Broadcast distribution looks likely given the filmmakers' impeccable reality-TV credentials, but the film lacks the pedigree of their previous music documentaries and theatrical exposure could prove less predictable, although EDM fans would undoubtedly turn out -- and they potentially number in the hundreds of thousands. The brainchild of Insomniac Events impresario and producer Pasquale Rotella, EDC has grown from a small L.A.-based show in the late-'90s to a multi-city tour that went international in 2013.
The main attraction is the three-day June EDC festival in Las Vegas, with more than 340,000 electronic dance music fans attending in 2013 when the documentary was shot. Part concert, part multimedia show, the festival attracts adherents worldwide, top-lined by some of dance music's most popular DJ acts, including Fatboy Slim, Kaskade, Brit duo Above & Beyond and Dutch maestros Armin Van Buuren and Tiesto, pumping out earsplitting rave tracks from late afternoon until dawn the next day.
The doc tracks six sets of revelers converging on the three-day festival at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway who depart from disparate locations. Seven 20-something Massachusetts guys calling themselves "the original wolfpack" cram into an RV for the cross-country journey, determined to celebrate the memory of a recently deceased mutual friend. Texas university student Sadie, who suffers from anxiety disorder, nervously prepares for the long trip after her boyfriend scores a pair of coveted tickets. Long-distance lovers Jim and Jenna rendezvous in Las Vegas after Jim files in from Tokyo and Jenna from New York City. From California, solitary, wheelchair-bound Jose appears to be the polar opposite of a polyamorous, six-member "rave family" of young men and women. Vegas locals Alli and Matt have the shortest commute to the event, where they plan to celebrate their 15th anniversary with a wedding after first meeting at EDC years ago.
Magical Elves producer-directors and Top Chef Emmy award-winners Cutforth and Lipsitz, who also shot 2012's music doc Katy Perry: Part of Me, plunge viewers into the concert scene with immersive 3-D performance footage from a half-dozen different stages and up-close crowd sequences following their interview subjects. There’s no shortage of eye candy on display, with acrobats, dancers, fireworks and carnival rides providing a colorful backdrop to the fairly formulaic story arc.
The lack of specific background on the event's origins and history is somewhat frustrating, however, since the 85-minute runtime could certainly accommodate further exploration. While the 3D concert footage is both thrilling and somewhat astounding (imagining the event's carbon footprint staggers the mind), the fans profiled in 2D interviews don't impress as particularly unique, aside from the California rave family, who hint at the possibility of another film entirely lurking within the doc. These primarily white, middle-class, college-age kids don't demonstrate enough perspective to have particularly informed opinions about music or even life in general -- in a word, they're pretty boring.
Interviews with Rotella and his creative team are not especially illuminating, remaining limited primarily to the challenges of mounting the Las Vegas event, and repetitive references to the event's stay-safe "zero tolerance" drug policy wear thin. Cutforth and Lipsitz know how to put on a show, however, and the multi-camera sequences repeatedly tantalize with a variety of aerial, crowd-centered and up-close DJ shots, but the alternation of traditional and 3D formats eventually becomes more gimmicky and distracting than enjoyably sensorial.
By now rave culture is a fairly familiar, well-integrated lifestyle with its own unique brands and signifiers, so the event's emphasis on love, happiness and creativity only serves to mask the momentous expense participants incur, sounding as pre-packaged as the DayGlo-colored costumes and shag-hair boots donned by dedicated ravers.
Venue: Sundance Film Festival, Park City at Midnight
Production companies: Insomniac, Haven Entertainment
Directors: Dan Cutforth, Jane Lipsitz
Producers: Rachel Miller, Kevin Mann
Executive producers: Pasquale Rotella, Michael Rapino, John Hopmans, Simon Rust Lamb, Dan Cutforth, Jane Lipsitz
Director of photography: Reed Smoot
Music: Kaskade Editors: Steve Lichtenstein, Dava Whisenant
No rating, 85 minutes