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Sundance Review: 'Under the Electric Sky' is a Glossy, Energetic Look at the Country's Largest Music Festival

Photo of Steve Greene By Steve Greene | Indiewire January 21, 2014 at 8:47PM

Through the experiences of six different groups of festivalgoers, "Under the Electric Sky" combines personal stories with thrilling 3D concert footage.
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To the untrained eye, the Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas (known as EDC to the initiated) looks like a gigantic theme park. It features rides, ferris wheels, giant artwork sets and, most notably, a near-impossible volume of people. But in place of roller coasters, EDC has a different kind of entertainment based on ups and downs: Eight stages house some of the biggest electronic dance music acts in the world. Through the experiences of six different groups of festival-goers, Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz' "Under the Electric Sky" combines personal stories with an overarching sense of what it might be like to spend a weekend in the desert with hundreds of thousands of spiritual allies.

EDC is the common bond between the film's representative subjects, including an RV full of Cape Cod bros, a small-town Texas college student and a local couple celebrating a decade and a half of festival attendance. Although a large majority of the subjects' discussion centers on what EDC means to them, we do get a sense of their lives before and after their Vegas trip, reinforcing the idea that this festival is an extension of their everyday worlds, regardless of how they choose to express that passion. 

After following the caravan of core characters through their arrival at their desert paradise, the film begins tracking their exploits during last summer's EDC 2013, occasionally with 3D cameras. That added dimension enhances the footage in two major sequences. The opening credits are a psychedelic pointillism wormhole that instantly sets the tone for the visual atmosphere that the festival organizers set out to create. But the film's centerpieces are the expansive crowd shots, hoards of fans all gathered in a rhythmic ritual, with an amazing depth of field where the shirtless man in the front with the Jack in the Box head shows up as crisply as the enthusiasts in the background holding up a giant octopus. 

The concert scenes are endlessly energetic, if relentless. The variety of DJs isn't always matched by the stylistic changes in crowd shots, so even those who aren't EDM-averse might be exhausted by the end. But as the aerial camera swirls about, the clarity of what it's capturing means that there's always something new to look out for.

The emotional unity of festival attendees is another recurring idea, most notably represented in a pair of weddings. As we see a self-described Rave Family from Atascadero get married at a "Free Weddings" booth, it's a reminder that the concerts are what EDC may advertise most, but there are other ways that the festival's spirit manifests itself.

The film in its selectivity: Aside from KCRW’s Jason Bentley (also the film’s music supervisor), most of the interview subjects are central staff at Insomniac (EDC's organizers) or EDC employees. Even in a celebration of a cultural event, there’s still room to acknowledge the inevitable pitfalls that come from having hundreds of thousands of people in one place. We get a fleeting glimpse of the hospital where dehydrated partiers are able to receive medical attention, but the general approach to festival drug use is to focus on those who don’t partake rather than give a full idea of how much it plays into the experience. 

Despite these missed opportunities for a broader view, "Under the Electric Sky" exists as an encapsulation of the ingredients that make EDC great. For those bouncing along their seats or for those who don't their Aviciis from their Tiëstos, it's a vibrant and illuminating look at the forces compelling so many fans and the intensity that sustains such a giant undertaking.

Criticwire Grade: B 

HOW WILL IT PLAY? The film is still for sale, but considering Insomniac's direct involvement, at the very least, it should be a hit on the festival circuit and could also enjoy a healthy life at music events. While the 3D isn't essential to the experience, its immersive nature could make it a natural fit for a release timed to EDC Vegas 2014, scheduled for late June.

This article is related to: Under the Electric Sky, Sundance Film Festival, Sundance 2014, Dan Cutforth, Jane Lipsitz