Film Review – Beats (2019)


The Scottish suburbs aren’t exactly what comes to mind when talking about rave culture. But the West Lothian housing estate during the 90’s proves the perfect host to a full-blown, drug-fueled illegal rave gig. Life-long best friends Spanner and Johnno are cool kid wannabe’s, hell-bent (or at least, Spanner is) on being part of the underground rave scene.

Backdropping Brian Welsh’s exuberant comedy-drama is the political aftermath of Conservative rule, mirroring the divide between uniformed authority and angsty teen rebellion. We, of course, side with the kids. For all their attitude, stupidity and want to show off, the pettiness of government laws against music and trivial excuses to beat up innocent teens make the coppers undoubtedly the bad guys. At times, we are caught in limbo between good and bad, sympathizing with Johnno’s want to please his mum and uniformed new step-dad while also standing up against their superiority. Eventually, Johnno elects to take a walk on the wild side, leading to an entertaining series of coming-of-age mishaps and life lessons.

Lorn Macdonald as Spanner

After attempts to hijack laws again music “wholly or predominantly characterized by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats”, pirate-radio DJ “D-man” broadcasts his plans for an illegal techno-rave- somewhere the authorities won’t be able to find. (Or the host, come to that), But after a series of mishaps, nostalgic of those adolescent problems (i.e. where to get the drugs), the MDMA enhanced blow-out ensues, making it all worth it.

In a 2001/Easy Rider-esque psychedelic sequence, Welsh breaks the de-saturated cinematography in favour of flashing images and randomized scraps of choppily-edited footage. The unusual aesthetics of Beats adds an extra layer of depth to the movie. Welsh uses black-and-white to reflect the tedious daily struggles in crummy, grey town, before popping to bursts of colour once they’re finally able to let loose and dance. The looming prospect of Johnno’s move, summer ending and Spanner having to face the consequences of stealing a psycho’s money all pressure the success of the long-awaited party.

Finding out the location details and getting there with a car full of booze is easier said than done, but the weight of making it is made heavy with the knowledge this could be their last night of freedom. Welsh presents the voice of a generation in the same wild depiction of youth that graced our screens in 1996, with Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting. It’s funny, energetic and even touching at times, advocating a stick-it-to-the-man attitude to life.

In keeping with the conventions of the coming-of-age genre, Welsh places heavy focus on the importance of friendship. Despite their relationship being put under strain, Welsh concludes the rave with Spanner and Johnno lying in bed- returning back to their everyday friendship spent lolling about in their bedrooms.

The pinnacle of the story is not the rave itself – which emerges around the midpoint of the movie – but the boy’s lifelong bond. Despite his extroverted rowdiness, Spanner substantiates himself as a genuine and loving friend when returning Johnno’s schoolbag in a flood or relief that he got home safely. Although the other characters (more specifically the females) lack a real influence on the narrative, Spanner and Johnno’s development as both individuals and friends provide Beat’s the depth it needs to extend itself beyond just a comedy movie.

Culture,Comedy, Music | UK, 2019 | 18 | 17th May 2019 (UK) | Altitude Films | Dir.Brian Welsh | Martin Donaghy, Brian Ferguson, Ryan Fletcher, Rachel Jackson, Neil Leiper, Cristian Ortega, Lorn MacDonald