Beat quarantine boredom with these dance documentaries
Festival season may be on hold for the foreseeable future, but electronic music enthusiasts can still indulge in the visual and experiential vibrancy of the genre from the comfort of their own homes. With a history as rich—and, sometimes, as fraught with contention—as dance music’s, it’s hardly any surprise that the stock of documentaries that profile the genre’s infiltration and subsequent rise in the American music market is wide-ranging.
From chronicles of seminal events such as Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas and the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, to artist-focused productions such as Avicii: True Stories, the array of dance dedicated documentaries available has something for every aficionado, no matter the viewer’s sub-genre or disc-jockey preferences. Delve deeper into the culture of the electronic genre with Dancing Astronaut’s list of dance documentaries.
Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert (2020)
This YouTube original documentary offers viewers an intimate look at the performances that have defined the Indio Valley affair from its foundation in 1999 to its most recent year of production, 2019, sans the wristband and fashion-forward fit. In Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert, festival organizers open Coachella’s vault of footage for the very first time, conjuring up the magic of the event that has consistently captivated the West Coast. Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert features appearances from Daft Punk, Swedish House Mafia, Kanye West, Madonna, Rage Against the Machine, and many, many more.
Flume: When Everything Was New (2018)
Flume‘s ascendance from bedroom producer to Grammy-winning artist was nothing short of meteoric, but with Flume: When Everything Was New, listeners can hit “rewind” to backtrack to Flume’s foundational contributions to future bass and the making of his sophomore LP, Skin. This four-part docu-series slows the whirlwind that was Flume’s sonic rise, to acquaint his fan base with the intimacies and intricacies of the electronic experimentalist’s installation.
The Chainsmokers: Memories (2017)
After the smash success of chart favorites such as “Roses” and “Closer,” The Chainsmokers‘ influence in the dance domain was irrefutable. Around the world, listeners clamored for a place in the crowd at a Chainsmokers show, and in this documentary, Alex Pall and Drew Taggart take fans behind-the-scenes of their Memories Do Not Open Tour, in support of their 2017 album Memories…Do Not Open.
Above & Beyond Acoustic: Giving Up The Day Job (2018)
As any initiated electronic listener can attest, it’s difficult if not impossible to imagine Above & Beyond’s Jono Grant, Tony McGuinness, and Paavo Siljamäki with day jobs other than their respective and yet synergistic roles in the electronic outfit. Above & Beyond Acoustic: Giving Up The Day Job follows the trio as they temporarily shelve their daily trance fueled constructions to deliver an acoustic performance at the Hollywood Bowl.
Watch it on iTunes here.
Smirnoff Sound Collective: Tribes [Dirtybird] (2018)
From its kooky, booty-shakin’ beats to the eccentric verve of its following, Claude VonStroke‘s Dirtybird collective has infused the underground with idiosyncratic soul while offering a welcoming, tightly knit community for those who elect to join the Dirtybird family. This installment of Smirnoff Sound Collective, traces back to the early days of the Dirtybird imprint while giving screen time to some of the collective’s familiar faces, such as Grill$on.
Avicii: True Stories (2017)
Going back to the beginning is the ethos of Avicii: True Stories. The poignant production, which arrived just six months before Avicii‘s death, unabashedly recalls the highs and lows of his career while celebrating the indelible marks that he left on electronic music.
Viewers in the United States can screen Avicii: True Stories below. Unfortunately, this title is not currently available via streaming services in the United States, but is accessible via Netflix in the United Kingdom.
What We Started (2017)
Trace the growth and expansion of electronic dance music through the eyes of veterans, Carl Cox, Tiësto, Moby, and Pete Tong, who chronicle dance’s early days, from the public’s dismissal of disco to the illegal warehouse parties that provided the template for the modern rave format that attendees know and love today. Juxtaposed among these genre-galvanizing figures is viral wunderkind, Martin Garrix, whose sonic inventions were a driving force of the heightened commercialization of electronic music in the late 2010s. An informed glance backwards in sonic foundation, What We Started offers fans of electronic dance music a quintessential history listen.
Watch it on Netflix.
True Colors (2016)
In his steady ascendance to electronic’s upper echelon, Zedd has remained notoriously tight-lipped about his personal life, a tactic that the producer has attributed to his desire to keep the focus on his music. With True Colors, viewers get an unprecedentedly intimate look at Zedd’s trajectory of growth, from multi-instrumentally talented child to a Skrillex-discovered artist with lofty potential, as they learn about the production process behind Zedd’s sophomore LP, True Colors.
Watch it on iTunes, Amazon Prime video, Google Play.
I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (2016)
Get up close and personal with Steve Aoki–without any residual icing. From cake antics to his dealings as Dim Mak head honcho, headlining venues around the world, and even his family’s renowned Benihana business, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead leaves no Aoki topic untouched. After premiering exclusively at the Cannes International Film Festival in 2015, the short film is now available to stream on Netflix.
Watch it on Netflix.
This Was Tomorrow (2015)
Tomorrowland won’t return for another year of production until 2021, but electronic listeners can still revel in the immersive character of the European event. Cue This Was Tomorrow, a documentary dedicated to the Boom, Belgium festival’s culture and its prominence as the largest electronic festival in the world. A filmic celebration of the event’s longevity, This Was Tomorrow arrived shortly after Tomorrowland’s tenth anniversary installment in 2014. Time-honored Tomorrowland headliners including David Guetta, Steve Angello, and Armin Van Buuren, weigh in on the festival’s contributions to the dance circuit.
Watch it on Netflix.
Daft Punk Unchained (2015)
The first independent documentary to explore the maturation of foundational duo, Daft Punk, the Hervé Martin Delpierre-directed Daft Punk Unchained chronicles the outfit’s pioneering efforts in the electronic sector. The visual endeavor chronicles Daft Punk’s iconic moments, including their performance at Coachella’s 2006 iteration, which marked their first appearance in the United States since 1997, without “destroying the magic of the robots,” said Delpierre.
Leave The World Behind (2014)
In 2013, the electronic holy trinity (read: Sebastian Ingrosso, Axwell, and Steve Angello) were preparing to take their final bow as a trio. In 2014, a tell-all documentary held a certain promise for Swedish House Mafia‘s following: focused exploration of the reasoning behind the superpower’s decision to disband. The documentary, which premiered at SXSW in March 2014, encompasses just that, to delve into the intricacies of Swedish House Mafia’s reign as leading electronic entities, to the tune of their classical releases.
EDC 2013: Under The Electric Sky (2014)
With an ethos of PLUR punctuated with colorful kandi, leg warmers, and lollipops, EDC 2013: Under The Electric Sky captures electronic culture in one of its golden years. The documentary profiles several EDC goers, who express their excitement to be attending the United States musical mecca and their gratitude for an event based on acceptance, no matter attendees’ race, nationality, income, sexuality, or otherwise.
EDC 2013: Under The Electric Sky shuffles between interviews with ticket holders, commentary from Insomniac head, Pasquale Rotella, live clips from performances from Armin van Buuren, Avicii, Hardwell, Tiësto, and more, in its vibrant attention to Insomniac’s flagship Las Vegas festival.
Watch it on YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Prime Video.
I AM HARDWELL (2013)
As HARDWELL continues his hiatus from electronic production, fans of his larger-than-life big room sound can get their fix via I AM HARDWELL. The documentary tells the story of HARDWELL’s growth from a 16-year-old electronic experimentalist to the number one DJ in the world in 2013, a social honor that HARDWELL had long aspired to achieve.
Watch it free online here.
A Year With Armin van Buuren (2012)
Given the characteristically fast pace of Armin van Buuren’s career, one year with the trance titan might feel more like three. In the Armada-produced documentary, A Year With Armin van Buuren, listeners get a comprehensive look at van Buuren’s life onstage and off.
Slices – Pioneers of Electronic Music: Richie Hawtin (2011)
The first installment in Slices – Pioneers of Electronic Music trains its narrative focus on Richie Hawtin. An incontrovertible, innovative force behind the techno movement, Hawtin gets his due in an episode that carefully recounts his foothold in Detroit’s radio and his impassioned push forward into the music industry from there.
High Tech Soul (2006)
Situated in the birthplace of techno, High Tech Soul observes the development of from Detroit, where the genre offered a much-needed outlet amid economic downturn. Foundational figures such as Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, and Derrick May offer insight on the form’s nascent beginning and advancement in the time since. Richie Hawtin and Jeff Mills, among other artists, chime in, to delineate the value of techno, to Detroit and beyond.
Photo credit: Bart Heemskerk