The upbeat, high energy documentary, What We Started, does what any good EDM (electronic dance music) DJ does—it shares a love of music. This entertaining film chronicles this subculture in a way that is often infectious; even viewers who are unfamiliar with this scene, which has become a global phenomenon, will appreciate the guided tour.
Filmmakers Bert Marcus and Cyrus Saidi juxtapose a profile of Carl Cox, a superstar DJ who is hanging up his headphones after 15 years of spinning at the Ibiza nightclub, Space, with newcomer Martin Garrix, a teenager who is quickly becoming a major force in the industry. They also interview David Guetta, Paul Oakenfold, Tiësto, and other EDM luminaries, who provide observations about their careers.
What We Started traces the dance music scene from its early days (in the late 70s) and DJ Larry Levan, who spun at the Paradise Garage in New York City. Dance clubs soon went underground with the “death of disco.” There was a return/rebirth with House music, in the 80s, followed by Acid House and rave culture, which remained underground before exploding into the wildly popular EDM scene today, with its massive crowds and music festivals.
Marcus and Saidi employ lively clips of DJs at work, and there are many scenes of crowds dancing to the rhythmic music that pepper the talking heads telling stories. There are some nice anecdotes from David Guetta and Paul Oakenfold that illustrate how pop music embraced EDM. However, What We Started does gloss over several issues it raises. A debate about spinning records vs. using a pre-programmed USB is abandoned shortly after it is raised, and a discussion of “the drop,” or “beat drop” could have been explained more clearly. (The mediocre Zac Efron EDM film We Are Your Friends, showed how to rock a party with a bassline, a heartbeat, and 128 BPM better than this doc does).
Moreover, drugs, which are largely identified with the EDM scene—and amplify the experience of dancers—are not even mentioned until the film’s midpoint. Then the narrative sidebars on the development of illegal rave culture and recounts a possible prison sentence for one EDM promoter. These points, while significant to the development of the scene, shift What We Started away from the music, making the documentary less, not more focused.
The best scenes are those that showcase the songs and the talent. Both Cox and Garrix are so ingratiating that Marcus and Saidi could have just made a documentary featuring these two DJs. A scene of them meeting near the end of the film, and the proverbial torch being passed, is a highlight.
What We Started may be too superficial for EDM fans, and not interesting enough to those unfamiliar with the genre, but the music is great and anyone who gives this entertaining doc a spin may find it hard to sit still while they watch.