Two best friends in a small Scottish town in the summer of ’94 head out for one last night together before life takes them in different directions.
Set in West Lothian in 1994, ‘Beats’ is a nostalgic look back at rave culture in Scotland through the prism of a friendship between two boys from different backgrounds. Those friends are Johnno (Cristian Ortega) and Spanner (Lorn Macdonald) and they’ve clearly been friends for a while, despite the disapproval of Johnno’s mother (Laura Fraser). Johnno is quiet and introverted whereas Spanner is outgoing and a little bit wild, and it’s Spanner who gets Johnno into the rave music that forms the centrepiece of ‘Beats’.
‘Beats’ has a story in the loosest sense, in that we follow Spanner and Johnno as they immerse themselves in the local scene which builds up to a major event ‘somewhere off the M6’. On the side there are subplots involving Spanner’s lowlife brother chasing them down, and Johnno’s family (including his mother’s new partner who also happens to be a policeman) trying to keep him on the straight and narrow and away from Spanner, but ‘Beats’ is essentially here to provide a snapshot of a movement and a moment in time. In that respect, it achieves what it sets out to do. The film uses the rave scene to tell the story of a friendship and to look back with fondness on a carefree moment of youth, when all these characters cared about was that one night and that one party. This particular subculture was already reaching the end of its lifespan at this point in time and I’m too young to have experienced it, but I felt ‘Beats’ encapsulated what attracted people to the scene particularly well.
The film is shot in monochrome with the exception of one key moment during the rave when bursts of colour and visual imagery are used to attempt to replicate the out of body experience and the frenzy the music and the substances are having on those ‘in the moment’. It’s an effective stylistic choice and it works well. I was fully invested in the friendship that forms the heart of the film and both Ortega and Macdonald are believable and likeable in their performances, although I felt there was mileage in exploring the contrasts between the two boys upbringing that is only partially touched on.
The enthusiasm for the music and the time period shine through in the filmmaking and that enthusiasm helps makes ‘Beats’ worth a watch, even if the particular music genre in question isn’t your favourite.
Directed By: Brian Welsh
Starring: Cristian Ortega, Lorn Macdonald, Laura Fraser, Brian Ferguson, Rachel Jackson, Neil Leiper, Kevin Mains, Ross Mann, Amy Manson and Gemma McElhinney