Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The White Male DJ Strikes Back

Interesting how, at this moment, in light of the Ten Walls and GFOTY incidents, Hollywood and indie micro-Hollywood is set to take on EDM and the plight of the White Male DJ.  We Are Your Friends, named after the Simian song which received an electrohouse mix by Justice about a decade ago that may have been the spark that spun into the EDM moment, announces itself appropriately enough by Zac Effron running away from the present moment, which is some weird pathway from study halls and SATs to bailouts and broken dreams.  "This is not our future", the title cards boldly declare.  And, fuck, I can get on board with that.  But rather than a rallying cry to the underserved, this winds up just being a plea for this particular Vinnie Chase and Co. lite crew to be winners, not losers in this predatory mandate.

Rather than just sticking to music, Effron and his all-white male entourage seem to envision some hybrid of a tech startup venture and a life spent deejaying parties to thousands of adoring acolytes bewitched by the spell of their crossfader.  This is a world where women mainly exist to titillate and prove how scene-deaf they are by requesting "Drunk in Love" at a rave (a song coincidentally by two black superstars, Beyonce and Jay-Z, who are absolutely idolized by scores of deejays).  In another moment, one of the quaint street team members invites a passing girl to invite all her friends to a party "if they look like you".  Ugh.  Their fierce heterosexuality is announced with utter clarity as the core of their existence.  This is a bildungs-bro-man and the space for women, blacks, or the LGBTQ community is limited, at best.

Sea of white faces in the climactic audience shot of the We Are Your Friends trailer

The tired narrative of opportunistic capital, selling yourself, and crying into your pile of money has grown old and reeks of #firstworldproblems.  I'm not rooting for the film's failure though.  It's intriguing that the film even exists.  It appears to take its subject matter seriously, albeit with comic results.  There really has never been a good fictional take on the process of actually making electronic dance music.  Most that incorporate dance music into its narrative make the music production process incidental or nonexistant.  The films themselves are more about rave culture rather than the music; plots concern drug addiction, drug-related crime, romance, growing up, rebellion, or other tangential things, but never beat-making, beat-matching, texturology, arpeggios, force and form, club-testing, white labels, et al.  The shot of Effron recording a nailgun firing against a roof for a four-to-the-floor sample would almost seem inspiring were it not a) the most tinny, crappy sound imaginable, b) preceded by a scene of him talking up the shift from 125bpm to 128bpm as the most thrilling thing a DJ could ever do (a DJ who coincidentally only needs a "laptop, some talent, and one track", a reduction that may or may not be a pisstake on Deadmau5's indictments of his own scene).

Eden has already won some critical acclaim, paces itself chronologically from the 90s to the present, and features Daft Punk as sidelining friends of the protagonist (it takes place in France).  The trailer is less bro-tastic, but still definitely heteronormative.  It follows the travails of a different white male DJ, mostly it seems in some state of romantic malaise or libertine bliss.  There's some brief vinyl shots, but nothing that demonstrates music production or club mixology as an artform with schools of thought, different methodologies, and vast variegation in styles/crowds, particularly in the world of micro-genres that emerged in the 90s.   

If fact, the only real thought about the music is shown from the perspective of another female who apparently just doesn't get it, portrayed in what is implicitly a post-coital state, remarking "I mean, it's great to dance to but I don't know that I would listen to it every day at home"*.  Perhaps this is some promotional miswiring, as this film actually is directed by a woman, Mia Hansen-Løve, sister of French producer Sven Love, on whom the film is partly based.  The cast still seems principally white though, but at least we get a more diverse climactic trailer crowd shot.

Most baffling of all though is the moment at exactly 0:26 in the trailer, when the Daft Punk soars beatless and blissful over a scene of...is that a fucking plate of oysters?  Who made the executive decision that one of the most important things to emphasize from a two hour film was that being  a deejay in the 90s French house scene allowed you to eat some primo seafood?

*Okay, to be fair to the character, this statement actually correctly discerns the functional nature of much dance music, which is not intended for home-listening, but the trailer presents this as if it were a great insult to the poor male producer, who has to now go through the hard labor of explaining his craft to a cadre of ignorant but willing lovers.  

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