Review: ‘Under the Electric Sky’ promotes Electric Daisy Carnival
For those lacking the funds, the time or the fake-fur leggings to attend the Electric Daisy Carnival, an annual electronic dance music bacchanal in Las Vegas, the new infomercial-style documentary “Under the Electric Sky,” produced by the event’s organizers, might suffice.
The film is a valentine to the music and the people who love it — the true “headliners,” as Pasquale Rotella, founder of event producer Insomniac Events, calls the crowd. They fill the grounds of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to the tune of about 133,000 turnstile-turns a night over the course of three evenings.
The movie presents the best possible version of the event without the massive lines, drugs, drunkenness and hellish traffic. Hook-ups, straight and gay, are also absent, as are pretty much gay people as a whole, a curious omission given that gay fans helped to put EDM on the mainstream map. In a movie that more than once trumpets the carnival’s ethos of accepting everyone as they are, filmmakers Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz (producers of the promo biopic “Never Say Never,” about that nice young man, Justin Bieber) operate within a pretty narrow framework of scantily clad humanity.
At the outset, the movie introduces us to a few people and posses that we’ll follow over the course of the film, which takes place at the 2013 festival. (This year’s edition, the 18th, took place last weekend.) There’s Sadie, a small-town Texas girl able to lose her anxieties through the music. There’s a bunch of shirtless dudes making the RV pilgrimage from Massachusetts with the jersey of a friend who recently overdosed on drugs. Long-distance lovers Jim and Jenna, so fresh-faced they make Joseph Gordon-Levitt look like Hagrid from “Harry Potter,” are reunited and it feels so good. There’s also a couple of old-timers who met at the festival 15 years ago and now, two kids later, decide to make it official, as well as wheelchair-bound Jose, who finds love and acceptance and an awesome means of crowd-surfing.
The filmmakers present these stories sincerely and with feeling, interspersing them with footage of top-flight DJs such as Avicii, Tiesto, Calvin Harris and Above & Beyond. The music pulsates throughout the movie, though the focus in not on the DJs (let’s face it, twisting knobs on a table doesn’t pack the visual punch of Pete Townshend’s windmill guitar move or Miley Cyrus twerking) but on the effect the beats have on the glow stick-adorned masses. Which is, in a word, bliss. If there were a drinking game for this movie and you had to down a shot for every time a reveler calls the festival a “utopia,” you’d be wasted within a half hour.
The film makes a brief mention of unspecified “unfortunate instances” in festivals past, which would include several deaths. (The deaths of two people who attended this year’s event are still under investigation.) Organizers hammer home a zero-tolerance policy for drugs. What goes unmentioned is that many EDC-goers indulge before entering the gates, though again, you wouldn’t know it from watching the film.
The film’s misguided determination to present a PG-13 version of a pasties-optional, three-day party gives an unreal air to a surreal event, though that doesn’t mean “Under the Electric Sky” is without its blissful moments. When Above & Beyond brings a nervous Sadie on stage and lets her drop the beat, it’s magical and empowering, even if we know it’s wholly manufactured. For a weekend, this outcast found a home, one she can carry with her the rest of her life.
‘Under the Electric Sky’
MPAA rating: PG-13 for suggestive material, partial nudity, drug references and language
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Playing: At AMC Ontario Mills 30, AMC Universal CityWalk, AMC Orange 30
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