Even though it’s thoroughly enjoyable, skillfully made and often thrilling, “Electric Daisy Carnival Experience” is ultimately undercut by its unwillingness to confront the volatile dramas lurking just beneath its subject’s candy-colored exterior. Director Kevin Kerslake’s account of the titular newsmaking dance music festival was pulled from several theater chains after its premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theater occasioned a near-riot, and while that reaction might seem overblown in retrospect, it will likely consign the docu to strong homevid prospects.
To non-fans, the 2010 edition of the wildly popular annual megarave — which comprises the bulk of the docu — is notable for some unpleasant reasons: namely the scores of arrests and the death of a teenage girl that led to the event being booted from its longtime home at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. For many, the electronic dance music scene is inseparable from the drug-fueled decadence that typically follows it, and not without reason. But a strong case could be made that the demonization of the scene is little more than the most recent iteration of classic youth-culture hysteria, in which isolated tragedies are blown out of proportion into full-fledged menaces. After all, this summer’s rock-oriented Bonnaroo Festival saw two deaths, and Phish concerts routinely break municipal drug-arrest records, yet neither have been subject to the sort of scrutiny accorded Electric Daisy.
However, this is not a case the film makes, or even alludes to. (The crowd-control trouble goes unmentioned, as do drugs of any kind.) While its focus on the music and the scenery of the event is welcome for the most part — and a segment spotlighting DJ AM, who later died of a drug overdose, is appropriately reverent — the film’s one-sidedness occasionally makes pieces seem like exercises in damage control. This is unfortunate, as the pic features some eloquent EDC defenders. Popular DJ Kaskade — who was later blamed for unintentionally inciting the disturbance at the film’s premiere — here seems remarkably level-headed, interviewed from his quiet suburban home prior to performing. Also on an even keel is KCRW’s resident tastemaker Jason Bentley, who describes the utopian impulse in the dance music scene as having saved his life.
All the same, most viewers will come for glimpses of the music and the surrounding spectacle, and they’ll be well served in that regard. With its emphasis on seamless song transitions and slow-building valleys and peaks, this sort of music is difficult to appreciate in truncated form, and Kerslake is wise to let his cameras linger on individual performances for longer than most music docs would allow. This gives the DJs — who also include Moby, Steve Aoki, Afrojack and David Guetta — ample room to show their stuff, with closeups of turntables and mixing boards illustrating the often overlooked difficulty of the job. Festival organizers and the imaginatively costumed go-go dancers who grace the stages also get short profiles.
Sound and visual quality are of a uniformly high caliber, and Agata Alexander’s dexterous editing helps the pic move swiftly and at times dazzlingly, despite a long running time.