You know what, never mind. Don’t put your hands in the air. Don’t even put your feet on the dance floor. Stay home where it’s safe, where water won’t cost you four dollars. Let the nightclub come to your living room instead as ADANAI presents the top ten movies about nightlife from the ‘90s to the present.
1: “Human Traffic” (1999)
The Best of the Best
There’re a lot of reasons why “Human Traffic” is the best club movie of all time. It doesn’t need to shoehorn evil drug dealers and shootouts into the plot to make it cinematic. It doesn’t need to moralize why people like to party. “Human Traffic” understands a night out with friends has thrills, drama and heartbreak enough.
Cardiff, Wales. The club scene in the ‘90s. Jip (John Simm) and his close-knit group of friends shake off the chains of dead-end jobs and family pressures to dance the weekend away. They blag their way into a club owned by Carl Cox, discuss the intricacies of Jabba the Hutt’s criminal empire, and determine if ecstasy really does give guys a case of Mr. Floppy.
With classic tunes from Orbital, A Guy Called Gerald, and Fatboy Slim, “Human Traffic” is uplifting, life affirming, and honest. See if you can recognize Walking Dead’s Sheriff Rick as one of Jip’s mates, back when he was young and English.
2: “It’s All Gone Pete Tong” (2004)
Deaf DJs Need Love Too
Frankie Wilde was the most head-banging, hedonistic Ibiza-based DJ of all time. He had an ear like no other… until he went deaf.
Okay, Frankie’s not real, but when you see DJ legends Carl Cox, Paul Van Dyk and (of course) Pete Tong lauding his talent in this faux-documentary, you’ll want him to be real. The movie’s a sun-drenched valentine to Ibiza and the Balearic lifestyle, with classic jams and backstage access that give you the visceral thrill of living in Frankie’s head.
What comes up must come down. When Frankie (Paul Kaye) loses his hearing, he loses his career, his wife, and his self-esteem. An eight-foot tall coke badger manifested from his nightmares doesn’t help things. Can a deaf DJ ever make his way back to the top? You’ll have to find out for yourself…
3: “24-Hour Party People” (2002)
So you want to start your own club. Here’s a piece of advice: don’t hire the “24-Hour Party People” band of mad idiots to run it, especially when they’re led by TV personality turned club promoter Tony Wilson (the never-been-better Steve Coogan).
The movie’s based on the rise and fall of the Hacienda, the legendary Manchester club that birthed rave culture in the late ‘80s. Fresh off the success of managing Joy Division and New Order, Tony invests everything in the club, and for a brief instance, it seems he can change the world. But scummy E dealers, mismanaged books, and one very expensive table lead to the shut down of the place in hilarious style.
Dance classics from 808 State, Moby, and Mantronix combined with tracks by Happy Mondays and A Certain Ratio – from the UK’s Baggy movement – make this a fun ride down club history lane.
4: “Modulations” (1998)
If you want to be part of the club scene, you need to respect its history. Educate yourself with “Modulations,” a documentary about the deep roots of electronic dance music.
This history lesson’s fun for your ears and it proves unlikely collaborations make for the best dance tracks: Donna Summer collides with Giorgio Moroder on “I Feel Love,” Afrika Bambaata rocks out with Kraftwerk on “Planet Rock,” Detroit gets messy with England and gives birth to house music. “Modulations” is full of crazy party footage from around the world– Japanese ravers on the top of Mount Fuji to drum ‘n’ bass revelers in the forests of Norway. Interviews with DJ Spooky, Genesis P. Orridge, Derrick May and everyone in between make this movie an essential watch.
5: “Go” (1999)
“Pulp Fiction” with Pacifiers
After exposing the L.A. swing scene in “Swingers,” director Doug Liman turned his lens to the warehouse raves down the street. The only authentic footage of those raves appears during the opening credits, but fear not. “Go”, despite its dark thriller aspects, just wants to make you feel good.
The movie features three interconnecting stories with a “were they that young?” cast featuring Katie Holmes, Timothy Olyphant, and Jay Mohr. Like “Swingers,” the plot involves an obligatory mid-movie jaunt to Vegas, where a pack of dudes spend one crazy night blazing a path of mayhem (ten years before “The Hangover”). They confirm in a strip club a sneaking suspicion: there is no sex in the champagne room.
The late ‘90s BT and Fatboy Slim soundtrack is a precious time capsule preserving big beat dance music and the poor fashion sense that accompanied it. Check out the cameo from a young Melissa McCarthy (“Bridesmaids”) as a burnt out stoner.
6: “Trainspotting” (1996)
The “Casablanca” of Clubbing Movies
From the opening drums of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” to the closing onslaught of Underworld’s club anthem “Born Slippy,” this movie is the ultimate mix tape, a wild ride packed with house, techno, and a little synthpop in the form of New Order thrown in for good measure.
“Trainspotting” hits club life on the nose: the girls in the bathroom trashing their boyfriends, the puckish lad gathering courage to talk to his new crush, early morning hangover nightmares about baked beans and, well…you have to see for yourself. But underneath the music is the deeply personal tale of Renton (Ewan MacGregor), a Scottish kid struggling to break free from drug addiction and become a functioning human being with “a fucking big television, washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin openers.”
Danny Boyle won the Oscar for “Slumdog Millionaire,” but this is his best film. Influential, unforgettable. Simply massive.
7: “Last Days of Disco” (1998)
Yuppies on the Dance Floor
What’s a clubbing top ten without Chloe Sevigny? This tale of early ‘80s NYC nightlife has all the sexy, dancing Chloe you need, plus a bonus. A young Kate Beckinsale plays her best friend.
The two Ivy League graduates and self-professed “adherents to the disco movement” groove the night away under the glimmer of the mirror ball. Blissfully unaware Studio 54 already came and went, replaced by a new yuppie scene (still thriving in NYC today) obsessed with ambition, social status, and money.
Whit Stilman’s dry wit screenplay might be a little too clever for its own good, but a deep cut soundtrack of Sister Sledge, Chic, and Brenton Wood gives the “Last Days of Disco” enough oomph to party till dawn. And who can complain with so much Chloe?
8: “Sorted” (2000)
London’s Dark Underbell-E
“Sorted?” says a dealer to Carl (Matthew Rhys), a straight-laced lawyer investigating the death of his brother. “Am I who?” Carl replies in confusion. It’s his first time in a club and he’s clueless. “Eight quid for two bottles of water?” he complains to an unfazed bartender.
Can Carl find the person responsible for killing his brother? As soon as scenery chewing Tim Curry appears as an evil club promoter, that mystery’s solved. For the remaining ninety minutes, Carl slowly sheds his suit and dives into his lawless surroundings.
Daft plot aside, director Alexander Jovy – an ex-DJ and rave organizer – knows how to convey the underground experience. He leads Carl past bouncers at the club’s (real-life Ministry of Sound) entrance like Dante entering a particular multicolor plane of Hell. Plenty of tactile, E-drenched club footage throughout the movie, plus the inclusion of turn-of-the-millennium dance artists like Morcheeba, Leftfield and St. Etienne earn “Sorted” proper street cred.
9: “Groove” (2000)
If You’re Going to San Francisco…
Do West Coast raves seem a little… cheesy? While the U.K.’s dance scene is respected and culturally entrenched, in comparison, the pacifiers and glow sticks of California seem two steps away from a Juggalo convention.
The first minutes of “Groove” won’t sway this opinion. You’re treated to a group of archetypes (uptight guy trying drugs for the first time, party girl struggling to get her act together, bickering queeny gay couple) trading clichéd dialogue during an all-night warehouse rave in San Francisco. But the film’s soundtrack, strung together by a series of DJ sets, is the true highlight, filled with industrial, trance, progressive and ambient beats, all culminating with a set by John Digweed. It’s a film that’s perfectly suited for your surround sound home theatre. Now, if only there was a way to mute the dialogue.
10: “Berlin Calling” (2008)
“Harsh Times” and German Techno
“Berlin Calling” has a theme all too familiar to this top ten; what goes up must come down. But when this movie gets up, it gets up. Fly on the wall footage captures banging outdoor festivals, subterranean Berlin clubs, and 2 p.m. “after parties” along sun-drenched rivers, all taking place under the techno spell of DJ Ickarus (real life DJ Paul Kalkbrenner).
But when Ickarus pushes his recreational partying too far, he ends up in the psychiatric ward. Cue his girlfriend leaving him, his record company dumping him, and his sanity starting to slip away. Will Ickarus get his head on straight and rise to rock the club one more time?
If you’re into the stark minimalism of German techno, the soundtrack recorded exclusively by Paul Kalkbrenner puts you on a dark, relentless train. Don’t expect to pop on this movie during a casual hangout with friends. It’s an uncomfortable, unflinching look at what happens when drugs take control of your life.