We Are Your Friends is Hollywood’s attempt to capitalize EDM, the biggest musical genre of the 2010s. Electronic Dance Music, a horrifyingly redundant name for music, is the term that blankets nearly all music made by computers and headlines hundred thousand plus people festivals. That it took so long for this film to be made is strange, even if Hollywood is a couple years late of most music trends.
The movie directed by Max Joseph of Catfish fame is about a group of L.A. hustlers trying to make it in the entertainment world. Cole Carter (Zac Efron) dreams of becoming an EDM producer, which suddenly become a potential reality when he’s outside of a club and gets to chatting with the big named James (Wes Bently).
That the film idea was imparted on Max from the studios might be a cause for alarm for those expecting any authenticity behind the film. Yet Max clearly carries an affinity for this California culture. The movie isn’t the grab bag of musical clichès. Instead it is more reverent to the art of DJing — gotta get that heart rate to 128 BPM — than one might even need to be. There are multiple narrations along with character explaining on screen how one should DJ to a crowd and following the creation of a track from digital nothingness. A DJ like Deadmau5 might mock what goes into performing electronic music, but We Are Your Friends is eagerly straight faced.
The same is true of the film’s drug sequences. When Cole first meets James, Cole offers James a spliff of weed and tobacco, which James coughs once hitting as he doesn’t do tobacco. Then he offers Cole his own weed, but he doesn’t tell Cole is smoking PCP. So in a gallery, Cole starts to see the world animate around him and he slowly falls into a trippy technicolor world. The scene is out there and comes across as a flourish reserved for and only tolerated by a first time director, but adds a nice touch of surreality to the film.
There is a sequence later on when Cole takes Molly with Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski), which doesn’t rely on special effects, but instead focuses the energy of Cole and Sophie. They’re running across Vegas finally getting to act upon the feelings they’ve had for each other all film long, they were on molly but love was the real drug that powered the scene.
Yet there is still a moment where a character appears to overdose even though his exact cause of death isn’t explained. But that moment happens at a house party — not a night club rave or even a festiva — and it is the type of moment that could happen anywhere when people aren’t responsible with what one consumes into their body. Health and safety at electronic music festivals are things the media is watching closely these days, and so that the acknowledgement of those tragedies happens at a house is an interesting choice by Joseph.
The film closes with Cole about to perform for a giant crowd by debuting the single track — THE ONE THAT WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING — that he’s spent the whole movie creating. In front a ravenous crowd, the amount of set-up and preparation will make it appear like he’s launching the first rocket to the moon. The movie might overplay the dramatics of being a DJ, yet standing in front of thousands of people with an infinite amount of buttons and knobs cannot simply be pressing play. And even it is just pressing “play”, We Are Your Friends shows the long journey to press play isn’t easy.