Brian Welsh on Beats: 'This a story about being young, it's relevant to then but it's also relevant to what's happening now'

Brian Welsh on Beats: 'This a story about being young, it's relevant to then but it's also relevant to what's happening now'

Playwright Kieran Hurley and film director Welsh discuss the Scottish rave movie

As if inventing penicillin was not enough, Scots gave the world one huge shot in the arm through the pioneering of rave culture in the 1990s. Originally performed at Glasgow's Arches Theatre, Kieran Hurley's play Beats captures a dynamic experience of the scene; Brian Welsh directs the film adaptation.

'The original play was a low-budget creation for Jackie Wylie at The Arches, a one hour theatre piece that I would perform myself, all very DIY,' says Hurley. 'I was accompanied by my mate, Johnny Whoop, who filled the room with stacks and lights to create the feel of a rave. The writing was all about conjuring an image, but film can do all that in a second, so the big decision at the start of this process was that the film should be its own thing, quite different from the play.'

Beats follows Johnno (Cristian Ortega) from his family home to a late night rave that's depicted in meticulous detail; whether you experienced the real thing or not, Beats plays like a full-on rave simulator.

'That idea of a "rave simulator" was something I thought when I saw the play for the first time,' says Welsh. 'There was live mixing, throbbing visuals, so when we came to make the film, we needed to have a proper rave, with the crew manoeuvring around that, not just extras just standing there. For the visuals, I worked with a guy called Weirdcore on scratch visuals, 16mm animation; the 'Stakker Humanoid' video was a big influence too. And I looked at footage that Jim Rusk took of the Desert Storm raves, that was a big inspiration too.'

Beats isn't just about the bangers, but time and place, yet Welsh bristles at the idea of sentiment; 'This is absolutely not a nostalgia piece,' he says. 'We wanted to specifically explore the socio-economic content of the boys' story.'

'In theory, you could set a story like this at any point in time because it's about discovering yourself through music, but at this particular moment, there was a post-Thatcher individualistic world view, and young people were expressing a communal need to share a space together' adds Hurley. 'Aspiration is driving Johnno's family out of their community, it's an identifiable moment in time.'

'The context is incidental to the characters; apart from Johnno's dad, they're not aware of the political context, they're interested in the music,' says Welsh. 'People didn't realise at the time that new Labour was nothing more than repackaged Thatcherism. Also it's worth pointing out that the rave in the film is not a commercially driven thing. Subcultures like this get sucked into the mainstream and get monetised. But this a story about being young which people will be able to relate to, it's relevant to then but it's also relevant to what's happening now.'

General release from Fri 17 May.

Beats

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • UK
  • Directed by: Brian Welsh
  • Cast: Martin Donaghy, Laura Fraser, Rachel Jackson |
  • UK release: 17 May 2019

Johnno (Ortega) and Spanner (Macdonald) are teenagers who plan to go to an illegal rave. The set-up betrays the film’s origins in screenwriter Hurley’s own play, and there’s nothing about the setting that merits the arty black & white photography, but it’s one of the few films that manages to successfully put on…

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