Every genre of music has its own culture surrounding it. Rock has arena concerts, blues has hole in the wall clubs, and so forth. Similarly, each genre has their Mecca: that annual concert that is the end all be all of places to be if you love a certain style of music. For electro/techno/house fans, there’s no better place to be on the last weekend in June than the Electric Daisy Carnival, which has become something of a cultural phenomenon in recent years as its popularity has shot through the roof. What started as a day-long event expanded into two nights and now, as of 2011, three. Three nights of incredible electronic music from the likes of Deadmau5, Moby, Afrojack, Duck Sauce, Fedde Le Grand, Kaskade, and MSTRKRFT. To document the culture that has risen up around the EDC, Kevin Kerslake filmed Electric Daisy Carnival Experience, and as concert films go, it ranks in the top echelons of ones to beat.
Few documentaries so thoroughly capture the atmosphere and emotion at the core of a musical event, but Experience immerses itself completely by interviewing attendees, performers, and DJs and discussing what makes the EDC so significant. Spliced between and behind the talking heads are sets from some of the most recognized names in the business, giving the viewer a beautifully filmed exploration of why the EDC is the best thing to happen to dance music in the United States since the internet. The film is something of a spectacle unto itself as it ventures to capture some of the most iconic moments of the Carnival as they appear both onstage and in the crowd. The mesmerizing lightshows of the stage dance about as fireworks blaze overhead, and under it all the audience and the DJ do their best to communicate back and forth exactly what’s needed to take the energy to the next level. Good DJs can put on a decent set and keep the audience engaged, but great DJs constantly search the crowd looking for cues as to how they can make it better, and the EDC has nothing but the best DJs in the business. The documentary elucidates this unspoken communication through interviews with Kaskade, will.i.am, and others, so when you see it happen on film you can have some level of appreciation for what the DJs and the crowd are feeling.
I don’t think any film can ever fully capture the sheer exhilaration that comes from being at a mega-concert of the music you love filled with people who just want to soak it in the same way you do, but Experience succeeds in balancing its clinical study of the participants and its own marveling at the show that’s playing out. The true difficulty arises from the volume of stimuli that the Electric Daisy Carnival presents to any one person within the span of a minute. Imagine trying to take in all the sights and sounds of Mardi Gras (with techno instead of the New Orleans jazz) in a minute. Lights. Sounds. People. Sweat. Dancing. Rhythm. Can you really take it all in at the very second you’re perceiving it? Or is a film like Electric Daisy Carnival Experience an invaluable supplementary material? When MSTRKRFT is churning out his rendition of Daft Punk’s “Aerodynamic” as gas mask bunnies (scantily clad girls in gas masks with red bunny ears tacked on) and burlesque clowns dance about in a fashion that demands viewers redefine their definition of sexy, how much of it are you taking in? Does it matter? Experience suggests that the culture that exists within the EDC is about appreciating whatever you can and will of a given experience and reveling in the camaraderie that comes with sharing that appreciation with those around you.
It’s hard to argue with such a free-love approach to music, and in that there are some definite parallels to be found between the mindsets behind the creation of The Electric Daisy Carnival Experience and Woodstock. Whereas we currently view the concert footage of Woodstock with a sort of nostalgic reverence of a bygone era of incredibly influential music and an adoration of what it’s come to represent, it’s not really about the presentation. It succeeds on some levels at capturing the feel of Woodstock, but it’s hard to separate the historical implications from the actual quality. In the case of Electric Daisy Carnival Experience, there’s no ambiguity. This is a documentary that sought to enter the world of the EDC through the people that exist within it and share their love of it with the world. Electric Daisy Carnival Experience can be considered nothing short of a resounding success in that regard, and the fact that it’s such a fantastically vivid visual spectacle as well only makes Experience that much more reflective of the event.
Is it perfect? No, not entirely. At times, few oddly edited pieces of artist testimonial are laid over soundless concert footage. It could be surreal if handled correctly, but it's really just off-putting. Then you have will.i.am who it seems Kerslake was enamored with, perhaps because will.i.am was so willing to be in front of the the camera, I don't know. But it does make for one of the oddest and perhaps funniest interviews with will.i.am giving a lecture on DJs as tastemakers and using a very odd voice, what I guess he thinks waiters sound like, he makes a metaphor between consuming music and fine dining. Moments like that provide distractions as you absorb and process the more visceral sights and sounds Kerslake captured, but all the while you just can't wait for the film to get back to spending time with the sexy clowns or in the audience of the concert.
Kevin Kerslake has crafted a stunning concert film, and even if you’re not a fan of the genre you should seek it out.