The opening scene of ‘Beats’ depicts the wallflower protagonist Johnno and his socially shunned, but well-meaning best friend ‘Spanner’ on the phone listening to a cassette tape recording of a new rave track. Spanner tells Johnno he waited two days by the radio waiting for it to play again so he could record it for him, and this small warm gesture sets the scene for their friendship throughout the film.
It’s 1994 and the Criminal Justice and Public Order legislation is about to be enacted with the bill’s motivation to restrict the occurrences of illegal raves, but is written in such a way that defines the banned music specifically as “sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats” which gives the film its namesake. This sets the backdrop for the plot; recordings of Tony Blair are utilised throughout the film in conjunction with acid beats as the boys desperately seek to prove themselves within a scene of their older, ‘cooler’ peers at this crucial time.
Despite this political backdrop and the existence of underground radio transmissions declaring that this music has ‘come from the Ghettoes of Detroit to the schemes of West Lothian’, the film barely portrays any character’s motivations being in the politicisation of these raves. Instead, their existence stems from dissatisfaction in the very schemes depicted. Johnno’s step-dad to be is a member of the police and in catching him hanging around sketchy places with undesirables such as Spanner, warns him away. Similarly, Spanner, battling belittlement and ridicule from his crime-driven thug of an older brother, is franticly orchestrating a way for himself and Johnno to attend ‘Revolt’, one last big rave before it’s too late.
As we follow the boys on their adventure to the rave, the depth of their relationship intensifies for a vulnerable yet thriving portrayal of rebellion amidst an intimate male friendship. We see growth from the characters over the night: Spanner isn’t simply ‘scum’ as those around him believe but deeply affectionate and caring, and Johnno isn’t destined to live in the shadows forever but can relish in those euphoric highs the film explores. Welsh faultlessly executes the rave scenes; the pounding music choices from Optimo and the use of colour in the visual trips dispersed throughout the character’s dance scenes are emotive and impactful. Lorn Macdonald steals just about every scene thanks to his ability to bring the delicateness and endearing humour of Spanner to life on the big screen. The plot may be slightly predictable, but that’s not what this film’s appeal is: the characterisation brings this story to life.
[Stacey Anderson – @staceyanders0n]