As I pulled into the parking lot of the movie theater my friends and I have frequented since we were in jr high, I noticed it was entirely empty, save for two or three cars. Do people not watch movies in theaters anymore? No time to dwell on the crushing revelation that all things you once held dear are going to eventually decay. After all, I had a movie to document for a major publication. So, I walked into the movie theater to purchase tickets for 11:40 AM showing of Zac Efron’s EDM film, We Are Your Friends.
I could feel the judging stare of the manager the entire way from the box office to the door of the auditorium. Maybe I was being paranoid. I’m sure I was – we all spend more time self-conscious of how people perceive us than people actually do perceiving us. Or maybe there is a valid reason to judge a fresh-faced 21-year-old for going to see a movie about EDM alone in the middle of the day. That’s fair. I’ll give him that one.
I open the door to auditorium number five, and the pitch-black theater is entirely empty, playing credits to an audience of no one. I shouldn’t’ve been surprised, given it’s 11:40 in the morning on a work day in the middle of suburban Indianapolis. But there’s still something eery about walking into an empty movie theater that has the same feeling as walking into an abandoned building. I took my seat – dead center aisle, direct middle seat – and let out a sigh of relief that the movie was starting so I could finally turn my brain off.
“If you're a DJ, all you need is a laptop, some talent, and one track.”
These are the words that open We Are Your Friends. It’s an easily memeable phrase meant to go viral during the marketing process of the movie. Yet, there’s an uncomfortable air of familiarity behind the sentiment. In today’s lightning fast, internet-centric society, anyone can become a celebrity, be it calculated or by accident. Our culture has shifted to the point where carefully crafted tweets, Instagram posts, and proper brand management can transport you from E-list internet influencer into A-list tastemaker seemingly overnight. We’re always one track – whatever your “track” is doesn’t matter – away from changing our lives.
The premise of the movie is simple: a bro who loves music wants to be paid to love music. But the movie is more self-aware than people will give credit. There are jokes about the music industry, about Los Angeles, and about EDM, that all feel like someone you follow on Twitter could’ve written them. Every time Efron is DJing someone comes up and asks him if he could play “Drunk In Love,” which is funny literally every single time, because it’s so true to life.
At one point, Efron is DJing a pool party somewhere in The Hills, and he’s walking Emily Ratajkowski through the process of controlling a room with music. He breaks it down to a science, pointing out that the bass controls the hips, the synth controls the torso, and the pace controls the heart. The goal is to create synergy throughout the entire body, achieving what we in the industry call a “dope feeling.” Once you hit 128 beats per minute, the room is yours.
It’s all self-parody of a culture that is absurd from the outside looking in and an inside joke for those who are on the inside looking out. More than that, it serves to keep We Are Your Friends light – which is necessary because the movie takes a few turns for the dark – and it does the job without feeling too much like an episode of Entourage. But where the movie succeeds is in the overarching theme of creative frustration. In a scene between Efron and his DJ sensei played by Wes Bentley, Efron looks over and says “I have created anything in weeks.” Without missing a beat, Bentley takes a swig from his overfull whiskey and replies, “Don’t let it become years.” We’re all trying to find meaning in a world that moves at 190 beats per minute.
As the movie comes to a close, Efron is standing in front of a DJ booth opening [insert name of one of 13,252,552 festivals]. Hands shaking, he grabs the mic, introduces himself, and presses a button on his controller. It’s the buzzing sound of the electricity field he runs by every morning. He presses another button. It’s the sound of wind chimes outside of his house. He presses another button. It’s a sampled voicemail of Ratajkowski’s character. He presses another button. It’s the voice of his friend who passed away.
Efron looks out into the crowd, tears in his eyes, and yells into the mic, “Are we gonna be better than this?” It’s here that we realize the key to The Track is and always will be authenticity. There is no way to manufacture creativity and passion. There are ways to sell yourself to trick people into believing you’re cool, and people do it all the time. But they will always flame out because there’s no perfect formula. The longer you strive for perfection the further away you’ll be. There is beauty in the imperfections. Once you realize this, it’s then you will find your banger.
Alex Hancock is your friend. Follow him on Twitter.