Sunday, May 26, 2019

Beats – a gem of a film that drops its audience into the middle of the 1990s rave scene (QFT until 30 May)

I’ve a memory of standing uncomfortably against the wall of the Hollywood nightclub in Ipswich back in the winter of 1994. The music was loud, the beat could only be described as abdominal, and the headache was painful. After a long, slow diet coke, I drove back to the hotel in Felixstowe with one colleague at the earliest opportunity, leaving another two work mates bopping away.
“If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution!”

Brian Welsh’s new film Beats gets under the skin of the rave scene – the underground, often outdoor, dance events rather than the tame and gentrified nightclub ripoffs in 1994 Glasgow. New Labour was on the rise in parallel with upward mobility. People were migrating from the inner city out to the suburbs.

Johnno (Cristian Ortega) lives at home with his Mum and her policeman boyfriend. He is reserved and seems quiet, but his long-time oddball friend ‘Spanner’ (Lorn Macdonald) is his door into rave culture. D-Man (Derek, played by Ross Mann) “off the radio” speaks in clichés and is organising an illegal rave in a cat and mouse game with the boys in blue who are out to stop or break up the event. The anti-rave Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill is on the horizon. The police aim to hit the young revellers hard; so too does Spanner’s humiliated brother.

Macdonald gives Spanner the air of uber-confidence, yet turns out to be just as hesitant as Ortega’s Johnno who portrays himself with handfuls of ambiguity and fluidity. While the action revolves around this bromance, Gemma McElhinney, Rachel Jackson and Amy Manson provide solid support as Laura, Wendy and Cat.

The exuberant second half of the film makes up for the dearth of music in first 45 minutes with somewhat dreamy yet oppressively strobing scenes. Filmed for the most part in black and white, the single rush of colour is reserved to put societal change and industrial collapse into context in the middle of a rave.

Ultimately, Beats is a film about camaraderie and friendship, less drug-celebratory than Dublin Oldschool, and less in-your-face than Trainspotting or T2, though no less poetic. Welsh has created a gem of a film that drops those of us who are thankful to be unfamiliar with his context right into the middle of a crowded and sensory-overloaded environment, like some kind of rave virtual reality game. It’s very effective and the relatively light storyline lets the atmosphere do the talking rather than the actors.

Beats (18) is being screened in the Queen’s Film Theatre until Thursday 30 May.

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