By far the most exciting part of the recent U.K. club-culture movie Human Traffic is the opening documentary-footage montage of illegal street parties, joyous protests against the British government’s anti-rave legislation. Jon Reiss’s documentary about the American rave scene, Better Living Through Circuitry: A Digital Odyssey Into the Electronic Dance Underground, similarly thrills with its tableaux of overexcited crowds doing the swirly Mandelbrot-limbed dance known as “liquid.” But when it comes to making you understand the culture rather than just feel the vibe, Better Living is less successful, featuring platitudes about “positive energy” from a middlebrow selection of DJs, producers, and bands (Atomic Babies? Electric Skychurch?!). Still, its dancefloor orientation makes it a useful complement to Iara Lee’s Modulations, which focused on home-oriented electronica and lofty auteurs rather than having-it crowds.
Highlights here include an amusing appearance by ex-Kraftwerk percussionist Wolfgang Flur and producer BT discoursing fascinatingly on “photic and auditory driving” (tribal techniques of inducing an alpha-wave trance through flicker patterns, unwittingly reinvented by ravers with strobes and oscillating keyboard vamps). Rave DJ stalwarts Frankie Bones and Keoki are charming, and a couple of paramedics outside a rave confess that they’ve started getting into the music despite themselves. On the minus side, Genesis P. Orridge repeats the self-serving myth that Psychic TV catalyzed the U.K.’s acid-house revolution and drops his well-worn rave-as-nouveau-tribalism insights like they’re mind bombs.
Better Living‘s cursory segment on drugs is something of a whitewash (possibly out of a forgivable desire not to give the Enemy any ammunition, what with the major crackdown on raves from Toronto to Florida). The film comes through in its home stretch with interesting stuff on rave’s utopian spirituality and “implicit politics”—kids who “make for themselves some of the things that are missing from their lives,” according to one talking head. By the end, I was even feeling a little teary-eyed.