“Under The Electric Sky” Dazzles and Shines, but Lacks Depth
It’s surprising that it’s taken this long for a film about the modern rave scene to surface. With the exception of what will surely be just a “cinematic gem” by Will Ferrell (I’m in Love With the DJ), there hasn’t been anything released in theaters since a handful of movies came out in the early 2000s (Human Traffic, Groove, It’s All Gone Pete Tong…which is a fantastic movie with a killer soundtrack). You would think that in attempt to capture the market, movie studios would be jumping at the opportunity to reach this subculture that has overtaken pop culture. So any of you aspiring raver filmmakers out there, there is a golden opportunity to make a touching character-driven coming-of-age story that just happens to be set at the iconic Electric Daisy Carnival.
Under The Electric Sky follows six groups of people as they attend Insomniac Events’ massive three day festival known as Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) in Las Vegas. Sadie, an attractive, young, white small town girl who has found escape and belonging through the rave community; Jenna and Jim, an attractive, young, white couple who have reunited at EDC after being separated from their passions (music and each other) by their work; the self-proclaimed Wolfpack, a group of attractive, young, white Jersey boys partying in the name of a friend who recently died of an overdose; the California Rave Family, a group of endearingly weird attractive, young white partiers all in an open relationship with each other; and Matt and Ali, an attractive, (still) young, white unmarried couple who have returned to EDC to get married at the place where they met. That leaves us with Jose, who easily stands out the most from the rest as an attractive, young, Latino boy confined to a wheelchair, but determined not to let that stop him from making the most of his life or the weekend.
These oversimplifications of the characters may seem dismissive of who they really are, and to be fair, the points Electric Sky attempts to make through their stories really do have good intentions. Don’t let distance separate what you love. Fearlessly be who you are. You are always stronger than your obstacles. Be a good friend. And most importantly for the culture, you will always find love and acceptance in this community. But a look at the cast list reveals the overarching limitations of the film: a lack of perspective. Any complexity that these people may have is lost when they are reduced to stock characters with a thesis statement, and don’t really end up offering much outlook past how amazing everything is. Any stronger notes take a back seat to showcasing the wild massiveness of the experience.
In a weekend that consists of three hundred thousand people, seven stages, and well over one hundred acts, Electric Sky’s focus is almost exclusively limited to the mainstage. This approach makes sense, as the film’s real purpose is to reach the broadest audience possible, and that audience that is going to be spending most of their time at that mainstage. But as a result, the DJs that we are lucky enough to see are not given much outside of cameo appearances and sound bites. And barely any time is spent on some of the more interesting aspects of EDC, such as the the work that goes into the production, the rich history surrounding the culture, or any of the realities of the darker parts of the scene.
With the exception of a few brief, yet very effective shots of people on stretchers in the med tent and some genuine thoughts of concern from security personnel, any drug use is waved aside as an unpleasant nagging that distracts from how much fun there is to be had. None of our featured ravers admit to using drugs, and even the actual cause of death of the Wolfpacker is barely mentioned, painting any potential overdoses or fatal accidents as something that could only ever happen to somebody else (which always seems to be the mistake people make).
But Pasquale Rotella, founder and visionary of EDC (in addition to one of the film’s producers), assumes we don’t want to hear about any of that, and instead opts to focus on sweeping wide shots, pyrotechnics, and booty shorts. Even when Rotella shares some brief history of his place with the culture, there is less of a focus on his personal experience and more emphasis on bigger is better, more lights, more fire, and more people.
Ultimately, Under The Electric Sky is not a documentary…at least not a very honest one. It misses out on a huge opportunity to talk about the process behind the event or the response to the massive growth in the music and culture (be sure to check out the upcoming Waiting for the Drop). It really doesn’t even allow us to learn much about who we’re following. It’s evident that Rotella has a deep-rooted passion for this community, but it’s clearer that he is a very smart businessman. He selects what is shown on screen very carefully, ensuring not only that everyone watching will find someone they can connect with, but also only showing the parts of the festival that act in Insomniac’s best interests: the beautiful people, the unstoppable energy, breathtaking special effects and the unconvincing absence of drugs.
The final result is a spectacular feature length promotional video.
Electric Sky’s biggest strength is how well it knows its target audience and how earnestly it believes in what it’s selling. It’s unlikely that the film is going to change your mind if you’re looking in from the outside. If you don’t like crowds or loud music and think that the scene is just a haven to do drugs, it’s not going to add any substance to the scene, and will probably just make it appear even more shallow and one dimensional (which is not an image the rave scene needs any help with).
But for anyone who has lived through the love and passion and friendship of the rave community (or is at all curious about what it has to offer), there is no doubt that Electric Sky will stir up something inside; whether it’s an appearance by a favorite DJ, a genuine wonder of the sweeping overhead shots (all done in 3D, which while usually reserved for gimmicks, is put to incredible use to show off the scope and depth of the festival), a connection with one of the easily relatable ravers, or simply the longing to return to a place where you feel home.
UNDER THE ELECTRIC SKY RATING
as a documentary:
2/5 electric daisies
as a promotional film:
4/5 electric daisies
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