What it's about: Carl Cox was at the forefront of Electronic Dance Music [EDM] and is still going strong with pure and righteous beats at the age of 55. Martin Garrix is a 17-year-old music wunderkind who rose to the top of the top-40 charts out of nowhere. These two men are at the cross-roads of a musical genre that has gained popularity in recent years but has been around for decades. From the post-disco roots in Chicago and Detroit to the mega festivals across Europe, EDM is a distinct music genre that is also incredibly broad in its scope and tones. The full history of the genre is explored, including drug scares and the internet's influence.
The extent of my knowledge of Electronic Dance Music is random mainstream acts that made it to pop radio, a vague understanding of what "dub step" is, Daft Punk [but they are cool, right?] and the Netflix rom-com Ibiza. That might put me in the target audience of What We Started, which starts the revelation that EDM isn't a new phenomenon.
For anyone who would have no interest in watching this film because of an allergic reaction to their perception of EDM music, What We Started tries to set itself apart from the worst [and most visible] of the genre, instead highlighting "pure artists" who spend their sets mixing records instead of being glorified hype men. There is a distinction made between underground electronic music [which is "art"] and EDM [which is "show business"].
The fun thing about What We Started is along this distinction and the in-fighting that comes out through the documentary. Many of the talking heads are incredibly critical of other talking heads within the film, especially of new kid on the block Martin Garrix.
Surely, though, this message is a bit blurry, as the film is wholeheartedly in favor of the new school EDM artists, including Garrix, who is one of its main profiles. By the end of the film, it goes to listing all the cool and popular top-40 mainstream acts that have taken the world by storm [Skrillex is pointed out], even name-checking David Guetta as the guy who started it all. It then highlights musical interlopers like Usher and Ed Sheeran who have collaborated with the new age EDM. It comes off a bit like it wants it both ways -- wants the street cred of the underground acts while also geeking out about the new acts that are completely at their odds.
Taking a cue from the hip music it is chronicling, What We Started is very slickly produced. The film moves quickly, splicing talking heads from some of the biggest names of the genre [Paul Oakenfold, Pete Tong, Moby, etc.] with footage of the root pioneers, new festival concerts, and lots of shiny flashing lights. What We Started has the visual styling the match the music.
There is lots of good people watching from clubs of the 80s and 90s. Such fashion!
If you are a fan of EDM, there will certainly be things to take in from the film. If you are new to the genre or only listen to the mainstream stuff, you will probably appreciate the connections to the inner-city post-disco roots of the movement and you'll have new artists from the underground to explore. And, of course, just taking in the sights and sounds has value.
For an art that I have very little interest in, What We Started does a pretty thorough job of making the history and current scene pretty entertaining.
I'm not going to become a convert, but that doesn't mean What We Started is a failure. It is worth seeing for anyone with any fleeting interest in the genre or just wants to be lightly entertained for 90 minutes and isn't repulsed by the electronic sounds. It isn't a perfect documentary and its flaws are pretty annoying, but it is a pretty excellent 100-level course into the genre.