Every year, hundreds of thousands of people flock to Electric Daisy Carnival, an electronic dance music festival held in several different locations all over the world during the summer months. The festival brings fans together into a musical circus-like atmosphere for three days of non-stop partying. The largest of these gatherings is the one that takes place in Las Vegas, NV, and that is the one that is at the center of Under the Electric Sky.
Under the Electric Sky follows the production of Electric Daisy Carnival’s 2013 Las Vegas weekend, beginning with the planning and setup of the grounds and culminating with the three-day festival itself. Directors Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz (the pair who were also responsible for music documentaries like Katy Perry: Part of Me and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never) tell the informational section of the film through interviews with event organizers and rock-star DJs, using voiceover and talking-head exposition to trace the history of rave culture, electronic dance music, and the festival itself. There are also interesting talks with the other folks who help to make the wheels of the festival spin: the medical staff, the security personnel, the carnival performers, and the sound and lighting staff. Although this stuff is educational, Electric Daisy Carnival is really just the backdrop of the film. It’s not what Under the Electric Sky is really about. It’s really all about the fans.
Under the Electric Sky focuses in on a handful of attendees of Electric Daisy Carnival, and these stories are what makes Under the Electric Sky so much fun. There’s a group of young men, calling themselves The Wolfpack, who attend the festival as a memorial to their deceased friend, hoisting his basketball jersey high everywhere they can as they make their way through the grounds. There’s a couple who met at a rave who, although they’ve been together for thirteen years and have two kids, are unmarried and have decided that EDC should be the place where they tie the knot. There’s another couple who live separately in New York and Tokyo and only get to be together during the run of the festival. There’s a young man, confined to a wheelchair because of a botched scoliosis surgery, who only feels freedom and acceptance when he is at raves and electronic dance music parties. The festival is the common thread, but the movie belongs to these ordinary people; the audience sees a little bit of themselves in each and every one, and has a much easier time relating to them than to a high-priced DJ or a successful event promoter.
So, after educating the viewer about what it takes to put on a festival of the magnitude of Electric Daisy Carnival and tugging at their heartstrings by letting them get to know the people who support it, Under the Electric Sky gives the audience the visceral thrill of attending the event. The filmmakers take the viewer on an all-access journey through the grounds, showing the party from every angle. They’ve got cameras in helicopters high above the ruckus, they have crews stationed onstage, and they’ve got videographers swarming around in the crowd, shooting footage the whole time so that no stone is left unturned. The result is an immersive experience that really captures the electricity and energy of the festival. Select parts of the film are in 3D, and it’s very well done, further helping to bring the audience into the party. The best part about the 3D is that Cutforth and Lipsitz know when to not use it – the effect is only noticeably used for sequences during the festival itself, and is toned down or not utilized at all for the more traditional documentary sections of the film. No one needs to see an interview with Afrojack or Tiësto in 3D, but the laser lights show during their performances – that trippy stuff is coolest when it’s reaching out to the audience.
For those unfamiliar with electronic dance music and the rave scene in general, Under the Electric Sky will be both enlightening and alienating. It’s an interesting look into a subculture that has existed for so long outside of the mainstream, but it’s also a very flamboyant scene that may not appeal to some viewers. Whether you’re a fan or not, the documentary is still worth a watch; Under the Electric Sky may be a wild and crazy movie, but it’s never boring.