10 Dance Music Documentaries That Will Make You an Expert
Dance music is a vast world that often gets clumped together as one giant thing when in reality it has as many if not more differences and origins than the majority of popular music. All of the sub genres can seem a little intimidating and confusing. Drum and bass, jungle, dubstep, house, techno, deep house, tech house, techno, dub techno, garage, grime, breakbeat and whatever the new flavor of the month is called; it can often be confusing. Some may wonder why not just call it all EDM and be done with it.
To help make experts of us all, here is a list of 10 documentaries that set out to demystify the history, the music and the behind-the-scenes workings of modern dance music culture.
1. Pump Up the Volume: The History of House music
Pump Up the Volume is by far the most comprehensive documentary on the history of house music's journey from the underground clubs of Chicago to the United Kingdom's 1989 "Summer of Love" when acid house took over the British music landscape. This film focuses on house music, but also connects the dots between house and other dance genres like techno, drum and bass, U.K. garage and acid. Pump Up the Volume is the longest documentary on this list, but it truly is a master class for anyone looking to know more about the roots of modern club music and how it got from point a to point b.
2. High Tech Soul: The Creation of Techno Music
High Tech Soul focuses on the earliest years of techno, the major players and how it got exported to Europe where it would find its largest audience and dominate the overseas club and parties. Techno was born in rough streets of Detroit and ushered in by Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May affectionately know as the Belleville three after the high school they all went to. A product of gritty urban decay, robots and dreams of futuristic societies.
Maestro goes deep into the house music messiahs that gave birth to the sound. Mostly focused on Larry Levan the legendary resident of Paradise Garage, it also gives much attention to David Mancuso. The interview list for this documentary reads like a who's-who of house music history with appearances from Frankie Knuckles, Francois Kevorkian, Danny Tenaglia and Louis Vega. The footage is fuzzy but the stories of the earliest years of the music before it was even called house music is endearing and paints a much clearer picture about how this music rose from the ashes of disco.
4. Kraftwerk and the Electronic Revolution
In the beginning there was Kraftwerk and Kraftwerk's beginnings were in the Krautrock scene of Germany in the late '60s and early '70s. Although this documentary is focused on Kraftwerk it does a great job of covering the Krautrock scene that they came out of, the same scene that also produced bands like Faust, Ash Ra Temple, Kluster, Can, Amon Duul and Tangerine Dream. These other bands are not only mentioned but many of the members are interviewed about this infamous German music scene. The documentary traces the lines of German electronic music culture from the avant grade of legendary composer Karlheinz Stockhausen directly to Kraftwerk and their Krautrock contemporaries.
5. Pioneers of Electronic Music: Richie Hawtin
Richie Hawtin is a polarizing but undeniable force in techno and dance music in general. A pioneer behind Traktor DJ software, former Beatport owner and mobile music software, Hawtin's presence can be felt in all parts of the dance music industry. In the '90s his Plastikman alias was synonymous with rave culture. This documentary goes deep into Hawtin's beginnings as a simple new wave kid from Windsor to the major player in the global dance music.
6. Dub Echoes
Dubstep as a genre is a point of contention for many electronic music fans. Before it became the blueprint for EDM, dub -- which was more of a direct descendant of actual Jamaican dub -- was arguably the oldest form of DJ sound system culture stretching back to the early-to-mid '70s. The Soul Jazz-records produced Dub Echoes traces the roots from the early Jamaican sound system culture ushered in by King Tubby to the dub influenced postpunk of bands like Public Image Limited to the rise of U.K. dubstep over the past 14 years. Dubstep fans and haters can learn a lot about the true essence and roots of this music in this documentary.
7. Jungle Fever
Jungle Fever takes a deep look into the origins of jungle, the original British dance music export. Jungle's significance to British street culture is similar to what hip hop has done for American street culture. Ironically both hip hop and jungle owe a huge debt to Jamaican immigrants. In the U.K. that translated to a heavy influence of reggae throughout music culture. In America original hip hop dj Kool Herc was a Jamaican immigrant bringing soundsytem culture to the Bronx. Jungle Fever keys in on how much the U.K. music scene only came to fruition due to the harmonious combination pirate radio, record shops, distributors and do-it-yourself street culture.
8. Real Scenes: Detroit, Berlin, New York, Paris, Johnanesburg, Bristol, Tokyo
Resident Advisor's documentary series Real Scenes serves as a window into the specific DJ cultures of dance music hot spots around the globe. Techno and house are still very much underground street music in Detroit despite being the birthplace of techno. In Berlin techno was the soundtrack to unification and youth revolution and is an integral part of German culture. In South Africa house music is the national music holding an audience that stretches from kids to grandparents. Every music scene is unique and this documentary series does an excellent job of giving the viewer a snapshot into everyday life of dance music DJs and promoters from around the world.
9. Notes on Breakcore
Dance music is notorious for its dizzying number of micro-genres. Many of those genres come and go faster than you can blink. Although still breaking speed limits in some dark corners of the world, there was a time when breakcore was the next big thing -- until it wasn't. Breakcore was the bastard child of intelligent dance music (also known as IDM), jungle and grindcore. Notes on Breakcore takes a look into this very intense micro-genre that has often served as a crossover point for many metal and punk musicians in to the electronic music realm.
10. Free Tekno
Free Tekno is a DIY film made about the day-to- day activities of underground(and often illegal) sound systems traveling the forests of Germany and Czech Republic, dodging police and setting up their massive sound systems. In yet another genre-confusing twist, tekno is spelled with a "k" to differentiate it from actual techno. Tekno is much faster clocking in around 170 to 200 beats per minute making it sound more like speed metal than traditional club music. Free Tekno was made without any corporate sponsorship in keeping with the spirit of the subject of the documentary.