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  Beats Scotland The RaveBuy this film here.
Year: 2019
Director: Brian Welsh
Stars: Cristian Ortega, Lorn Macdonald, Laura Fraser, Brian Ferguson, Neil Leiper, Ross Mann, Rachel Jackson, Gemma McElhinney, Amy Manson, Kevin Mains, Martin Donaghy, Ryan Fletcher, Stephen McCole, Josh Whitelaw, Davian Thomas
Genre: Drama, Music
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Best friends Johnno (Cristian Ortega) and Spanner (Lorn Macdonald) are dancing in their pants to rave music. They are in separate bedrooms, however, and Spanner is using the mobile phone of his brother Fido (Neil Leiper) to transmit the sound of his stereo across the ether to his pal. The year is 1994 and the place is West Lothian, Scotland, where the boys are keen to be part of the rave scene, or at least Spanner is, but have little idea of how to get there other than tuning into the pirate radio broadcasts of D-Man (Ross Mann) who plays the bangin' choons they love. When news reaches them of a major event nearby, just down the motorway that weekend, they begin to dream...

1994 was the year of The Criminal Justice Bill which saw raves banned thanks to legislation fuelled almost entirely by tabloid outrage, essentially banning fun, which was never a good way to police entertainment as the Video Nasties controversy would prove the decade before (and indeed in the nineties again, though that is another story). There were protests, the cops were brought in to stop the dancing, and those dancers attained a kind of outlaw glamour for a while, though really it meant the clubs became the preferred hangout for partygoers in the long run, but for the first half of the nineties, starting in the late eighties, there was a genuine youth movement in Britain.

This film was based on that time, drawn from a play by Kieran Hurley, who penned the script with director Brian Welsh, but preferred to depict a more romantic view of the scene once we finally got around to it. Before that, there was grit and grime (not grime music, that came later) on a housing estate as Johnno is encouraged away from his lower class friend whose family are notorious as a bad lot, though Spanner is not necessarily a bad kid, it's simply circumstances that have brought him down as he lives with violent criminal Fido. Now, the trouble with all this is, Trainspotting had been made, and made at the time when Beats was set, therefore authenticity may not be enough.

You may question how authentic it was, as the dance of the day was characterised by wacky samples, precious few of which you would hear in this: nobody starts grooving to Sesame's Treet or Roobarb and Custard, since they were in retrospect deeply uncool and going against the rose-coloured glasses the film was seeing the fashion through - even The Prodigy began to hit big with a sample of the Charley Says public information cartoons. If, on the other hand, you want to believe that doing the big fish little fish cardboard box (which we also don't see here) in a muddy field or a freezing warehouse was the most swooning and escapist experience available to you in the nineties, then knock yourself out, this movie was not about to break down your illusions, though oddly when it did get pretentious it was the better for it.

The ecstasy-fuelled reverie both our leads enjoy was contrasted with the misery in their lives that was never far away, and Welsh crafted a montage of Scottish imagery mixed with trippier visuals that may have you wishing he had indulged himself in this more, as it summed up the spirit of the piece even if it was not going through the minds of the original ravers at the time. To its credit, Beats was gleamingly shot in black and white by Benjamin Kracun with spots of colour to attract the eye every so often, though a low budget effort it belied that by looking better than it had any right to. The cast were fine, with Ortega balancing a glaikit expression with one of numb horror, depending on what he had to react to, though he would have done better if given more than that to perform, and Laura Fraser as his longsuffering mother would have viewers over thirty sympathising more with the parents than the kids, no matter what they thought back in the day. There were politics simmering beneath the surface, and a wavering attitude towards the police, but largely this was a modest project that dreamt big on nostalgia, fuelled by that particular Scottish pastime, swearing. Music (not the vintage tracks) by Stephen Hindman and Penelope Trappes.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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