“The biggest misconception is that dance music is a new thing, that it just kind of burst from the ether…”
What We Started makes its key point with this opening quote, where journalist Kerri Mason sets the scene for the history lesson that will follow in the next one and a half hours.
Filmmakers Bert Marcus and Cyrus Saidi have assembled an impressive cast of A-list DJs, led by Carl Cox, to talk us through defining moments from the past and share their thoughts on the present. Martin Garrix, at once both an accomplished professional and a wide eyed teen, represents the here and now.
Pete Tong, in addition to appearing on camera, also takes on duties behind the scenes as the film’s executive producer and music director. James Barton of UK superclub Cream and Insomniac mogul Pasquale Rotella are among the luminaries representing the rollercoaster business of dance music event promotion. [Click link below to read more...]
Just last week, Martin Garrix was crowned winner of the DJ Mag Top 100 poll for the third year in a row. Propelled by the forces of the corporate music promotion machine, Garrix is still riding the crest of the EDM wave, a wave which still shows no sign of crashing anytime soon.
The phrase ‘electronic dance music’, usually shortened to ‘EDM’, only came into common usage at the beginning of this decade, when dance music first started to filter its way into mainstream listening in the USA. A common belief among American fans is that dance music originated in Europe, but What We Started is quick to point out that both the music and culture can trace their roots back to the USA.
What We Started takes us on a trip back to the birth (and death) of disco in New York, and onwards to the house clubs of Chicago and early techno raves in Detroit. Records from those cities starting crossing the Atlantic, to eventually fall into the hands of young DJs like Carl Cox.
In the USA dance music remained a counter culture, albeit it a vast and even occasionally profitable one, while in the UK the music flirted with commercial chart success and the illegal outdoor rave scene evolved into an era of corporate superclubs. The bubbles on both sides of the Atlantic would go on to burst, with both scenes eventually reaching a point where it seemed impossible that anyone would ever again make a stable living, let alone a fortune, by running dance music events.
Yet here we are today, watching hordes of screaming fangirls greet Martin Garrix at the airport, security guards never more than inches from his side as a few lucky fans get a chance to snap a selfie with their idol. Catapulted from bedroom to mainstage almost before he was old enough to drink, Garrix has experienced a career trajectory more in common with that of a boyband than with anything experienced by Carl Cox and co. at the same age.
Impressive footage from Ultra contrasts with well-preserved video recordings from raves of yesteryear, interweaving the story of Garrix and his breakthrough mega hit Animals with the far slower burning journeys of earlier generations. There’s only one occasion where the story transition feels jarring, when the narrative jumps from Garrix contemplating his first Ultra headline set almost directly into newsreels of the Berlin wall coming down.
Carl Cox demonstrates an infectious enthusiasm for every aspect of the industry. In stark contrast to Garrix, Cox reckons that despite working as a DJ since his teens no one really started to recognise his name until he was about 27 or 28. Yet, unlike some of his peers, Cox cheerfully acknowledges that the future of dance music is in the hands of young artists like Garrix, who can connect with a new generation of audiences in a way that Cox himself no longer expects to do.
Advances in technology across music production, promotion and performance have brought the global scene to where it is right now. Dance music is more popular than ever, yet as the audience numbers at flagship festivals Ultra, EDC and Tomorrowland continue to soar, we are also seeing institutions such as Space Ibiza closing their doors.
Personally I’m absolutely fascinated with rave history, but anecdotes from ‘back in the day’ aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Some viewers will be enthralled throughout, some will have heard it all before, while others are simply more interested in the present day. For the latter group, the unfolding story of Martin Garrix, his talent and his work ethic will still make fascinating viewing.
Who knows what story might be told in a dance music documentary twenty years from now? I’d like to think we’d see both Carl Cox and Martin Garrix still rocking their respective dancefloors, while welcoming in the stars of tomorrow.
"What We Started" is available now on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and Netflix.
Nicki Ranger is a freelance writer currently based in Perth, Western Australia.
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