Rave culture – a harmonious way of life for some, an assumed drug-fueled sex-party to others. For years I’ve been on the outside looking in, mocking neon-covered girls in fuzzy animal boots and DJs who just push “Play” while holding strong to my rock-influenced lifestyle. Shredding riffs? Pounding double bass? I was a rocker for life – until I found a band called Enter Shikari. Blending dubstep beats with kick-ass metal, this was my first introduction to EDM – albeit a tiny one – and this is where it all started. If it wasn’t or Enter Shikari, I wouldn’t have been able to tolerate my roommate’s constant blasting of Tiësto and Armin Van Buren, and he certainly wouldn’t have gotten me to an Andrew Rayel show. Six hours of trancing, jumping, rave-gloving, and waving my hands like I just didn’t care, and now Knife Party is a constant music obsession, my YouTube account no longer knows who I am, and all I want to do is FEED THE DADA!
Why waste your time and explain my first experiences with EDM? Simple – your enjoyment of Under The Electric Sky will depend completely on your level of involvement in EDM culture. Completely desensitized bass-dropping haters who assume these concerts are nothing more than giant, repetitive Jersey Short club scenes will detest 85 straight minutes of lazer shows and raging fans – but lovers will be given a backstage pass to Las Vegas’ Electric Daisy Carnival. All the usual suspects appear – Afrojack, Above & Beyond, Armin Van Buren, Avicii, Hardwell, Tiësto – and we’re taken through an intensive dissection of EDC’s 3 night musical event. Does that sound like a sweaty slice of heaven? Great, you’ll be bouncing about, hungry to move around. Sound like your personal hell? Oh, it’ll be that, and so much more.
Attempting to construct an emotional flow, directors Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz follow specific groups of attendees setting out on their own outrageous EDC adventures. There’s the “old candy” – an unmarried mother and father who want to be married under the electric desert sky after years of non-marital bliss, along with a bubbly teenage girl suffering from anxiety and struggling to fit into small-town Texas society, until EDM shows her a home – and EDC represents her passionate mecca. We also follow another “family” of sorts, a group of animal-hoodie-wearing friends refusing to ever give up EDM’s glorious lifestyle, so they also decide to get married at the Vegas festival – to each other.
Unforgettably we also meet a group of alpha-bros traveling thousands of miles to live out their deceased friend’s psychedelic dreams, sacrificing jobs and girlfriends to honor their fallen Wolfpack member. We also meet a lone wolf of sorts – a wheelchair-bound boy who finds freedom and comfort in EDM despite the hardships such a festival creates for transportation. Lastly, we watch reunited long-distance lovers (boyfriend in Tokyo/girlfriend in New York City) spend a romantic weekend in Vegas after not seeing each other for about 6 months, knowing another 4 month gap awaits them.
That’s our main cast, but Under The Electric Sky is also filled with a colorful, semi-naked sea of dancing lunatics waving glowing things and flags of their respected nations echoing one constant – love. Every single interviewee preaches nothing but a collective love and respect for one another, essentially making ravers the new-wave hippies, but all their stories circle around this notion of unbridled, uninterrupted social bliss. Whether it’s about a young outcast finding herself and acceptance, best friends watering up while remembering the memories of a soul only attending in spirit, or a young crippled boy forgetting about his unfair situation, peace, love, and compassion are seen as smiling faces embrace every bombastic bass thud. Watching such a varied group of personalities exist in harmony causes an infectious high, feeding off three days of pure, wide-spread happiness. EDC is a refuge, The Island Of Misfit Toys if you will, where those without classification can co-exist on an epic, joyous scale – a beautiful message championed by creator Pasquale Rotella.
Under The Electric Sky unfortunately will sporadically feel like EDC propaganda, because Rotella also has to promote his massive dance party while hyping rave culture’s loving nature, so it does become hard imagining every single moment at the festival being a mesmerizing high note. The characters we follow all experience life-altering moments, especially highlighted by our teenager being selected to come on stage with her favorite DJs, so the fairytale does become a bit over-dramatic, to the point of becoming a bit flat. Again, this will infuriate EDM haters coerced into seeing the film anyway, but as an unbiased viewer, I do have to admit there were times where I felt like Rotella was basically screaming “LOVE EDM, DAMMIT!” – a hint of desperation hidden amidst bumping fists and flashing lights. Some face is saved by highlighting negative aspects such as an unfortunate Molly-obsessed drug culture and the bad eggs who endanger their lives by risking overdosing, and not shying away from unfortunate truths – but again, this aspect feels a bit downplayed and drenched in positively-spun hallucinogenic memories.
Based on technical merits, Lipsitz frames a colorful, extravagant festival, impressively capturing every little quirk that exists. A plethora of bright, vibrant colors pop off the screen, and the directors do a brilliant job catching the vast range of characters covered head to toe in proper EDM garb – pacifiers and all. Rotella’s team goes above and beyond with their production value, signified by the giant, fully functional owl stage where headliners perched, and beautiful cinematography lets audiences soak in every hypnotizing element with ease – I’m just not sure that 3D was necessary. You’d think with lasers and such, 3D raving would be ideal, but as most of the film is concert footage, I didn’t feel any necessary expressions aided by the shadowbox delivery. Many scenes existed in simple settings like an RV or house – nothing especially exciting while displayed in numerous dimensions, but when the 3D shines through, boy does Under The Electric Sky explode with crazy, unparalleled energy and life.
My perspective is that of a new, curious, and slightly obsessed EDM fan – as I’m currently listening to progressive metal while writing this review – but Under The Electric Sky is essentially everything I observed at my first show, just on a more massive scale. Throw on any Dada Life song and you’ll realize these events aren’t about tripping balls on ecstasy and entering those stereotypical drug-influenced movie montages – it’s about having an absolutely bonkers night with equally high-energy new friends. It’s about seeing a boy in a wheelchair and giving him a crowd surfing experience – humanity unmatched. You get lost in the crowd, yet you’re surrounded by smiling faces at every turn in the same bass-thumping trance. Under The Electric Sky hits those glorious high notes, and while some might view EDC as too good to be true, isn’t it nice to get lost in a euphoric, loving state every once and a while? Everyone needs an escape…
Under The Electric Sky is a fun backstage pass for EDC fans, but for DJ haters it'll just be a loud, obnoxious headache - so they should just stay away and let everyone else eat, sleep, rave, and repeat.