Hooray for Mollywood: With ‘We Are Your Friends,’ Is EDM Ready for Its Close-up?
As a cultural phenomenon, EDM’s zeitgeist wave is arguably cresting to a jam-band-concern crash point, which means it’s just the right time for Hollywood to attempt its own generational cash-in. Granted, the film industry has already made a few attempted gestures toward the furry-boots crowd: 22 Jump Street, the gold standard for EDM-in-film, was so glowstick-worthy that it got fucking Diplo (fucking Diplo) to make an appearance. There was Deadmau5’s brief, inexplicably hilarious cameo in the Ben Affleck–Justin Timberlake online-poker thriller (really) Runner Runner, and a particularly embarrassing email from the never-ending trove of Sony data leaks revealed brainstorming to find an “EDM angle” for the since-scuttled Amazing Spider-Man series.
In 2015, Hollywood’s full transition to Mollywood continues apace: Hot-to-trot actor Ansel Elgort, the creepily angelic-looking Dennis the Menace facsimile who cut a weepy figure in last year’s YA-cryfest The Fault in Our Stars, is attempting to strike out as a DJ in his own right, with an incredible moniker (Ansølo, anyone?) that doesn’t so much roll off the tongue as it does stick there permanently, like a mouthful of garlic. The movie-within-a-movie featured in the forthcoming Entourage movie — a phrase that causes instant arthritis when typed out — apparently features Vinny Chase playing a black-hoodied, rebellious, skin-glowing DJ (or something). This summer will also see the release of We Are Your Friends, an EDM-coming-of-age yarn starring Zac Efron, Emily Ratajkowski, and the guy who inspired Katy Perry’s “Firework”; it was directed by filmmaker and Catfish costar Max Joseph. Every detail about the film screams “millennial” so loudly that it might as well be a Mean Girls GIF.
Anyone who’s watched this season of Catfish has been well aware of Joseph’s debut cinematic endeavor. For those uninterested in MTV reality shows (or turned off by unearthed assault allegations against Catfish cohost Nev Schulman): He sat out a large chunk of the episodes to finish work on the film. Joseph’s absence has undoubtedly been felt on Catfish, a show that struck strangely humanistic pay dirt with an aesthetic that mashed up anti-bullying PSAs, Maury, and Holiday Inn Express commercials; in the third season, Schulman’s self-aggrandizing, boorish tendencies bled into his faux-spirational TV persona, so the naturally goofy and endearing Joseph became the show’s accidental, emotional center.
The guest hosts brought in for the first stretch of Season 4 have been comparatively wanting, as well as possible causes for the show’s steady ratings decline. In a recent episode cohosted by Miss Teen USA winner Cassidy Wolf, the confronted catfisher — Isaak, an asexual masseuse whose catfishing methods are too convoluted to be detailed here — couldn’t stop asking “Where’s Max?” instead of properly atoning for his duplicitous cybercrimes.
So the recently unveiled trailer for We Are Your Friends could be considered an answer to Isaak’s question, as well as a suggestion that he’s better off in front of a computer than behind a camera. Soundtracked by Justice and Simian’s “We Are Your Friends” (a song that thoroughly predated “EDM” as a buzzword), the trailer opens with a flurry of Trainspotting-esque proclamations before getting to the dubious ethos behind the motivation of Efron’s 23-year-old aspiring DJ character, Cole: “If you’re a DJ, all you need is a laptop, some talent, and one track. That track is your ticket to everything.”
In a broad sense, the statement isn’t totally false: Recent EDM superstars have struck gold off one massive single — think Avicii’s “Levels,” Martin Garrix’s “Animals,” and Zedd’s immortal “Clarity.” (In the case of Avicii, the “some talent” element has been proven very, very relative.) However, the notion that the path to making effective dance music can be reduced to a simple, technological, button-pushing formula is ridiculous bullshit, the same virulent strain of rockist thinking that spews forth every time Dave Grohl takes the stage to accept a Grammy. (Granted, there are those in the big-box dance circuit who are guilty of promoting the notion that DJing and producing don’t take much effort — but be easy on them; they’ve suffered enough as it is.)
Joseph cowrote We Are Your Friends with fellow first-time feature screenwriter Meaghan Oppenheimer; if the “grab a laptop and be a star” sentiment is repeated in the actual film and not just a cheap marketing ploy, it possibly marks a curious shift in Joseph’s values. Two years ago, he directed the Red Bull–funded mini-doc 12 Years of DFA: Too Old to Be New, Too New to Be Classic, a 14-minute capsule that vibrantly captured the first dozen years of one of this century’s most vital NYC-based dance labels — or, a document that suggests a laptop, some talent, and one track won’t get you past the first post. In Too Old to Be New’s closing minutes, there are vague ruminations on where DFA will go next from some of the artists who’ve made the label what it is — including some pitch-perfect cynical musings from cofounder James Murphy, hilariously chilling by the water in a ruddy white V-neck: “I think we have years of embarrassing ourselves by trying to be current ahead of us.”
In its early heyday, DFA traded on a type of downtown cool that seemed proudly vintage in the mid-2000s and absolutely prehistoric in 2015 — in other words, a dance-focused label out of step with the what’s-new-right-now culture that has pushed the genre forward for decades now — and that refusal to sit still is exactly what prevents the slow-moving machine that is the film industry from capturing fleeting monocultural moments such as EDM. Efron’s voice-over might suggest that a laptop is what you need to get ahead, but if the trailer for We Are Your Friends is any indication, Joseph’s Internet connection might as well be running on dial-up. Joseph may very well have made a film as instantly dated as Catfish will seem five years from now, so Murphy’s prophecy might ring true for him in the here and now.
Larry Fitzmaurice (@lfitzmaurice) is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor who has written for publications such as Pitchfork, GQ, and NME.