Beats raves successional rhythms through a harsh Scottish coming-of-age drama. Dark, miserable and intimidatingly frightening. But enough about Scotland, let's dive into the electronic grunge-fest that is Beats. A contemporary drama that will unfairly be compared to 'Trainspotting' just because of its location and political undertone. A comparison that should be disregarded almost immediately, as both are fine examples of character driven drama that showcase Scottish talent (other than a Deep Fried Mars Bar...). In the summer of 1994, where criminal acts are slowly being put into position, two unlikely best friends spend one last night together at an illegal rave.
The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act attempted to ban large gatherings with a specific genre of music being played out loud. "Characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats". It was outlined that the nature of the music caused abhorrent behaviour amongst the ravers who listened to it. And so, with this in mind, the youths that appreciated the "rave wave" felt they were being oppressed. A political revolution that provides an underbelly for this Scottish town and Welsh's film. It may not be as outrageous as 'Braveheart's "Freedom!" stance, but it mellows the fragile melody between the two lead characters, giving them a common cause. The want to revolt.
Welsh's artistic direction fortunately does not glorify the rave scene in any way, as he shifts the narrative focus to policing officials on multiple occasions. However the main purpose of the story is the depiction of the central friendship. It's a peculiar bond, one that Welsh seemingly forces upon us unnaturally within the wobbly first act. Yet once their motives and differences are distinguished, I realised that their "bromance" is something I never knew I wanted. Spanner and Johnno exhumed true friendship in the spite of living different and precarious lives. One lives in poverty with his abusive brother, whilst the other is repressed by a family wanting to be perfect. It bounces off the reason why many raved during the hype of it all. To let go. Release.
A massive element to Welsh's drama is the music. The "choons" as it were. Surprisingly, as most will not know, my kind of music. Electronic, dance and trance. I was far too young to be swept in the rave culture (approximately a 1 year old at the time), but I understood it's purpose. Welsh's depiction of the intricately built up rave within the third act was quite simply euphoric. Introducing colours amongst a monochrome filter to represent the emotive release that these oppressed individuals have felt. An entire five minute sequence of psychedelic visuals, showing both construction and destruction, accompanied by the banging bass of trance music. Sublime. Started to become hypnotised myself.
Massive applause must be given to Macdonald. In his first feature film, straight out of drama school, he was sensational and exhumed a huge range of emotions. Honestly, he is the repetitive beat to this narrative, and his name is certainly one to look out for in the future. My only other criticism would be with the stereotypical "look where they are now" credit sequence, all too common in coming-of-age dramas. Completely unnecessary for this story, and somewhat undermined the intelligent approach that preceded it.
Putting aside these minor reservations, Beats was banging. Absolutely banging. An exhilarating character drama with an engrossing political movement that will have you tapping you feat to repetitive beats. If it's available near you, go and watch it!