Let’s just get right to it. We Are Your Friends, the Max Joseph-directed film about an aspiring DJ and his posse, is not the movie you’re expecting. It doesn’t leverage the emotional melancholy or impact of SLC Punk! It has more than the rudimentary understanding of fame of Entourage. Though heavy on cameos, it isn’t an excuse to parade EDM decadence in the faces of non-converts or an EDM propaganda piece. It isn’t even really about EDM.
So what is it then? We Are Your Friends is a sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes ridiculous, sometimes touching, surprisingly honest look at the lives of us—the people who occupy the dance music world. It eschews making EDM the subject of its focus, attempting instead to follow in the footsteps of Requiem For A Dream. WAYF asks the question, “What is it really like to live the rave lifestyle, day in and day out?”
The story focuses on Cole Carter (Zac Efron) and his friends Mason, Ollie, and Squirrel. Right off the bat it’s clear the writers of WAYF are familiar with the archetypes of club life. There’s the shy budding genius DJ (Cole), the overly-aggressive promoter (Mason), the slimy-but-suave drug dealer (Ollie), and the kid just looking for a place to belong (Squirrel). These character profiles might seem callous at first brush, but each is delivered with care and familiarity.
We’re pretty sure one of the writers spent time as a promoter. The incessant cycle of bringing bodies through the door in exchange for scraps is deftly represented. In fact, the movie’s broad view of the promotional aspects of the EDM lifestyle is one of its greatest strengths, but using a light enough touch to generate some laughs. Mason’s troublesome nature, bulldog attitude, and constant hustling are underpinned by his genuine desire to see he and his friends break from the cycle to true fame and success.
Visually WAYF is a beautiful, if generally scattered, journey. The movie’s cinematography is beautifully composed, full of wide shots, fun camera tricks, and tons of text overlays. It also sports one of the best recent representations of drug use on film. The characters’ interactions with molly, PCP, marijuana, and alcohol are visually appealing and candid. The fact that the movie’s visuals have very little in the way of consistency or overall theme is annoying, but may well be a statement on EDM’s production-above-all-else mentality.
This statement is carried on in James Reed, the massively successful DJ-turned washout and mentor. His character is the movie’s best achievement. Through the damaged Reed (played very well by Wes Bentley) we get to see EDM looking back at itself in a mirror. He chastises Efron for his lack of musicality, his youthful lack of pain, and denigrates him for sounding like “Skillex’s little brother.” This tense, self-referential mindset culminates in a moment where Cole, in a burst of misguided genre snobbery, tries to tell Reed the sound he thinks is “crushing it” right now. Reed cuts him off immediately, matter-of-factly stating our collective opinion on high-minded musical rambling:
“Stop. You sound like an asshole.”
In this way WAYF isn’t afraid to take down the ugly parts of our scene, and by extension club life. Drugs aren’t just represented honestly; their consequences are, too. The movie is full of small moments where characters call out behaviors anyone familiar with life in the club will recognize. It pokes fun at genre snobbery, tempo worship, laptop DJs, sexualization and misogyny, flagrant sex, and sellout superstars. Every EDM fan in the theatre will, at some moment, have something they do or say held up in front of them for judgment.
Which isn’t to say the movie is without inaccuracy. The love story, while honest in some details, is clumsy and forced. It’s almost as if great pains were taken to ensure the viewer only cares about the love story as a means to further the greater narrative and put the magnifying glass on more aspects of our culture. There’s also the short-lived cold-calling real estate job Cole works to pay the bills, which, while a foil to the main story, is ultimately pretty unbelievable as a side-quest; even a predatory one. Combine that with the formulaic “moment” where Cole magically finds his sound, and it’s certainly not a perfect mirror.
The WAYF mirror can often be hard to look into. Even the less believable parts of the movie somehow resonate with those of us in the scene. When it all does come together, it can be downright unsettling. EDM fanatics who attend WAYF will react in one of two ways: finding themselves pointing and laughing awkwardly out of recognition, or trashing the movie because it can be hard to admit that’s really us up there on screen. For better or worse, WAYF adequately and often succinctly distills our entire culture down to a series of moments. Moments that build up, drop hard, ride you, then callously leave you behind for the next.
In between, WAYF works hard to establish the legitimacy of EDM as music, lovingly representing the arduous process of creation. Cole struggles repeatedly with even the simple task of finding a loop, a sound, or any inspiration at all. The hunt for that “one track” to make it big is surely real to anyone who has ever spent time behind a DAW (in case you’re wondering, he uses Logic Pro). Yamaha HS8s, a microKORG, and even a vintage Dubreq synth help solidify the movie’s cred as familiar with gear and mid-range gear envy. Simply put, WAYF wants you to believe in the process of making EDM.
Ultimately, the measure and importance of a movie is whether it says anything meaningful to us in exchange for our time. WAYF spends its entire run unsure of who it is, then poses the question right back to us: “will we ever be better than this?” It’s the kind of self-serving, pat yourself on the back, reality-dismissing “progress” every EDM Peter Pan and Patty Pan have asked themselves before falling deeper down into the rabbit hole. Maybe we wasted our time. Maybe we didn’t. It’s difficult to know for sure when all you remember are a series of fleeting moments, and feelings in a haze of pretty people, lights, and music.
Turn to Page 2 to read our individual staff members’ reactions to We Are Your Friends.
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