10 Essential Dance Music Documentaries
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I Was There When House Took Over the World
Quite simply, this is the documentary on the birth of house music, starting with its roots in gay underground disco scenes in cities like Chicago and NYC in the ‘70s, when social upheaval pushed the movement underground and changed it forever. Interviews come from the heaviest of early innovators, including Nicky Siano of The Loft, Chip E, Marshall Jefferson, Nile Rodgers, Smart Bar founder Joe Shanahan, Jesse Saunders, DJ Pierre, and all the soul-nourishing house and disco you can handle. Gotta have house!
Northern Disco Lights — The birth of Norwegian dance music
As we all hunker down for social distancing, Norwegians are already well adapted to living in isolation — it’s the least densely populated country in Europe, as Author Michael Booth notes early on in this film by Red Bull. But somehow, Norway’s long, dark winters and sparse population gave birth to euphoria-inducing artists like Prins Thomas, DJ Fett Burger, and “Inspector Norse” man himself, Todd Terje. Their irreverent, uplifting house and nu-disco sounds have totally altered the electronic music landscape. Plus, they really hit the spot right now. Watch for free here, or rent on Vimeo above.
20 Years Of Ultra
Like basically everything else, Ultra was cancelled this year. But this 2018 documentary, which celebrates the Miami event’s massive 20th anniversary, should hit the spot for any Ultra fan. It features interviews with superstar DJs like likes of Tiësto, Josh Wink, John Digweed, and Nic Fanciulli, along with plenty of incredible music (like Nalin & Kane’s iconic “Beachball”) and footage from rave history. Shot in five parts, this expansive film will take you through two decades of Ultra — one of the world’s biggest and most iconic dance music festivals.
Don’t Forget to Go Home
There aren’t many films you’d describe as “classics” when it comes to the incredibly niche genre we know as “techno music documentaries.” But if there are bonafide classics, this is certainly one of the,. Shot in 2006, this seminal film digs deep into the Berlin underground, looking at what was, at the time, a fairly unknown universe, through the eyes of partygoers and DJs alike. And by DJs, we mean an extremely young Ricardo Villalobos and Luciano. But where the film really excels is its unflinching investigation into why partying can become so addicting, and why some people end up becoming addicts. Fair warning: this film will make you want to get back to Berghain immediately. But since you can’t, you may as well enjoy the ride.
Real Scenes: Detroit | Resident Advisor
Back in 2011, RA’s film crew visited one of the most famous cities in music: the birthplace of Motown, the place where a group of teenagers named Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Jeff Mills pioneered the sound we now know as techno — Detroit. Despite the city’s incredible and indellelbe cultural legacy, it has long struggled with poverty in the wake of the collapse of the automobile industry. This film details both Detroit’s artistic heritage, and its troubles, making for compelling and eye-opening viewing. And don’t even get us started on that soundtrack — pure delight. Dive in.
Under the Electric Sky | EDC Documentary
Festivals feel like a distant memory right now. But this immaculately shot film helps you relive the magic of Electric Daisy Carnival 2013 through the eyes of an average group of ravers — though there’s plenty of behind the scenes footage and interviews too, including with Avicii, who had just recently broken through. That year some 350,000 people came together to celebrate electronic dance music in Las Vegas, and with any luck, we’ll all be doing it again soon. Until then, enjoy the film. Watch here.
The Sound of Belgium
When conjuring up the most notable cities or countries in dance music lore, attention usually lands on Detroit, Chicago, Berlin and the UK — for good reason. But electronic music owes much to Belgium, a small country that took a patchwork of sounds to create something truly theirs — Belgian new beat. The sound pushed acts like 2manyDJs into global stardom, and helped inspire industrial techno. This film explores how politics and culture coalesced, to create the beats we now know and love.
High Tech Soul: The Creation of Techno Music
Few documentaries do better justice to the foundation of techno than Gary Bredow’s 2006 film High Tech Soul: The Creation of Techno Music. Along with eaturing extended interviews with all the Detroit players, like Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson, the film digs into the cultural roots of techno, starting with the race riots of 1967 and moving through to the underground party scene of the late ‘80s. Other interviews with Richie Hawtin, Jeff Mills, Carl Craig, Eddie Fowlkes and others help paint a clear picture of exactly how techno became the phenomenon we know it as in the 21st century.
Palestine Underground | Boiler Room
For these intrepid musicians in Palestine, doing whatever it takes to keep the scene alive is all in a day’s work, even if it means actively working against the political and economic forces that surround you. But that’s what makes this stellar documentary, released by Boiler Room in 2018, such a powerful watch. We don’t know what’s going to happen to our scene in the post-coronavirus world, but if we can draw from the strength of these artists, we certainly will survive.
WE CALL IT TECHNO
When it comes to the history of techno in Detroit, few do it better than the aforementioned High Tech Soul. But beyond Detroit, techno’s roots spread most deeply in Germany, and WE CALL IT TECHNO paints a wonderful picture of how that happened. Traveling to epicenters like Berlin and Frankfurt, with amazing old footage from The Love Parade and other important parties and clubs, WE CALL IT TECHNO features interviews with Sven Väth, DJ Hell, Tanith, Talla 2XLC, and many others, and shows how the fall of communism gave birth to some of the greatest artists and nightlife hubs the world has ever known.