Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Rave Movie Rundown

Posted by Trixter on August 14, 2015


I was a clubber in Chicago from 1988-1990.  (Medusa’s on Sheffield, anyone?)  I exited right when rave music was overtaking house music, but I caught the first wave for a tragically brief period and loved it: The transition from Kraftwerk to New Beat to Acid to Techno to EDM; chillout rooms; bringing the DJ from behind the booth to front and center… it was a great time to lack responsibilities.  (Before you ask:  No drugs.  The whole ecstasy movement was primarily a UK thing that wasn’t very prevalent in the USA.)

Rave culture peaked at the end of the 1990s.  There were a lot of films made for and about raves back then (and one recently) that try to capture what that period was like.  Unfortunately, most of them use raves as a backdrop instead of a character, but there are two notable standouts that are worth your time if you have any interest in raves:

  • Pump Up The Volume: The History Of House Music, 2001:  A BBC 3-part documentary that takes great pains to interview everyone involved in the birth and growth of House, which obvious had a lot of overlap with raves.  An excellent piece of research with tons of interviews and stock footage.  Out of all factual pieces that try to cover this period, this documentary gets just about everything right.
  • Groove, 2000: A fairly predictable story of several people trying to get to a rave, what happens when they get there, and how their lives intertwine… but unlike most fictional films that feature raves, Groove gets the feel of rave culture almost exactly right.  People aren’t dressed like caricatures, the music is great, raves are busted by the police, only to spring up somewhere else the same night, the light drug use is portrayed accurately, etc.  Most importantly, the DJs are played by actual local DJs who spin their own music (Digweed shows up at the end to drop the entire place to the ground with Heaven Scent).  The characters are a little cliched, but is the most accurate (fictional) portrayal of American Rave culture I’ve seen.

If you want entertainment, see Groove; if you want historical accuracy, see Pump Up The Volume.  I highly recommend both.

There are other rave culture movies.  They range from interesting to mostly bad.  Here is a partial list, in descending order of quality, with my subjective comments:

  • Weekender, 2011:  A fictional account of the early 1990s rave scene as rave migrated from Ibiza to the UK.  This particular movie centers around the Manchester scene as two friends try to turn raves into a business.  While this movie got bad reviews, I actually enjoyed it.  More importantly, the early 1990s house music choices are mostly period-correct.
  • A Midsummer Night’s Rave, 2002:  An attempt to tell Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream via rave culture.  The rave sections are fairly true, but the sound mixing is somewhat awful and a little distracting: The music mix isn’t loud enough during the dance scenes, so you hear their voices echo off the walls; just as distracting, the music is completely non-existent in the chillout room (there is always a dull thoom-thoom-thoom in the chillout room).  The actual storytelling is competent, being copied from Shakespeare.  An acquired taste.
  • Rave, 2000:  An amateur effort.  Plot and characterization are cringe-worthy, as is most of the acting.  Despite the title, the rave is essentially a club with bouncers.  Avoid this one.

Stark Raving Mad, Human Traffic, Sample People, and One Perfect Day were initially on the list, but I took them off because they portray clubs instead of traditional raves.  Go is not on the list because I haven’t seen it yet.

Did I miss any?  Disagree with my picks?  Leave me a comment.

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3 Responses to “Rave Movie Rundown”

  1. It’s All Gone Pete Tong
    Kevin & Perry Go Large
    24 Hour Party People (starts with punk but goes into early Madchester)

    should def be on your list if you havent seen them yet.

    one could make arguments for these also:

    Kids (visits an early NASA rave, and has some of the early NYC rave scene folks in it)
    Hackers (helped popularize rave music via its soundtrack)
    Moog (his instruments influenced many early electronic musicians)
    Party Monster (NYC club culture at its most WTF)
    Maestro: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0368851/ is about house and predates the rave scene, but is also worth a watch.

  2. goto80 said

    Iirc, Loved Up was a great movie, although it might not be very focused on rave culture.

  3. Eliot said

    The documentary Better Living Through Circuitry (1999) covers the US http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0207998/

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