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At Daft Punk moment, 'Under the Electric Sky' examines EDM world

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Shortly after a screening of “Under the Electric Sky,” Dan Cutforth's and Jane Lipsitz’s documentary chronicling the Las Vegas iteration of Electric Daisy Carnival, a viewer in the Sundance Film Festival audience had a question for EDC founder Pasquale Rotella, whose Insomniac Events produced the film.

“Is Daft Punk playing this year?” he asked, referring to the French duo, who though Electronic Dance Music pioneers and its public face (well, figuratively ) have never played EDM’s largest stage.

The soon-to-be-anointed Grammy kings could not be confirmed, Rotella said, because the list had yet to be finalized. But in an interview several days later with The Times, he and the directors had plenty to say about the movie and what they hope it shows about both EDC and EDM. 

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“The experience of going to an event is not about seeing a performance. It’s about all the people around you,” said Cutforth, who with Lipsitz has chronicled music phenomena on a large scale before, editing the 3-D concert movie “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” and directing “The Katy Perry Movie: Part of Me.”

“It’s an at event, it’s a music festival, it’s a place where people go to get away from their problems; it’s a place people go to find themselves,” Rotella added of EDC. “It’s about being human and being alive and connecting and expressing your individuality.” (You can watch video of the interview above.)

In chronicling the massive three-day EDC this past year (more than 300,000 people attended the event, which is studded not just with music but art projects and light displays), the film, which is seeking distribution, shows just how big a spectacle it all is. Filmmakers do a compelling job of putting you in the audience, even if some of the hard-core fans they document can sound a little repetitive in how excited they are to be there and the love that's in the air.

As an authorized biography, "Electric Sky" is, indeed, largely a positive portrait of the event -- there is no reference, for instance, to Rotella’s charges, since dismissed, in a Los Angeles Coliseum-related corruption inquiry or two deaths (away from the grounds) of EDC Vegas attendees in 2012 -- though a few minutes are spent documenting the medical facilities on hand in the event of drug- or alcohol-related incidents. 

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“Unfortunately those are problems in society; those are problems where you gather large amounts of young people whether it be college campuses or events,” Rotella said of substance abuse at EDC shows. Cutforth added that it was also “a misconception that this music is designed to be experienced when you’re on drugs. The movie hopefully dispels that because it’s an incredibly powerful visceral experience not only to hear the music but to feel it.”

The sheer size of EDC, and the fierce passion of the diverse people who attend it, may come as a surprise to those who thought a spiritual experience at large-scale music shows was limited to rock or hip-hop -- or, for that matter, the past. As Dutch deejay Armin van Buuren says in the film, EDC is “Woodstock, reinvented.”

And with Daft Punk up for all those Grammys, Lipsitz said that the crossover potential was undeniable.  “I think if you asked half the people listening to pop radio, I don’t think they’d identify half the songs they’re listening to are EDM,” she said.

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