The Rush, The Colours, The Beats
I hadn’t yet moved to the UK to be dropped into the UK rave scene in the early 90s. But having the 80s (teen years) super saturated in the ever evolving synapsis snapping electronic sounds of English music and in particular Factory Records/Hacienda, Acid House and all things Madchester, I was definitely in 24hr Party People training camp. Starting art college in the early 90’s only turned the volume, the colours and the smiles up to 11.
I’d seen many of the DJ’s/artists involved in the scene at many nights out clubbing, and a few bands, but finally in ‘95 I saw my beloved Orbital for the first time in Féile’s at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork, and EVERYTHING changed.
‘The Matrix’ may have come out in 1999, but the renowned ‘bullet time’ sequence they had created had happened to me in a sports stadium 4 years before halfway through the Orbital set. Admittedly there were slightly less bullets (ie none), no Mr Smiths/Neo, but that pause/freeze and slow motion frame advance, as if my life was a DVD being played in Gods sitting room hit me like NOTHING ever before. It still feels like it was yesterday.
In that single moment, I time travelled while still staying in the present. Suspended, I slowly turned around like a smiling lighthouse, everywhere my beam shone, I saw all walks of life, age, gender, backgrounds, nationalities, all dancing as one to the digital tribal, primal, euphoric beats Orbital were blasting out. The Orb had been great the night before, but they didn’t have every single security guard in the stadium dancing, every single stall vendor dancing, every single person as far as I could see, dancing, smiling, living, sharing. This was like being born again, and seeing TRUE colour, ANYTHING/EVERYTHING for the first time. Somehow, I would aim to inspire this moment in as many people’s lives as I could.
Not everyone shared such aspirations of generosity and hopeful elevations/enlightenment of humanity, certainly not the contemptuous Tory Government who had seen similar happenings spreading across the UK in the form of illegal raves, where global unity was openly worshipped, minds expanded and perceptions questioned. These fields weren’t sowing the seeds of poppies, the government preferring cannon fodder to glistening minds and bouquets of hopes and ideas, but in particular universal unity, where everyone recognised how alike we all are. No, this had to be stopped immediately, and so the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 was introduced with the aim to crush a generation. The Tory mentality being that nothing should be free, and with that, it should only be the monied who get to experience it. Henceforth gatherings where ‘“music” includes sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats’ would be outlawed.
Brian Welsh’s wonderful new movie ‘Beats’ (2019) which he co-wrote with Kieran Hurley (based on Hurleys’ play) is set in this 1994 period, in a world that is black and white bleak, futureless, as is the remit of oppressive Tory Governments, and with zero hope for anything other than dutifully stepping into line until you die. But as is inherent in the vibrancy of youth, there MUST be something more than this, and there ALWAYS is.
Johnno (Cristian Ortega) and Spanner (Lorn MacDonald) have been mates for years, seemingly eternally bonded via techno beats. The universality of music unites them even though they have somewhat different backgrounds, and as such opportunities of potential futures. Johnno’s family will soon be moving to another less impoverished part of West Lothian, Scotland, hoping for a better standard of living. Spanner’s future looks much bleaker (even potentially shorter) living with his vicious/aggressive older drug dealing brother. But at least for the moment they have each other, and the music.
They have shared so many things in life as is the norm in these formative years, but one thing they haven’t shared or experienced is their music Mecca, an illegal rave.
They both know that things are going to drastically change soon, what once was the norm will be no more, but to honour what they did have, they want to go out in style, they want to have a good time, they want to get loaded, they want to go to a rave.
Like Butch Cassidy and The Rave Dance Kid their bond is seemingly immutable, as they set off on their mission, robbing the bank of Spanner’s older brother, they rush full speed into the guns of time as if there’s no tomorrow, as to the greatest extents there won’t be, certainly not with each other.
There’s a poignant sadness inherent in that, but also a profound celebration, which is the ultimate core of the movie. These are the natural chapters in all our lives, friendships that were so potent, infinite, that can only be seen that way through the wide MDMA’d eyes of youth. We don’t know yet that this will probably happen many times in your life, but that’s okay, just learn to celebrate them in the moment.
Getting to the rave is anything but easy, but as in the greatest of quests, as this now is, it is worth it all, it’s for our friends, it’s for ourselves, it’s for our futures, for our memories. Beautifully shot in a stark black and white it’s reminiscent of Mathieu Kassovitz’s utterly gorgeous French suburbs youth culture movie ‘La Haine’ (1994). The monochrome not only adds to the bleakness of the linear world they live in, but also becomes a simply glorious device later in the movie when we gateway into parallel worlds of swirling bleeps, bips, beats and full spectrums of possibilities.
There is a hindsight realism to it all also, in that the subsequent years to ‘94 that started off with the rush euphoria of New Labour (there’s TV with Tony Blair selling his snake oil) turned out to be just a con, that ultimately lead to probably the most divisive, racist, fascist, anti-poor/immigrants, classist period in the history of modern UK. Of course, it would have a Tory government at the helm of this current Brexit disaster destination, as they deliberately divide a nation and turn it against each other in their psychotic kamikaze attempt to stay in power.
There’s an element of nostalgia (the soundtrack is sublime techno), but not in a forgotten misty-eyed way, if anything it’s a timely reminder of what once was, and what could have been if the oppressive government had stood up against (then and now). Personally, I could have gone raving again immediately after the movie finished, and you might think those days are over. However with the beautiful rise of Extinction Rebellion and their astronomical rise in spontaneous protests, if anything this rave for the planet scene is only getting started, and this time it’s global. Hopefully, I’ll meet you dancing in the streets. Ultimately it’s a wonderful joy of a movie that has the vibes of The Young Offenders off on a mission to rave via Human Traffic (1999). See it in the cinema, get it on Blu-ray to watch it many, many more times, and blast the soundtrack on repeat for all the times in between.
‘Beats’ is cinemas out now, and the soundtrack is available on digital streaming.