Directed by Brian Welch
You are about to enter a world of hatchbacks, tracksuits, graffiti, and bad hairstyles, because the year is 1994 and the city is Glasgow, where the only good system is a sound system, and ecstasy is more than just a feeling. This coming of age story marches to the beat of its own drum machine, and even though it may follow a familiar rhythm, it still takes enough deviations to make it fresh for jaded ears.
Director Brian Welch’s newest project Beats, focuses on an era when social revolution amongst classes is emerging in response to the crustiness of a new bill introduced by the Tories; the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which essentially made it illegal to attend a rave, as it outlawed any social gatherings centred around repetitive beats. Welch’s wry eye wonderfully demonstrates the hypocrisy around the act, featuring scenes of uniformity as congregations of politicians form a reiterant drone of clapping, forcing Glaswegians to fight for their musical liberty through the Revolt Rave.
We follow the misadventures of Johnno (Cristian Ortega), a teenager who turtlenecks whenever a confrontation arises, and who may have watched too much Scorcese, as he’s constantly challenging himself in the mirror, and his off-the-wall best friend Spanner (Lorn McDonald), a lad who was immediately written off in life because of the family he was born into. Their days as best friends may be numbered however, as circumstances are changing for Johnno, meaning he may be moving up in the world to “happy clappy plastic land”. His mother strives to sever his ties with what she deems “scum”, and a “charity case” even if that means she has to become a simpering yes-woman to her punitive police officer boyfriend, who has shoehorned himself into the family much to Johnno’s disgust. Similarly, Spanner is also at the end of his tether due to the abuse of his drug dealer guardian brother, and so, with unwisely stolen drug money, as well as a hilarious phoned in death notice to work, they find themselves caught up with an older group and en route to the rave.
Benjamin Kracun’s cinematography highlights, as well as is sympathetic towards Glasgow’s industrial heritage. Featuring wide shots of large warehouses, and complicated but meaningful graffiti, he employs a monochrome colour palette, which seems fitting for the era, as though it’s fading into history. Weirdcore (Nicky Smith), known for his work with Aphex Twin and MIA, is behind the tangible quality of the rave scene; completely synergistic and adding the only splash of colour, it employs flashing images of propaganda, as well as visuals of synapses firing, forging a visceral experience in which we get to live it alongside our protagonists drug fuelled perspective. The soundtrack is integral in helping to shape the atmosphere and features names such as Orbital, Carl Craig, Lee Scratch Perry, and Detroit Heroes, amongst others. But even through the quality of the cinematography and sound, it is Lorn McDonald and Cristian Ortega who light up the screen as two best friends with very undeniable chemistry, evidencing that type of epic friendship that only some of us are lucky to have in life, even if its just confined to a certain moment in time.
Although it may be filmed in black and white, there are multiple layers of colour and meaning in Beats, and even if symbolically on the nose at times, it still imparts an emotive and time transient message, that although you may not be able to control the family you’re born in to, the city you grow up in, or the foibles of the politicians, what you do have is some semblance of power over the friends you choose, and the actions you take.