Better Living Through Circuitry
Not rated, 85 min. Directed by Jon Reiss. Starring Scanner, Frankie Bones, Dj Spooky, Roni Size, Genesis P-Orridge, The Crystal Method, Moby.
What is it about Genesis P-Orridge that documentarians find so appealing? This is the second feature-length doc I've reviewed in which the colorful Psychic TV frontsperson has appeared (the first was 1998's Modulations, which covered much of the same ground). With his Prince Valiant haircut and predilection for heavily caked-on makeup, P-Orridge looks exactly like the Man Your Parents Warned You About. Good thing, then, that he's so well-spoken. In fact, Reiss' documentary, which attempts to demystify the culture of those all-night bacchanals known as raves, is full of thoughtful dialogue from a veritable cornucopia of electronic music artists and the people who love them. Better Living Through Chemistry is the third “rave” film to be released in Austin this summer -- the Brit import Human Traffic and Greg Harrison's Groove preceded it -- and the fact that we even had one such exploration of the underground subculture, much less three, is a clear enough signal that what was once shadowed and obscure is now practically mainstream, or at least mainstream enough that distributors find it a worthy investment. That's probably not a good thing for the rave scene, such as it is, what with the gobs of negative publicity raining down of late. But so it goes. Each subculture is osmotically absorbed into the mainstream and eventually recycled into Madison Avenue marketing themes and pop-culture corn. Some artists who have already successfully branded themselves via ad-pop culture are the Crystal Method. That Las Vegas duo began what can only be called a media blitz some three years ago when every single track of their debut album Vegas was licensed for a soundtrack or ad placement. The Crystal Method don't tell us much in Reiss' film, though they do explain the nature of their music in telling detail while standing in the driveway of their suburban ranch home-cum-studio (situated directly beneath a highway overpass to dampen the 3am beats). Running a brief 85 minutes, Reiss' film is crammed with both the artists and the celebrants who make up rave culture, from the blissed-out attendees of a California desert rave to New York illbient turntablist DJ Spooky, who drops as much science in his brief moments on camera as I suspect the Crystal Method has in their whole career. There's also a fascinating bit with Wolfgang Flur of the seminal German electronic outfit Kraftwerk, legendary New York DJ Frankie Bones, and electronica artist du jour Moby, who opines that what he most loves about the rave community is its joyous “sense of naive celebration.” Ravers, of course, are no more naive than the punks before them, and the Studio 54 disco-lovers before them, and back on through the years. Reiss doesn't offer much commentary on the cyclical nature of music-oriented youth subcultures, or at least not as much as I would have preferred, but to his credit he does tackle the omnipresent drugs and Ecstasy questions head-on. He even manages to find a friendly EMT working a danger detail outside a warehouse party who -- shock! -- actually enjoys the music and sees no particular harm in staying out all night and dancing your legs off. If anything, Better Living Through Circuitry suffers from a surplus of interviews and information that imbue it with a vague sense of overkill. It's Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Raves (But Were Afraid to Ask).
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