The 1994 Criminal Justice Act gave police officers the power to shut down events at which music “wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats” was being played, a clearly personal attack at rave culture.
This fact opens Beats, and is referred to throughout the Glasgow-set 90s drama. Placing those who pursue illegal raves against the government, the film grounds itself as a pean to a youth that as ever has every right to be anti-establishment.
Does it lay it on thick? Absolutely. Strait-laced protagonist Johnno’s (Cristian Ortega) step-dad is a cop tasked with breaking up these illicit gatherings, giving the thematic conflict a human potrayal that is sometimes ham-fisted.
Johnno’s best friend is NED ‘Spanner’, played brilliantly by Lorn Macdonald. His own demons are personified by psychopathic drug dealing older brother Fido (Neil Leiper), a laudable touch by the filmmakers showing that those on the other side of the law can be real pieces of shit too.
The drama is centred around whether Johnno and Spanner can get themselves to the rave they crave, and Beats lives or dies by how these moments are portrayed. As it is Beats captures comes as close as possible to portraying the feeling of being on MDMA onscreen (though there should have been some more Wrigleys being passed around), as well as the communal joys of the music and the fleeting moment.
As well as the obvious comparisons to Trainspotting (Macdonald played Mark Renton in a theatre version), the decision to screen the film in black and white lends further comparison to Clerks (which was released in 1994 when Beats is set). Along with Jonah Hill’s Mid-90s, it feels like cinematic nostalgia has moved forward a decade as as a new generation of filmmakers enter the fray.
There’s a few too many shots of a deliberating Johnno as the movie’s opening half starts to go round in circles, but what matters is the way Beats makes you feel as the credits roll. For this the film succeeds admirably in reminding an audience of both the banality and the promises of youth. To Johnny and Spanner, who we all were once.