It’s a pivotal point in any night out when the music transitions and this is certainly no different in Brian Welsh’s film Beats, as the drugs take effect and the black and white grade of the film is opened up to allow a little colour in, until the sobering moment of the film becomes real.
Dynamically stepping back into the nineties, this big screen adaptation of Scottish playwright Kieran Hurley’s hit stage show Beats is a film about the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 that was passed about group gatherings around the emission of a succession of repetitive beats, an oft criticised way of describing music. Obviously Scotland’s rave culture is at the core of this film and the free party movement, but the central themes to Beats is the universal story of friendship, rebellion and the irresistible power of gathered youth.
Directed by Brian Welsh (Black Mirror), executive produced by Steven Soderbergh, and starring young Royal Conservatoire of Scotland graduates Cristian Ortega and Lorn Macdonald in their feature film debut, this film has an energy and yet commentary that surrounds the bill, which renders it multifaceted in purpose. The film also features an original soundtrack from Scottish club legend JD Twitch (Optimo), which adds a little reality to fiction, when we consider the bill. If you look at bands like Dreadzone and Prodigy you can see there was much opposition and response to this bill.
Johnno and Spanner are at the centre of this story, which is initially introduced to us through a succession of polaroid snaps to highlight the era. Shot pretty much entirely in black and white there is a stylised yet rigidness to this film, which correlates to the changes in those times. The humour is spot on throughout the feature, in retort to the backdrop of the rise of Tony Blair and New Labour. Revolting to the changing times, free party and rebellion keeps talking throughout the 101 minutes of cinema, with “don’t be a slave, come to the rave” becoming a mantra throughout the narrative.
Set in small town Scotland the two best pals are struggling with life obstacles, Spanner lives with a criminal brother and bully, Johnno is leaving the estate to a new town with a potential step father looking to climb the police ladder. As they foresee their life changes, Spanner and Johnno head out to a free rave for their one last night out together, which sees them taking from Spanner’s brother and entering into an overwhelming world of stimulants and revolt, which eventually leads them into a full-on collision with the riot police, and more personally Robert, the potential step-father.
Stylised, punchy and with a pumping soundtrack, Beats is as music-focussed as you would hope. The cast keep it emotive, and hold your full attention as your heart pangs with anxiety with both Spanner’s brother and law and order edging closer to the rave. It’s nostalgic yet current, and the cinematography and acting means you rarely look at your watch throughout the hour and forty-one minutes. Heightened for our senses, this is a must-see piece of cinema at least for anyone that survived the nineties.
Beats is now on general release in the UK