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Better Living Through Circuitry
March 12, 2010 10:02 AM   Subscribe

Better Living Through Circuitry [trailer] is a 1999 documentary about rave culture. [Vodpod movie, 1h25m]

The film includes interviews with and music by BT, The Crystal Method, Electric Skychurch, Genesis P-Orridge, Frankie Bones, DJ Spooky, Roni Size, and DJ Keoki. It explores the underground dance party scene which was coming to prominence about a decade ago, and which still continues today.
posted by hippybear (45 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
If I recall correctly, this is the one that was half-great and informative, and half snotty defensive assholes talking about how "this is not rock n roll" and presenting their entire "future music" schtick as something more grating and exclusive than it ever should have been.

That sorta ruined it for me. You can't constantly define yourself against what you arent.

Those people in general made US electronic dance culture insufferable around that time.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:22 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Okay, the documentary's title is clearly taken from (electronic dance music artist) Fatboy Slim's 1996 album Better Living Through Chemistry, the title of which was itself adapted from a DuPont corporate slogan.

Better Living Through Circuitry, you're wearing the shirt of the band you're going to see. Don't be that movie.
posted by griphus at 10:33 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I remember watching this along with Modulations when they first came out way back when. Better Living... was much more about 'the scene' and the kids who went out to parties, as well as about the musicians (though with heavy focus on Cleopatra label artists). Modulations was much more focused on the musicians and only spared a glancing nod to the subculture.

I rewatched them a few years ago with a girlfriend who ditched the whole rave subculture in favor of goth/industrial and was indulging her curiosity. Generally speaking, Better Living ... left me a lot more nostalgic for the sheer boundless optimism that marked, not just rave culture, but the mid-90s in general. The future was just brimming with so much goddamn potential in our eyes back then. Modulations on the other hand, was just an odd reminder of how much things have and haven't changed in this genre over the last ten years.
posted by bl1nk at 11:13 AM on March 12, 2010


Reminds me of this great comment that was sidebarred a few years ago.
posted by joedan at 11:21 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


What's wrong with wearing the shirt of the band you're going to see? Not detached enough for you?
posted by adamdschneider at 11:23 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, so this is what they were making. I ran into these folks a couple of times at different parties and they stuck in my mind because they were politely asked to lose the camera or leave at a goa/psy trance party - nice people but it was an acid rather than an E crowd and the camera was weirding people out.

There was another doco on techno/rave music that came out around the same time but which turned out to be different people covering a completely different scene and I always wondered what happened with the footage I saw being gathered.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:26 AM on March 12, 2010


What's wrong with wearing the shirt of the band you're going to see? Not detached enough for you?

Personally? It's a cross between lazy fanboyism and bad taste. You wear a band shirt because you like the band. You're at the show - the fact is clear, so why waste an entire article of clothing being redundant? It is like wearing an outfit that all matches just a little too well.

...but hell if I'm going to people how to dress. It also so happens to be a quote from an awesome movie.
posted by griphus at 11:31 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks Bl1nk - Modulations was the other documentary but I couldn't remember the name. I wholeheartedly agree about the social context. Some of that 90s optimism was drug-fueled, but there really was a lot of groundbreaking music coming out in multiple genres and artists and labels were discovering there was intelligent life outside the normal music distribution channels.

Then Bush came into office, and a few years later Joe Biden and friends introduced the RAVE act, which imposed draconian penalties on anyone with the temerity to organize a party where people might want to consume drugs. Yes, there were promoters who threw huge parties solely to reap the rewards of high-volume drug sales over a short period.

Big whoop. Nobody ever held me down and forced a pill between my lips, or made me stay at a party when I wanted to leave. I did have some seriously bad trips, and I took the responsibility for them instead of blaming the person who gave me something I asked for. The only promoters I ever criticized were the very few who threw parties in buildings that were empty because they were unsafe.

I was and remain disappointed at the easy political capital to be had scapegoating people to 'protect' people who try something and don't like it.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:55 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hmm. How awesome can it be if it stars Jeremy Piven?
posted by adamdschneider at 11:55 AM on March 12, 2010


Okay, I'll admit that I haven't seen it since my mid-teens. But back then? So awesome.
posted by griphus at 12:01 PM on March 12, 2010


What's wrong with wearing the shirt of the band you're going to see? Not detached enough for you?

Don't even get me started on wearing your favorite team's jerseys to their home games. LAME

It's a cross between lazy fanboyism and bad taste. You wear a band shirt because you like the band. You're at the show - the fact is clear, so why waste an entire article of clothing being redundant?

I don't get this. Much the same way I was never able to "fit in" this scene due to a complete lack of understanding, and for those years I wound up in oversized brand name hoodies staring motionless at the hip-hop DJs doing their battle routines, instead of doing E laced with heroin with a pacifier in my mouth and dancing all night. God. Can I have a do-over on years 18-25 please?
posted by Kirk Grim at 12:05 PM on March 12, 2010


Don't even get me started on wearing your favorite team's jerseys to their home games. LAME

Considering the second part of your comment, I honest-to-god can't tell if you're being sarcastic.
posted by griphus at 12:10 PM on March 12, 2010


WAA WAA WOO WEE WEE WAA
WAA WAA WOO WEE WEE WAA
oomp oomp oomp oomp
WEE WOO WA WEE WEE WAW
oomp chicka oomp chicka oomp chicka oomp chicka
THE SYSTEM... IS DOWN!
THE SYSTEM... IS DOWN!
oomp oomp oomp oomp
WEE WOO WA WEE WEE WAW
oomp chicka oomp chicka oomp chicka oomp chicka
BICYCLE! HAT! BICYCLE! HAT!
posted by Ratio at 12:20 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


instead of doing E laced with heroin

I spent years searching for the heroin-laced e, but all I ever got was the ketamine-laced stuff.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:20 PM on March 12, 2010


I was being sarcastic. And the second part of my comment is a bit confusing, you're right. Basically I was trying to say that in retrospect, I didn't really fit in or understand the scene I chose to partake in instead of the underground dance scene. I'm pretty sure we were supposed to be getting the fuck down at a hip-hop show, so why was I and everyone else just standing there watching? Good times.

I spent years searching for the heroin-laced e, but all I ever got was the ketamine-laced stuff.

couldn't tell you if this stuff was what it said on the label. All I know is, my friends that were into that scene would have these conversations about how the club "was so awesome on Saturday, 'member how we took that E with heroin in it and we had to go outside and puke in the alley?" I understood all the words, but they didn't make sense to me in that order.
posted by Kirk Grim at 12:42 PM on March 12, 2010


I was being sarcastic.
Okay, in that case, you wear your colors to a sports game as a fuck you to the other guys. It's about solidarity with your team because there're (at least) two of them. At a show, everyone's there to see the show. There's very, very rarely anything remotely close to the ([hopefully] localized and socially appropriate) animosity between fans of opposing teams, so there's no reason to show your colors. Doing so is trying to be a bigger fan than someone who isn't doing so. And that's lame. In fact, the environment should be the complete opposite - even at shows with pits.) Although I don't know what's going on with the metalcore kids. Even Slayer advocated respect in the pit on stage.)

I understood all the words, but they didn't make sense to me in that order.
It was probably DXM or Ketamine or some other disassociative. Unless they were snorted or the size of mutlivitamins, I'm not sure heroin cutting/cut into pills would've done anything. (I could be completely wrong, though.)
posted by griphus at 12:51 PM on March 12, 2010


THERE WAS NEVER EVER ANY E WITH HEROIN IN IT

Drug dealers are cheap, not stupid. Heroin is expensive. Aside from that, E pills were so small that any amound of heroin you 'cut' it with would barely have an effect. Why would you cut a cheap drug with a more expensive one? Answer? You wouldn't. Also, it wouldn't make E any 'better'. The addictive factor of drugs has very little to do with their subjective quality.

The only thing E was ever cut with were things like caffeine or meth. The most typical 'fake' ecstasy pill (until recently) was 100% DXM (robotussin), which felt close enough to an E come-on for long enough that a dealer could dump 100 pills and get out of the party before anyone figured out what happened.

The origin of the 'e with h' myth was the idea of 'smacky' and 'speedy' pills. For a variety of reasons (set, setting, dosage, etc), sometimes E made you want to sit around and talk shit (smacky), and sometimes it made you want to get up and dance (speedy). Dancesafe tested pills all the time at a lab, and never once came back with a pill cut with heroin.
posted by empath at 12:57 PM on March 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Can I have a do-over on years 18-25 please?

If it makes you feel any better, my prime 'rave' years were from like 24-28. If you're only 25, you still have plenty of years left of good partying left.
posted by empath at 1:02 PM on March 12, 2010


doing so is trying to be a bigger fan than someone who isn't doing so

Fair enough, but I've been to a number of shows/concerts of bands I hadn't heard of or wasn't necessarily a fan of at all, and it's not that uncommon. As a matter of fact, I met my wife at an underground dance club, and I didn't even like that scene.
posted by Kirk Grim at 1:04 PM on March 12, 2010


I wore a Jethro Tull t-shirt to a Jethro Tull show. :( Then again, I was at a Jethro Tull show, so I think I had implicitly given up on being cool.
posted by adamdschneider at 1:07 PM on March 12, 2010


The origin of the 'e with h' myth was the idea of 'smacky' and 'speedy' pills. For a variety of reasons (set, setting, dosage, etc), sometimes E made you want to sit around and talk shit (smacky), and sometimes it made you want to get up and dance (speedy). Dancesafe tested pills all the time at a lab, and never once came back with a pill cut with heroin.


It's like...how's the ground down there and shit....
posted by Senor Cardgage at 1:08 PM on March 12, 2010


Fair enough, but I've been to a number of shows/concerts of bands I hadn't heard of or wasn't necessarily a fan of at all, and it's not that uncommon.

Oh, yeah, definitely. I just meant that as interaction between individuals who would have a reason (fan-of-band) for owning the t-shirt in the first place.

I wore a Jethro Tull t-shirt to a Jethro Tull show. :( Then again, I was at a Jethro Tull show, so I think I had implicitly given up on being cool.

I am willing to grandfather in any band with more than three songs in permanent rotation on a "classic rock" radio station.
posted by griphus at 1:14 PM on March 12, 2010


I wholeheartedly agree about the social context. Some of that 90s optimism was drug-fueled, but there really was a lot of groundbreaking music coming out in multiple genres and artists and labels were discovering there was intelligent life outside the normal music distribution channels.

Then Bush came into office, and a few years later Joe Biden and friends introduced the RAVE act, which imposed draconian penalties on anyone with the temerity to organize a party where people might want to consume drugs.


To give you an idea of the utopian mindset at these parties, I remember a rave on New Years Eve, 1999, where I said the following statement to a stranger : "We're all going to be rich, we're all going to be happy, and we're all going to live forever", and there wasn't a bit of argument.

It really, really is hard to describe what that era felt like. I was friends with multiple dotcom millionaires, LSD and MDMA were easily available and cheap, the music was ridiculously over the top and happy, and the parties were frequent and amazing. And the internet was connecting a bunch of neo-hippy cyber-utopian ravers for the first time talking about the hedonistic imperative, etc... it was like living in a sci-fi novel or something.

Then Bush got (s)elected, and the market crashed, and 9/11 happened, meth flooded the scene, and the RAVE act was passed and everything evaporated. By 2002, the scene described in this movie was gone.
posted by empath at 1:15 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Btw, here's some east coast rave history footage here:

Lonnie Fischer and Scott Henry at Energize (at the DC Armory) in 1998

Those 2 guys more or less ran the scenes in Baltimore and DC respectively for 10 years.

Scott's last track at the Armory party the next year (yes, a huge annual rave at a National Guard facility).

And here is the motherload of East Coast 90s rave mix tapes.
posted by empath at 1:26 PM on March 12, 2010


It really, really is hard to describe what that era felt like. I was friends with multiple dotcom millionaires, LSD and MDMA were easily available and cheap, the music was ridiculously over the top and happy, and the parties were frequent and amazing. And the internet was connecting a bunch of neo-hippy cyber-utopian ravers for the first time talking about the hedonistic imperative, etc... it was like living in a sci-fi novel or something.

Then Bush got (s)elected, and the market crashed, and 9/11 happened, meth flooded the scene, and the RAVE act was passed and everything evaporated. By 2002, the scene described in this movie was gone.


"So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back."
posted by adamdschneider at 1:30 PM on March 12, 2010


I was raving from like 91 thru 03 or so.
There were many many times where The Dream was indeed as beautiful as you've heard.

But...

Meth was punching holes in the fabric of The Dream way before Bush came in tho.
Hell, I was in Omaha in 99 when (god damn stupid fucking shit eating) Happy Hardcore was blowing up and you had tweaking t(w)eens littered all about. It predated that summer even.

As Ive said many times when Ive ground this very specific axe before: the drugs stopped supplementing the music and the music started getting out of the way of the drugs. If you werent on drugs you were bored and its likely that even if you were on drugs you werent dancing. Saw this played out so. many. times. in the late 90s/early aughts.

The irony is that it took the indie rock hipster kids to make dance culture fun again.
I have friends here and in the Bay still flogging those 90s model "Boredom House" (as I call it) parties and its a sad scene. Like seeing high school friends that havent changed at all in 10 years.
The boring DJs still bore (but hey, it's a house beat, so that makes it house, ....right?), their DJ friends still tell themselves the lie that "people arent dancing cuz the music (in which nothing much at all happens for 20 minutes at a time) is too advanced for them" and the whole enterprise just crawls ever towards "meh"

It's gotten to the point that I've stopped going to those parties wholesale.

Give me a sweaty room full of badly dancing (but passionate) indie kids rocking out to a dude playing straight remixes off of burned CD-Rs any day of the week.
Turntablism was always a bit of a wank anyway if you werent someone like Q-Bert or whoever anyway. These dance parties are the "anything can happen" ones that feel like early raves to me now. Too bad the aged ravers cant take the blinders of stiff routine off enough to get down and enjoy it.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 1:32 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I'm actually DJing more at and going to more indie dance parties now. Mefi's-own Potomac Avenue writes for a 'hipster' blog called Brightest Young Things, and there was some faux drama between hipsters and ravers on their message board, and kind of just as a joke, they booked a bunch of rave DJs at one of their parties, and I'll tell you those kids get the idea of just having a good time and listening to music better than any of the supposed 'rave' crowd does.

Their New Years Eve party they threw last year that I played at was the closest thing to a real rave I've been to this area in 5 or 6 years, and I'm pretty sure that all they know about raves they learned from watching Party Monster.
posted by empath at 1:38 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


These dance parties are the "anything can happen" ones that feel like early raves to me now.

Yeah, what took of the blinders for me was a Spank Rock show in DC and a Soulwax/Klaxons/Diplo show in Philadelphia a few years back. Spank Rock dropped a baltimore club remix of "Jump In the Line" and "You Can Call Me Al" back to back and the whole crowd was up on the stage dancing with them, and then the Klaxons played a punk rock cover of Grace - Not Over Yet while people were moshing with glowsticks, and then Soulwax did a cover of James Brown Is Dead.

I didn't know what the hell was going on at either one of those shows, but goddamn if they weren't fucking fun.
posted by empath at 1:42 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Def.

Soulwax >>>>>>> whatever isnt Soulwax. (tongue in cheek, yet still sorta true)

Who needs 19 rooms of splintered genres?

What's funny is, I've been out of that older scene now for so long that when one of my friend's was talking about some huge DJ was gonna be in SF playing "A 6 hour set", a conceit at one time I would have loved, I was like .....why the hell would I want to listen to some twat stretch his set out that long? Lol. It seems so alien to me that I ever would have wanted to dance to someone's interminably long set.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 1:46 PM on March 12, 2010


That said, I've been to some dire indie dance parties. Like, snotty rich kids not dancing, djs just spinning the latest shit off hypemachine without even attempting to beatmatch...

Indie kids seem to have a little bit of ADD when it comes to dance music, too.. You need to play remixes and vocals constantly or you lose them. It's rare that they're willing to go with the DJ if he wants to just lay down a groove for a while, and that's kind of unfortunate, cause that's where the magic really happens with dance music.
posted by empath at 1:46 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh I feel you on that too.
But I think they are progressing.
Shit, just 5 years ago the kids wouldnt dance at all.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 1:48 PM on March 12, 2010


My experience and Empath's are pretty well mirrored... Nostalgic for the music? Ezeskankin is a site of digitized and uploaded mix tapes from 99 and earlier by my friend Tim. Quite a few notables there, FYI, if you partied at all in Texas or the Southwest from 1990-1999.

Also, I remember when Ecstasy was legal and included in your $5 entry to the club. fuck, I'm so old, but at least we're together right?
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 1:53 PM on March 12, 2010


Here's a video of an old-school rave party in Dallas, 1993. It was at a venue called the Bomb Factory; Moby, Ritchie Hawtin and The Prodigy played. I was sitting on a raised platform in the back with three guys from high school wearing a Fresh Jive T-shirt, wondering if Meat Beat Manifesto was coming soon... sigh. I'm telling you, there's a thin line between industrial, rock, rave, etc.

People think of electronic music and don't realize how punk it could get (and still is).

Oh hey, according to the video this is the first official "rave" tour of America. Rave New World, indeed.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 2:03 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I should clarify: Tim owns the Ezeskankin site; there are mixtapes by people like Derrick Carter and so forth on there, not Tim, oops.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 2:06 PM on March 12, 2010


People think of electronic music and don't realize how punk it could get (and still is).

Yep. Alec Empire scared me/made me want to smash shit up as much as or more than any contemporary punk bands.
posted by Kirk Grim at 2:10 PM on March 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


What's wrong with wearing the shirt of the band you're going to see? Not detached enough for you?

Worse still: buying the band's shirt at the show, then putting it on over the shirt you're wearing.

I'm pretty sure I did that once.
posted by schoolgirl report at 2:19 PM on March 12, 2010


Worse still: buying the band's shirt at the show, then putting it on over the shirt you're wearing.

I see that and raise you buying a shirt for someone else not going to the show and etc. etc.
posted by griphus at 3:14 PM on March 12, 2010



I see that and raise you buying a shirt for someone else not going to the show and etc. etc


Ooooo! I got one! How about if you're a pale, kinda fat and zitty teenager buying a Lollapalooza 93 t-shirt that you discover, while putting it on on at the show between bands, is a size too small, and your cool cousin's hawt girl friends that you came there with saw you change into it, and you think you overheard them say "eww"? Do I win this contest?
posted by Kirk Grim at 3:24 PM on March 12, 2010


If you enjoyed these and you missed "Pump up the Volume: The History of House", give it a look.

Traces the roots of disco, house, techno, trance and rave. Loads of interviews with the people who were there, and an interesting look at what happened along the way to today.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
posted by cloax at 3:59 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nostalgic for the music? Ezeskankin is a site of digitized and uploaded mix tapes from 99 and earlier by my friend Tim. Quite a few notables there, FYI, if you partied at all in Texas or the Southwest from 1990-1999

Hey thanks for this (and the video)! Those were good times and I'm surprised at how many folks I know personally on that list...I appreciate it, this makes my night :)
posted by First Post at 12:03 AM on March 13, 2010


I actually have this DVD. Another one I really enjoy is Scratch.
posted by hypersloth at 12:53 AM on March 13, 2010


Another film in this genre: 24 Hour Party People (2002).

An acquaintance used to be involved with organising the Wasteland parties (ok, illegal raves) in the SFBA in the late 90s. The few memories I have of his sets are great. He's since turned Libertarian and tried to join the Marines...
posted by LanTao at 9:23 AM on March 13, 2010


Do I win this contest?

In this contest, there are no winners. OTOH, being at Lollapalooza long before the multitudinous stages were named after corporate sponsors is pretty awesome.

I think I once wore a Rush t-shirt to a punk show.
posted by griphus at 10:00 AM on March 13, 2010


NP, First Post... mixtapes are hard to come by these days.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 8:32 PM on March 13, 2010


SoCal Raves, hyperreal.org (run by Brian Behlendorf - of the Apache Project - no less) introduced me to progressive trance and house music. Today, I spend most of my time at fleep.com (the best deep house mixes on the net.)
posted by gen at 10:03 AM on March 14, 2010


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