As dance music, its festivals, and rave culture grow in popularity, the accurate depiction of “the scene” has become more necessary than ever. There are a plethora of “rave movies,” but the ones that become “mainstream” get it absolutely wrong. They’re completely reductive to dance music culture and its members. This poor depiction of rave culture riddled with drugs and then some brings major problems to those interested in the dance music scene, to those already in it, and to those who can influence how society both culturally and legally approaches the scene.
Does this sound familiar to you? Guy down on his luck (possibly trying to make it as an electronic music artist), goes to a music festival, finds the attractive girl of his dreams, does a drug, has the most amazing experience, rides off into the sunset with the girl of his dreams… and is now possibly famous with six-pack abs. Well, if that’s your true-life story, good for you–seriously. However, for the most part, this may not be your story but still sound familiar to you as it is pretty much the storyline of the most recent, and possibly every, major film portraying rave/EDM/dance music festival culture and life. The Festival, XOXO, and We Are Your Friends pretty much follow the above (bland) formulaic storyline. Oh, and all three films have pretty abysmal audience reviews: 42% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes for We Are Your friends (with an even lower critics score), 52% audience score for XOXO, 45% audience score for The Festival.
Of the three movies, The Festival (arguably the better of the three) actually does bring in a little more to the story table as well as different characters with a good amount of slapstick humor. To also be fair The Festival focuses more on a general music festival but does have the basic “sex drugs rocks and rolls” depiction of the “EDM”/dance scene. However, this isn’t a full review of the films. More so, it’s about why these films performed so terribly and their negative impact on the dance music industry.
The Festival (2018) garnered $4 million in ticket sales, XOXO (2016) have unknown views due to being released on Netflix, and We Are Your Friends (2015) managed to rake in $11 Million. Even though these films had high production value and had some fairly big names involved, as mentioned before, these numbers are pretty poor performing for modern films. As an example of the sour taste the films left in people’s mouths, when We Are Your Friends bombed at the box office, the EDM producer Deadmau5 tweeted:
“Well if anything restored my faith in music, apparently that Zac Efron trying to be a DJ movie bombed out this wknd”
Deadmau5 on We Are Your Friends poor performance
So why do audiences just not like these movies? The previously mentioned boy meets girl rides off in the sunset formula has pretty much been done to death. Of course, everyone likes a happy ending and that doesn’t mean the formula can’t work, but it needs to be (re)told and executed well.
The three movies have clear logic jumps and a lot of “that would never happen” moments. Even for people who don’t know a thing about music festivals or dance parties. For example, in XOXO the main protagonist, who has only one released track obtains a main stage DJ spot at the aptly named XOXO festival and has been given only 8 hours to get to the show. With the non-sensical premise, the movie continues to degrade into more “WTF”-dom. This storytelling issue alone was probably what gave the general public a sour taste, but admittedly, if you just keep on the “this is just entertainment” cap on, the movie does its job.
The main issue here, specifically for those who live and breathe the dance music scene, is that the movies (terribly) tell a story from a very narrow perspective that continuously promotes false narratives. The dance scene is an all-inclusive culture that has a wide variety of perspectives, experiences, and contributions from multiple groups that should and need to be displayed.
Rave movies (terribly) tell a story from a very narrow perspective that continuously promote false narratives.
Not to say of course, that the perspective these movies chose to focus on are insignificant. However, every other member has been made less significant by default within these films. Females were involved in the films, but were made more into trophies for the main protagonist and sexualized to the extreme (more on that later). When ethnic minorities are portrayed in the films, they are an afterthought and support the main character (except for arguably The Festival). Very few or zero involvement of the LGBTQ+ community were involved in the films even though historically and currently the LGBTQ+ community has made massive contributions to the growth of dance music.
Of course, it’s very difficult to tell a story with so many different perspectives but to have three movies, almost back to back, with poor storytelling, tell the same story is not doing anyone justice. Also because of the poor story telling they don’t even help the narrow character types they portray. Personally coming from an aspiring artist, straight male perspective, a small part of me dies anytime someone mentions these films when I tell them I produce techno and dance music.
The three major example movies all have a wild, fantastical display and recreations of a drug trip. Any person who has never experienced the drugs in question is heavily enticed by outlandish fun and amazing visuals. The experience these characters go on are so over the top that anyone would question what could possibly top this in real life? Of course, that doesn’t mean these things do not happen, but the underlying message of the films is essentially this: drugs are why people go to these events not for the music, not for the community, but to experience these drugs that no real-life experience can beat.
No one is denying here that drugs are not part of the rave scene. However, whatever your perspective on it, many would have to agree that it is not what completely defines the dance community and its members. For those true fans of the music, drugs are an afterthought and not the main reason to go out. Not to mention there are also many people who go to these events and enjoy themselves completely sober.
No matter your morals or perspective on drugs, everyone has witnessed, experienced, or at least heard both positive and negative outcomes of drug use. We Are Your Friends does have a plot point of someone dying of an overdose, but that once again drives the whole concept of drug experiences to the extreme. No realistic middle ground, no portrayal of actual and common negative or positive effects. You either take drugs and look like Zach Effron and kiss a supermodel… or you die.
“… the underlying message of the films are essentially this: drugs are why people go to these events…”
This extreme portrayal of the negative consequences of drugs in the dance scene actually makes it more dangerous. Essentially, the message about the rave scene and drugs through these films is: “As long as you don’t die, you’ll have the best time of your life. You might do something stupid, but it’ll totally be worth it.” So to the unaware person who experiences drugs for the first time they might have the mindset of if they don’t die, they have nothing to worry about. This of course is extremely false, as there are other potential consequences such as addictions, mental side effects, doing something you will truly regret in the future etc.
Regardless of your view on drugs, people need to be properly educated about what exactly is happening, and just saying, “You will die” is not the answer.
As mentioned before sexual portrayal, especially of women (either with clothing or physical intimacy) in these films is way over the top. By no means am I the perfect, righteous moralistic clean as snow person, but once again it’s a big driving point of the films that this is the reason people go to dance music events.
“No one is denying here that drugs are not part of the rave scene. However, whatever your perspective on it, many would have to agree that it is not what completely defines the dance community and its members.”
Rave culture isn’t all about drugs
Granted anyone who’s been to a major festival knows that minimal to almost no clothing is a very common fashion choice. No one is against the common skin-baring clothing you often find at festivals, but what about portraying other fashion choices and other intimate moments? Especially in a techno warehouse or a house music club situation where many people just wear comfortable black clothing. What about portraying cross-dressing and other niche fashion you often find at underground events?
On the intimacy portrayal side, what about real life events where people connect beyond the physical? Not just the drug-fueled “I love you Bro” moments that is often portrayed in a satirical manner like in XOXO. Raving creates real-life connections and bonds to the point where you consider someone your family. Bonding with others on a mental and spiritual level is such a common thread at dance events. New friends and families are constantly made. However, once again it’s another factor that tells a reductive narrative about what goes on in the dance world.
If you’re reading this you probably easily agree or already know about the issues within these films. Also, considering the ticket sales and audience scores of these films, the inaccurate portrayals of these films were not widespread. So why does it even matter?
For starters, this is how mainstream media portrays the rave culture and dance music. This is what the general public is going to think is true. Even if it’s a small amount of people who have seen these films, they will be influenced and potentially influence others. Also, even though a movie like We Are Your Friends only made $11 million that means that there was probably an average of at least one million people that saw the film. It can be a significant number.
Also with Netflix’s XOXO, there was probably a staggering number of people who saw it. Netlflix has over 222 million subscribers. What does this mean? There’s a potential of 222 million people all around the world seeing this film.
“… what about real life events where people connect beyond the physical? Not just drug fueled ‘I love you bro’ moments that is often portrayed in a satirical manner…”
Rave Culture & Hollywood: It’s Not All Sex, Drugs, Rocks & Rolls
Even though they have a deceptively positive portrayal of rave culture, the films would probably scare away any parent from letting their kids go to a dance music event. For those newcomers that do and are able to go to an event, unrealistic expectations are set. They will be looking for the wrong things, and miss the genuine great things. They will be let down and not even bother coming back.
Another reason why this is harmful is the simple fact that these underperforming films will probably mean that there will be fewer future opportunities for other rave films. After three flops, well-funded movies will probably not want to take a risk on portraying dance culture. So for now, these films are all people get. The dance music community will have an uphill battle to change the narrative to something more authentic.
Thankfully there is a shining light amongst the cinematic rave depictions. An oldie but a goodie film made over 20 years ago actually gets it right. If you’re a veteran raver you probably already have heard and loved the film Groove. If you haven’t, do yourself a favor and watch it with your closest raver buddies and those who know nothing about the scene (Hot tip: it’s free on Amazon Prime).
Admittedly, Groove isn’t the perfect movie nor does it have high production value, the best acting etc. What it does have is a genuine, thoughtful depiction of all that goes on within a warehouse party. The realistic good and the realistic bad.
Without giving too much away, the movie’s main plot point is how one warehouse party can affect and touch a multitude of people’s lives. Yes, there is “the man who does a drug and finds a woman at a rave” storyline, but the movie includes perspectives of different genders, sexual identities, age groups, and occupations. It even highlights what is involved in throwing a warehouse party. Groove portrays both positive and negative possibilities in rave culture: drugs, perspective-changing epiphanies, and the physical, mental, and spiritual connections. It’s also a great history lesson for those who never experienced the rave hotline to find where a party is at.
There are probably more great rave movies out there; at least one can hope. With the most recent major three films that came out, it’s more important now than ever to share your best genuine film picks that do the scene justice. What ravers and non-ravers need now is a portrayal of authenticity.
Yes, raves, festivals, warehouse parties etc., can be a beyond this planet wild ride, but it can also have smaller more meaningful connections and true life-changing moments. Yes, there are also consequences from partying too much and too hard, but it rarely means absolute death. It can be more subtle issues that should be carefully watched out for.
Hopefully, as the underground lifestyle becomes more accepted by the public, the rave culture can have the proper representations and opportunities to let people know it’s not all about drugs, sex, rocks, and rolls.