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Critic's notebook: 'Electric Daisy Carnival Experience' doc offers another view

Kevin Kerslake said he wanted filmgoers to experience the celebratory side of the Electric Daisy Carnival. But what they won’t see is the festival’s dark, chaotic side. Call it a missed opportunity.

Kaskade 1

On the evening of the premiere last week of his documentary “Electric Daisy Carnival Experience,” director Kevin Kerslake was standing in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre watching a would-be impromptu DJ set by one of the film’s stars, Kaskade, fall into chaos as hordes of fans descended on Hollywood Boulevard.

Kerslake and his team had spent more than a year editing down 700-plus hours of lively footage from the 2010 Electric Daisy Carnival dance music festival at the Coliseum into a two-hour behind-the-scenes look at the annual party, and he watched as a riot squad walked up.

“One of the first things I saw was a kid dancing in the street and a shotgun basically pointed at his head,” recalled Kerslake.

Over the next few days, the quickly contained melee landed on national news, and two prominent theater chains, AMC and Regal, canceled their scheduled showings of the one-night national screening of “Electric Daisy Carnival Experience,” set to take place Thursday on 84 screens (down from 520). The film traces the events of that weekend of the 2010 festival — or at least one version of the events of EDC 2010, which itself made headlines after the death of a 15-year-old girl who attended the event and after chaotic footage of rowdy fans rushing the gates appeared on YouTube. That event, deservedly or not, linked the EDC brand and the company that promotes it, Insomniac Events, not to a celebration of dancing, music and community, but, in part, to trouble.

It’s this perception that the film seeks to correct: “What I aimed to convey was the gentle come-together spirit of this culture, and really revel in the fact that these festivals exist and so many people love them,” said Kerslake, who has been documenting EDC for the last decade and has produced and directed documentaries and music videos for Soundgarden, Green Day, Depeche Mode and Stone Temple Pilots, among many others. His intention, though understandable, turns out to be both a strength and a weakness of “Electric Daisy Carnival Experience.”

The film, financed by Insomniac and executive-produced by the company’s founder and chief executive, Pasquale Rotella, paints a vivid, joyous picture of that day. It follows the lives of a handful of participants, including DJs, dancers, choreographers and miscellaneous characters, as they prepare for the evening’s events, with blissful footage peppered throughout of beautiful teenage and twentysomething revelers lost in music and dance, and interviews with some of the world’s most prominent DJs and performers, including Swedish House Mafia, will.i.am, Travis Barker and the late DJ AM.

What “Experience” emphatically is not is an updated version of the Maysles brothers’ “Gimme Shelter,” which documented the Rolling Stones’ tumultuous concert in Altamont, Calif., in 1969. Nor is it an objective glimpse into the world that the promoter and its devoted fan base have created — one that, despite its celebratory, communal nature, contains a darker element less concerned with love than with chaos.

In other words, don’t expect to see — as I did while walking into the 2010 event — the gangs of kids trying to gate-crash and the squadrons of police trying to wrangle them, or the young men scaling eight-foot barriers in an attempt to sneak into the VIP area. The word “Ecstasy” isn’t mentioned once; and the film is carefully edited to exclude any scenes of fans perilously pouring over chain-link security fences that separated the stands from the general admission field.

Kerslake said the goal of the film was to serve as a counterbalance to the negative coverage of electronic music that has followed rave culture since its rise in the late 1980s. “The message of this film, or the theme of this film, is really about the importance of people coming together and sharing a common experience, and conveying the peaceful nature and the civil tone of these events.” Indeed, the 2011 Carnival, which took place in its new home in Las Vegas in July, went off without major incident, and officers on the ground seemed bored at the lack of action.

Kerslake, of course, acknowledges that when you get that many people together — estimated at more than 200,000 over three days — “inevitably, there are some bad apples, and things happen that are discouraging.”

Kerslake wanted to concentrate on a single day following the principals from morning to night. As such, we’re introduced to Kaskade, the DJ at the center of the Hollywood incident, who contributed to the near-riot when he invited his 90,000 Twitter followers to meet him for a street party. We see the clean-cut superstar DJ the morning of the festival eating breakfast with his wife and young children, and then follow his day, woven in between scenes of the massive party.

The film acknowledges the trouble briefly, but only to deny any serious problems. Cmdr. Andrew Smith, the Los Angeles Police Department officer in charge of law enforcement inside the Coliseum during the 2010 event, is interviewed: “It’s a very large crowd, very energetic. So far, so good.” In response to a question about the energy in the venue, Smith sounds relaxed. “You know, I walked around as a police officer in uniform, and I had people giving me” — he holds up his wrist, on which there is a candy bracelet — “I guess it’s called candy, and I’m walking around and people are giving me that and high-fiving me.”

Said Kerslake of Smith’s comments: “He gave that interview about an hour after all of the stuff that became so viral on the Web happened, fully aware of what had transpired. To have that perspective when you’ve got other events that are marked by pretty dramatic footage that comes out, it’s a testament, I think, to how peaceful the events really are.”

Ultimately, though, Kerslake’s response highlights the missed opportunity that is “Electric Daisy Carnival Experience.” We’ll have to wait for another time to witness an unflinching, tension-filled film about a massive rave, the inherent challenges that accompany such an endeavor, and the passionate fans — and rowdies — so strongly drawn to it.

RELATED:

Near-riot ends Kaskade gig at Electric Daisy Carnival film premiere

Electric Daisy Carnival premiere: Eyewitness accounts of Kaskade's appearance

Police fire nonlethal bean bags into rowdy Electric Daisy Carnival crowd

 --Randall Roberts

Photo: Kaskade in scene from the documentary, "Electric Daisy Carnival." Credit: NCM Fathom

 
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