The Electric Daisy Carnival – one of the preeminent dance music festivals in the world – threw itself a parade in new Sundance-selected documentary “Under the Electric Sky." And why shouldn’t they? As a three-day gathering in Las Vegas, EDC was sold-out this past summer with a 115,000 cap each night, with seven stages and more than 200 DJs. It’s a festival so successful that it may launch into a second weekend, a la Coachella, with top-tier dance music superstars continually, annually gravitating toward it.
The film starts out with a countdown. The organizers lay out their plans for the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where the June 2013 fest will be held. Directors Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz begin their journey with a handful of characters and crews with A Story To Tell. There’s Jose, an EDM lover who is confined to a wheelchair, and Sadie, an outcast in her Texas hometown. There are two couples, one of which is a duo of lifelong ravers who intend to marry at the fest. A group of beer-chugging bros that call themselves The Wolf Pack plan their RV pilgrimage in order, in part, to honor their friend who died of a drug overdose.
These varying archetypes are presented and shaped by the constant flow of music in the film, as though the viewer is already in the parking lot and heading to the gate. The soundtrack is dotted with huge dance hits from Avicii and Calvin Harris, artists like Afrojack and Tiesto having their say, Fatboy Slim and Riva Starr's anthem “Eat Sleep Rave Repeat” repeating, and top-tier DJ Kaskade providing an energetic score.
Under the electric sky, there are happy tears and hugs and candy, misfits finding other misfits and dancing in a circle. All the performances are equally entertaining, all the stages are off-the-hook unbelievable and every night goes off without a hitch. No puke, no litter, no assault; it’s affordable and comes with a soft recommendation that ticket-holders stay hydrated and say no to drugs. None of the subjects take molly or get hangovers. When they wake up, they leave fulfilled.
“Under the Electric Sky,” indeed, is a carnival, a parade. It’s an 85-minute commercial.
Like at any major music festival, you can also draw at least a pretty, vague portrait of youth – pretty in this case being the operative word. Despite the banner that EDC draws fans from all walks and its lead subjects of the film so purposefully diverse, the vast majority of the doc’s B-roll and crowd shots center on fist-pumping six-packers, the most attractive bikini-wearers, so many white people between the ages of 17 and 22 representative of the hetero-normative ideal it’s like a glossy cruise pamphlet.
Should its filmmakers wish to give a tip of the hat at rave forebears or even contemporary maestros, then they also did a gross disservice to the gay community in this portrait. The story of EDM becoming a mainstream juggernaut is simply incomplete without acknowledging queer community. Cameras pan a dozen hot girls kissing each other – spring break forever, y’all -- and yet there’s no panning to men with other men, no hand-holding or kissing, no meet-cute like other couples’ tales. The concession is their following a group of hard-partying young guys and girls whose kinship is so strong they all wish to marry each other at the fest, their travels framed so comically that any underlying message of pride and PLUR is buried under a tapestry of conventionally attractive giggles and animal hats. The movie only barely touches on EDM and rave’s transition from underground to its international popularity, and it leaves behind some of where this “community” was actually bred.
And if the subject of marriage and romantic fulfillment seems like an overarching theme, it’s even weirder that hook-up culture, sexual fashion, and overt sexuality of festival-going is tamped down in favor of a safer, and frequently infantilized vision. There’s an odd shot of fest founder (“Electric Sky” exec producer) Pasquale Rotella clinking glasses of champagne with his new fiancée Holly Madison in the VIP section of the fest, like “Hey, let’s keep this thing classy,” while there’s a toothless (privates-less?) approach to the gaggle of the nearly-nudes in neon pink thongs below their raised platform.
This is not to judge the people in the pink thongs and the animal hats. The film does an exquisite job of creating a judgment-free environment, hand-in-hand with its advertisement for EDC’s particular brand of utopia. Its intention is to show what a festival should be. When Sadie has an anxiety attack at the festival, there is no wait for a nurse and -- lucky for her! – she’s the one fan out of tens of thousands chosen to get up on stage to drop the beat during Above & Beyond’s set. For electronic and dance music lovers, that storyline may hit the spot, especially with the non-stop throb and the colorful scenery. There is no competing version, which is “Under the Electric Sky’s” triumph, and also its problem.