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Sundance Film Review: ‘Under the Electric Sky’

Those who suspect that EDM is possibly the most vapid form of 'alternative' music will have their suspicions confirmed by this 3D documentary.

With:

Alli, Amy, Arielle, Bobby, Dione, Desirae, Drew, Jake, Janna, Jim, Jay, John, Jose, Kelly, Luan, Matt, Michael, Nick, Robert, Ryan, Sadie, Pasquale Rotella, Above & Beyond, Afrojack, Avicii, Dash Berlin, Gareth Emery, Dillon Francis, Cedric Gervais, Hardwell, Calvin Harris, Jamie Jones, Alex Kidd, Rebecca & Fiona, Fatboy Slim, Tiesto, Armin Van Buuren.

More high-grade souvenir for the previously converted than a very persuasive recruitment tool for those not already in love with EDM (electronic dance music), “Under the Electric Sky” records last year’s Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, currently the largest annual music fest in the U.S. Non-fans may find this 3D documentary only confirms their suspicion that EDM is possibly the most vapid form of “alternative” music, and its ecstatic fans constitute one of the most vacuous fanbases, ever. Limited theatrical exposure is likely, though the film’s principal audience will access it through home formats.

Directors Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz make a seemingly solid decision not to simply focus on the performers (who, twiddling dials and pointing emphatically skyward, aren’t much to watch) and the more colorful crowd, but on a disparate number of hand-picked attendees. Sadie and Jose are here because the music seems to melt away their limitations from anxiety disorder and scoliosis, respectively. Young professionals in love Jim and Jenna are seeing each other for the first time in six months, since their dream jobs keep them on separate continents. Five jock dudes have traveled from Cape Cod to commemorate a fellow “Wolf Pack” member who recently died from a drug O.D. A half-dozen Southern Californians in a live-in polyamorous relationship seem to live the EDC lifestyle 365 days a year.

Despite their superficial diversity, however, all these people look around 20-25, the exception being 35-ish Vegas couple Alli and Matt, who met at the festival 15 years ago and now have two kids. And no one here really has anything remotely interesting to say (not even the institution’s founder/CEO, Pasquale Rotella, whom we follow around a bit), unless you count umpteen variations on “This is so crazy great oh my god I love the energy everybody is so free ‘n’ stuff … EDC! EDC!” Add to that the one-finger-at-the-Casio-keyboard compositional nature of nearly all the music heard — occasional, more song-structured anthems like Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” aside — and the jubilant onscreen spirit may translate best for those who can experience it as a personal Ecstasy flashback. (Commissioned by EDC producer Insomniac, the pic downplays the role of drugs at what’s officially a zero-tolerance three-day party, but … please.)

The festival is festooned with wandering acrobats, clowns, et al., as well as plenty of pop sculptures, pyrotechnics, amusement-park-like attractions, and seven stages (though we only ever seem to see one of them, with a giant owl backdrop). Star DJs are name-checked and briefly interviewed, but EDM is a genre whose synaptic potency builds over the course of a set. Hearing just brief extracts from sets as they approach climax just underlines how simple, repetitious and samey the form overwhelmingly is.

Despite the whimsy of much raver finery and the love/peace/acceptance vibe, there’s also a sameness to the revelers. If EDC draws any gays, African-Americans or body types not ideal for wearing glorified bikinis or board shorts, you wouldn’t know it from the evidence here. The effect is as much like a giant spring-break bacchanal as it is like a commercialized Burning Man or supersized old-school underground rave.

Ergo, the pic provides lots of sexy, neon-hued eye-candy but not many images of deeper resonance. Bookended by flat sequences (before and after the festival), the 3D format surprisingly isn’t exploited all that effectively in Reed Smoot’s otherwise accomplished lensing. Other tech/design contributions are top-shelf, and of course the sound mix is aces. Still, if ever a movie begged for revival of butt-rumbling 1970s theater gimmick Sensurround, it’s “Under the Electric Sky,” with its incessant audio orgasms of thumping bass.

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Sundance Film Review: 'Under the Electric Sky'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Park City at Midnight), Jan. 19, 2014. Running time:

Production:

(Documentary) An Insomniac presentation in association with Haven Entertainment. Produced by Rachel Miller, Kevin Mann. Executive producers, Pasquale Rotella, Michael Rapino, John Hopmans, Simon Rust Lamb, Dan Cutforth, Jane Lipsitz, Randy Sosin, Christopher Boyd.

Crew:

Directed by Dan Cutforth, Jane Lipsitz. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Reed Smoot; editors, Kevin Klauber, Steve Lichtenstein, Dava Whisenant; music, Kaskade; music supervisor, Jason Bentley; supervising sound mixer, Fernando Delgado; supervising sound editors/re-recording mixers, Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins; assistant director, Kevin Flecher; casting, Doron Ofir.

With:

Alli, Amy, Arielle, Bobby, Dione, Desirae, Drew, Jake, Janna, Jim, Jay, John, Jose, Kelly, Luan, Matt, Michael, Nick, Robert, Ryan, Sadie, Pasquale Rotella, Above & Beyond, Afrojack, Avicii, Dash Berlin, Gareth Emery, Dillon Francis, Cedric Gervais, Hardwell, Calvin Harris, Jamie Jones, Alex Kidd, Rebecca & Fiona, Fatboy Slim, Tiesto, Armin Van Buuren.

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