You find yourself bathed in a kryptonite-green glow. Speakers stacked in front of you blow your hair backward with their bass bellows. The screams of joy, 50,000 strong, erupt all around you as two men take to a circular platform crowded with a dizzying array of blinking lights, knobs, sliders and wires. The shadow of Japan’s Mount Takenoko looms in the background. And yet you’re munching on popcorn and seated in a cushy reclining chair at a movie theater.
Such is the experience that the Chemical Brothers and visual collaborator Adam Smith are bringing to the silver screen with Don’t Think, a feature-length “concert movie.” Using 20 cameras, Smith, who serves as the film’s director, captured the sights, sounds and spectacle of the British duo’s headlining set at Japan’s Fuji Rock festival last July, and now the trio is releasing it around the world. It hits multiple screens throughout Chicago on Wednesday 1 (with an exclusive pre-screening at the ShowPlace ICON Theater on Thursday 26).
Alongside acts like Daft Punk and the Prodigy, the Chemical Brothers’ Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons represent for dance music’s first golden era in the ’90s. They helped propel the rave scene to popularity with their mix of heavy breakbeats, acid basslines, techno flourishes and house rhythms. The musical brothers, who consider longtime visual partner Smith a third member, have maintained a massive following over the span of their two-decade career. A show almost identical to the one they’re putting in theaters came to Chicago for the opening night of North Coast Music Festival’s debut in 2010, helping cement the three-day rave as an enduring part of Chicago’s festival season.
Previewing the film, it’s easy to see why. The sea of faces alone, wide-eyed in pure ecstasy—probably because a healthy cross-section was actually on Ecstasy—is testament to the psychedelic sensory overload on display. As Rowlands and Simons trigger beats and tweak sounds, silhouettes of people flying, falling, kissing, breaking and swinging cascade across a two-story LED-screen backdrop. During the acid barrage of “Horse Power,” an origami stallion careens in circles. In another sequence, paired with the breakbeat techno of “Saturate,” paintballs fly out from every angle, exploding into bursts of yellow, orange and green.
The Chem’s live show is such an audiovisual treat London’s The Times compared it to shows by ’60s psych masters Pink Floyd. While Don’t Think can’t come close to conveying the full force of the Chemical Brothers’ live show, it does shed a rainbow of laser light on the power of this type of concert experience.
With the Ultra and Coachella lineups announced, we’re headed into another year of large-scale live shows—and the commonly registered complaint that the beat-driven variety is nothing but a bunch of dudes fiddling with Facebook onstage no longer holds weight.
Deadmau5’s animated mau5head is but one example of the lengths electronic musicians go to to compete with bands. Glitch purveyor Amon Tobin’s Technicolor space trip uses cutting-edge 3-D video-mapping, and dubstep megastar Skrillex’s current show harnesses the same motion-capture trickery that fuels Xbox’s Kinect.
On the local level, electro-dubstep duo Midnight Conspiracy is unveiling a graphics-heavy LED light show for three shows across the next three months. So, regardless of the medium, dance music wants to rule your next concertgoing experience. You’d be a fool not to oblige.
The Chemical Brothers’ Don’t Think debuts on Thursday 26. Go to fathomevents.com for more info.