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‘What We Started’: An Electronic Dance Movement: How EDM Changed the World

What We Started.  Dir/Scr: Bert Marcus, Cyrus Saidi. Martin Garrix, Carl Cox, Paul Oakenfold, Ed Sheeran. 95 minutes. 


They got the beat.

They may work old-school, live, from a pair of spinning turntables. They may have everything already digitized, loaded up and ready to go. But however they roll, these days, at dance clubs and music festivals, the DJ is the star.

And engineering the ecstasy of thousands of raving fans.

What We Started takes a detailed look at these men’s lives, the electronic dance music they play, and the EDM scene they’ve created. It’s a quirky and quickly changing frontier, where a star like Martin Garrix can make millions before he’s out of his teens, and a middle-aged veteran like Carl Cox can still spend 10 sweaty hours at his console, keeping a club in Ibiza hopping.

Filmmakers Bert Marcus and Cyrus Saidi provide valuable context too, showing how the music didn’t just happen, but evolved over decades. The wild disco scene at New York’s Paradise Garage, the house music coming out of Chicago, Detroit’s assembly-line techno sound – all contributed a piece.

So, too, did illegal substances. “Of course the music played a huge part in it,” Moby says of the early rave scene. “The drugs played a huge part in it, too.” 

But “What We Started” pushes beyond the old scare stories of firetrap clubs and hallucinating high-schoolers to talk to the DJs themselves, all of whom come across as both serious about the music and totally dedicated to their adrenaline-soaked appearances in front of their fans.

And the film also widens its angle, to see how what was once a completely underground genre has taken over mainstream pop as well, thanks to hit making re-mixers like David Guetta who bring their own spin to other musicians’ sound. Paul Oakenfold talks about how he went from re-doing a U2 song to opening for them. Ed Sheeran shares his joy over working with Garrix to find new rhythms, new sensations.

Like the raves themselves, the documentary doesn’t always pause to let you catch your breath. It’d be nice to hear a bit more about those early pioneers, and something from the fans themselves. And where are the female DJs? Not here, sadly.

But also like the spectacles it chronicles, What We Started is a gorgeous explosion of sound and color. The lightshows are never-ending. The beat pounds away like a jackhammer. It’s almost like having a rave in your living room – without having to stand in line first, or worrying about where you parked your car afterward.

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