The good old ’90s had long been gone, yet most of us are still nostalgic and fighting to keep the spirit alive up to this day. Hailed as the golden era of alt-lifestyle, it birthed groundbreaking trends and innovations spanning from the launch of the internet, release of Nintendo, edgy grunge fashion, classic cartoons, the rise of social movements, to the explosion of iconic artists and beats that perpetually resonate across cultures and generations around the world.
Marching to the Beat of Their Own Drum
Scottish Director Brian Welsh (Black Mirror: An Entire History of You) takes us back to the notorious underground rave parties that created a unique culture and religion among the youth of the ‘90s. Beats (2019) at its core captures the journey of two Scottish best friends, Johnno and Spanner, as they navigate through adolescence and their troubled familial relationships. Their opposite personalities – Spanner is liberal and lives life on the edge while Johnno is sheltered and always plays it safe – make for an eccentric and riveting ensemble.
Despite their differences, what deeply connects them is their shared love for Electronic Dance Music (EDM). However, Scotland in the mid-’90s was bounded by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill of 1994, which prohibits and criminalizes “gatherings around music that wholly or predominantly characterized by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats,” or unlicensed rave parties across the United Kingdom. But this didn’t stop the youth from living it up, so Spanner would bring Johnno to an abandoned warehouse where ravers would secretly gather to groove to the music.
Johnno’s family has always been opposed to their friendship, and after they found out that Spanner was still hanging out with Johnno, they made a drastic life-altering decision to relocate far away from their hometown, which both boys didn’t take lightly. To reignite the spark in their mundane lives and celebrate their brotherhood before they go on their separate ways, Spanner enthused Johnno to embark on a risky and rebellious adventure by attending an illegal rave party at a top-secret venue for one last time.
As a proud ‘90s kid, Beats (2019) took me back to the glorious days of EDM when attending rave parties and festivals was a rite of passage
The gradual buildup of dramatic conflict coupled with the succession of a cat and mouse chase with authorities kept the narrative enthralling. Each character had complex layers of unique identities that embody a piece of us and our experiences back in our youth. Watching the timid and reserved Johnno evolve into a fearless and confident person as he explores the horizon beyond his comfort zone was gratifying. While rebellion is often frowned upon, seeing Johnno’s newfound courage to cultivate new relationships, have his own voice, and pave his own path is a captivating and inspiring character arc to look up to.
The film beautifully captured the euphoric feeling of drowning out the noise of the world, fully immersing in music, and sharing it with the best company. While it was stylistically shot in black and white, it was a brilliant creative choice to incorporate bursts of trippy and psychedelic colors right at the moment the crowd reached catharsis. It was metaphorical in the sense that they’re finally living a rich and colorful life. When the drug and the booze-fueled party was interrupted by an army of police, it’s worth noting (as it is also relevant in today’s political climate) that the scene powerfully portrayed how authorities would easily resort to violence or brutality to put things in order.
Overall, this story wonderfully paid homage to the ‘90s culture as evident in its meticulous set design and fashion, the personification of teenage angst, down to the selection of classic beats from The Prodigy, Orbital, Leftfield, and LFO – artists who significantly shaped rave culture back in its early days.
A Fleeting Escape from Reality
As a proud ‘90s kid, Beats took me back to the glorious days of EDM when attending rave parties and festivals was a rite of passage to adulthood. It reminded me of those moments my friends and I would go above and beyond to get all-access passes to rave parties or music festivals and make all sorts of excuses to get permission from our parents. Nothing could compare to the incomprehensible feeling of truly living in the moment, letting go of your worries, and creating priceless memories with people from all walks of life – as if nothing in life could ever go wrong.
Due to the disruption brought forth by a deadly virus, the entertainment landscape has radically changed and the future of concerts, festivals, and events is bleak and uncertain. The imposed restrictions and guidelines felt like history repeating itself, but music will always serve as a ray of light during these difficult times, and Beats was a fleeting escape from reality we desperately needed.
Beats is distributed by Music Box Films and will be available to stream through their virtual cinema starting today, June 26, 2020.