What Hollywood Gets Wrong About Music Festival Culture
We talked to the director of Netflix’s “XOXO” about the stigma of EDM culture.
When you think of EDM culture, a few things probably come to mind: drugs, endless partying and escapism. Festivals like Electric Zoo, Ultra and Spring Awakening have notoriously become less about the music and more about the experience of dancing under the influence amid neon lights with other fucked-up individuals.
Then, there are movies like “Spring Breakers” which may not be about a festival, but the b-roll of belly shots, snorting drugs and dancing like your life depended on it to a Skrillex-heavy soundtrack reinforces the idea that electronic music is a gateway to drug culture. EDM is consistently associated with drug use and partying in movies, portraying the stereotypical dark side of this lifestyle.
So, when Christopher Louie made his film “XOXO” for Netflix, he attempted to break the stigma of EDM culture associated with drugs and escapism. As a former DJ himself, Louie drew from personal experiences to create six dynamic characters experiencing a “coming-of-age” moment at a music festival.
“The characters are archetypes,” Louie told us at North Coast Music Festival. The film stars Sarah Hyland as Krystal, a “young ingénue looking for love” and Graham Phillips as Ethan, a young, up-and-coming DJ. The two bump into each other at the festival and immediately feel a connection. “I think everyone at one point in their life is naive to love and kind of open to anything,” Louie said about their relationship. On the flip side, there’s a couple enjoying their last festival as a couple because they know their relationship will end when the night is over.
Louie says that above all, he aimed to make the film relatable for people who go to festivals. So, this includes roadblocks like the bus breaking down, the feeling when your favorite act takes the stage and maybe even having a conversation with a Porta Potty?—?something that actually happened to Louie. “I don’t know what it’s like to be a DJ in 2016, but certain experiences like your gear messing up, being late and not being able to get backstage are things that happened to me, but are also super relatable,” Louie told us.
Though “XOXO” takes place at a fictional music festival, it was shot at festivals and raves around the nation. For Louie, the most important thing to capture was the “vibe of the festival in its most authentic form.” His inspiration for candid shots came from photographer Wavesssss, who snaps close-up portraits of kids enjoying festivals in their purest form.
“Those close-ups of real kids in their element are those high points,” Louie said. “Electronic music is born out of that garage and underground vibe and that feeling. You don’t get that feeling anywhere else but festivals. It’s not nearly as intense at clubs. There’s no other way to capture it than doing it at real festivals.”
All of the story lines in the film fold together to make an “aha” moment for each character. By the end, the characters have made peace with themselves, thanks to the festival experience.
While Louie acknowledges (and even shows in “XOXO”) that drugs certainly do exist at these festivals, he chooses to focus on the impact the music has on these young people’s lives. With the main theme being “jump and the universe will catch you,” this reminds us to live in the moment and let things fall into place.