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A still from the film Beats

‘Beats’ director Brian Welsh: What I know about rave culture

The writer-director talks to us about recreating the mid-’90s free party boom

Written by
Dan Jolin

‘Beats’ director Brian Welsh is nursing a sore head. ‘I stupidly agreed to put on a dance party after each screening in every city,’ says the 38-year-old Scotsman. Luckily, these nocturnal manoeuvres are second nature: his new film is rooted in his own rave-going youth. He shares his memories of his rave-whistle-blowing days.

It was life-changing
‘I’d just started high school when the first Prodigy album came along. It sounded like it was from fucking outer space. It’s fed into everything I’ve done in my life since – the rave scene had a DIY ethic that’s informed my filmmaking.’

It’s really tough to film
‘It’s hard when everyone has to pretend to dance without music [to record the dialogue]. That’s why we put on a big rave for the film. We didn’t call “cut”, we just worked around the crowd with the actors. The ravers were blissfully unaware.’

People danced differently back then 
‘We made a training video of ’90s dancing for the extras. People dance very differently now: it’s a lot more Glastonbury-like, with everyone facing the DJ and people capturing things on social media.’

Brian Welsh on the set of ‘Beats’.

The visuals were as important as the tunes
‘From 1988 to 1994, when the film takes place, there was a lot happening in video art. I worked with a guy called Weirdcore [Nicky Smith] who does visuals for the Aphex Twin and MIA. He took a lot of Super 8 footage shot back in ’94 and fucked about with that.’

It had an edge 
‘There was such moral panic across Middle England around the rave scene. Some of these events were out of control, like [illegal 1992 rave] Castlemorton, but there was a malicious attempt to take our civil liberties away via the Criminal Justice Public Order Act. That same piece of legislation was recently used against Extinction Rebellion.’

It’s not over yet
‘After the Criminal Justice Act, everything was brought into clubs and taxed, but there’s still shit happening. There was a big party down in Dorset that got broken up last month. I live in Cornwall now and there are always people who disappear for a couple of days, then come back and say: “I was at this large rave up in the hills.” Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’

‘Beats’ opens May 17. Read our review here

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