Last week, I attended the movie premiere for We Are Your Friends. The movie stars Zac Efron, Emily Ratajkowski, and Wes Bentley. A Warner Bros. Pictures film, We Are Your Friends is directed by Max Joseph. It hits theaters on Friday and will be the first EDM movie.
As the first EDM movie, We Are Your Friends is like a behind the scenes take on DJ culture. The interactions among its celebrity cast offers perspective about the current state of dance music.
In the movie, familiar DJs like Dillon Francis, Alesso, and Nicky Romero make cameos. This aspect of it is significant. You leave the theater under the impression that the music industry is behind the movie. Moreover, these real artist appearances actually connect with the movie’s compelling narrative. As an aspiring DJ, Zac Efron must overcome the challenges that real life artists go through and make one great song. In order to gain acceptance though, the main character Cole, who Zac Efron plays, needs to humble himself.
This narrative is one that music-loving audiences and artists can appreciate because its theme factors around adversity, discipline, and perseverance. For instance, Zac Efron can’t understand why the path he chooses is unique until his plans of making it big-time fail. When Zac Efron is left with only a shoe-box full of money, a dead-end job, and dreams of escaping his friend’s small town mentalities, the actor acknowledges these obstacles and fully pursues his dream to DJ.
To make the movie interesting, however, there are various scenes that over-dramatize EDM. In the process of producing an authentic movie about the genre’s culture, We Are Your Friends promotes drugs. Some scenes obsess about drugs and this could be avoidable. Like early on, Zac Efron doesn’t know how he gets home one night. He took acid the night before and then throughout the movie drugs seem to be cool party props.
Max Joseph makes drugs essential to the plot since drugs take the life of Zac Efron’s friend, Squirrel. At their Project X style rager, Squirrel played by Alex Shaffer overdoses. While the instance of Squirrel passing away motivates Zac Efron to DJ, EDM outsiders may believe drugs are what the genre is all about.
Dance music is more than taking drugs at festivals and concerts. Max Joseph redeems his script by promoting positivity through a fresh soundtrack. The soundtrack that EDM DJ/producer Gryffin curates will make audiences want to dance and dance during the movie too. The music is varied and consists of some names that have popularized EDM. The ‘We Are Your Friends movie soundtrack’ features Gryffin, Deorro, Carnage, Bro Safari, Kygo and a lot more. A balanced track listing, the cohesiveness assists the movie as it brings out a fun, clubby nature with some songs you will immediately recall like Justice vs. Simian’s “We Are Your Friends (2006)” and Carnage’s “I Like Tuh,” which ILoveMakkonen assists.
Considering its stand-out soundtrack, the arrival of We Are Your Friends is essentially a marketing tool for dance music. When the movie releases it will make the musical landscape of EDM more commercial. Although, this can be a benefit, its selling out comes at the expense of you seeing many cringe-worthy moments.
We Are Your Friends tries hard, often too hard in educating audiences about DJing. For example, Zac Efron spends an entire scene explaining how to actually DJ. He focuses on technical aspects like BPMs and manipulating sounds when maybe casting a real DJ would have been more appropriate. Furthermore, We Are Your Friends pins certain demographics up against one another to make its theme remain consistent. During this same scene where Zac Efron schools movie-goers, his rogue friends go off fighting someone at the pool party because that other person is rich.
Even worse is that while Zac Efron experiments in calculating crowd reactions, the rich, upper-class people at the pool party only want him playing songs they know like Beyoncé’s “Drunk In Love” and not real house music. Moments like these create an awkward dichotomy. Another example would be when Zac Efron hooks one arrogant frat bro that teases Sophie, who is the character of Emily Ratajkowski, for being a college drop out and working as a barista.
These movie parts may play into the overall message about Zac Efron starting from the bottom, but it also looks like dance music is only for specific people. Additionally, Zac Efron rises by meeting characters of different social statuses such as his mentor James cast by Wes Bentley and that networking mirrors real life. Movie conflicts like these are confusing because they also work against EDM themes of positivity and acceptance of everyone.
All in all, We Are Your Friends is an entertaining movie that puts the spotlight on the niche genre of dance music. At the same time, dance music does not need We Are Your Friends to continue flourishing. Instead, We Are Your Friends depends on dance music for its success. We Are Your Friends wants to be insightful, inspiring, and positive. These targets are met for the most part and it’s a delightfully original film with a facey cast.
The arrival of We Are Your Friends brings up interesting take aways about the music industry.
1. The soundtrack rules.
Dance music may draw attention for reasons other than the music. Basically, the genre has become a validation tool and popularity contest. We Are Your Friends, however, frames the movie around music. Not only does Zac Efron want his music to be authentic, but also the movie has a great soundtrack. The soundtrack is produced by Gryffin. Its artist selection reminds audiences why the genre has exploded in the first place. More importantly, most of the music makes you want to dance.
2. One song can change an artist’s career.
We are in the digital age. Specifically for music, the rise in online streaming has revolutionized how people consume music. In the past, you may have gone to a record store to purchase an album or CD. Now singles are dominating album charts. Singles can chart as albums and one epic single can blow up an artist. In We Are Your Friends, there are numerous scenes where Zac Efron buries himself into the studio. Toward the end, Zac Efron creates one song called “Are We Ever Going To Be Better Than This.” This one song takes Zac Efron an entire 90-minute movie to produce and this one song relates to the current state of the music industry. It gets the point across about the evolving landscape of the music industry and it isn’t brand new albums anymore.
3. Mentors and co-signs are important for artist’s reputations.
Since music’s beginning, influencers control the scene. Whether it’s suit and tie record executives or the first radio DJ, Alan Freed, music is known as a boys club. This is because of things like payola. Influencers manipulate radio broadcasts, playlists, and festival lineups. Nowadays they advise up and coming artists too. For example, Tiësto has taken numerous artists under his wing to blow them up. Other artists are forced to spectate, but ‘We Are Your Friends’ acknowledges some hidden agendas. Mentors and tastemakers are necessary elements to gain recognition. Zac Efron’s character evolves when American Beauty’s Wes Bentley intervenes. Not only does Zac Efron receive free studio time and useful advice, but also he gets a mainstage slot at the make-believe festival Summer Fest.
4. DJs have to produce and also be solid live acts.
Although streaming is revolutionary, festivals and clubs are the main platforms for dance music. Festivals and clubs are nothing new either. Both things have been around for many years and they’re places DJ’s can take off. At events, DJs build reputations, while fans can let loose and blow off some steam. Lately since dance music has exploded, DJs have to produce more in order to stand out. It comes as no surprise that We Are Your Friends highlights this trend. Early in the movie Zac Efron meets Emily Ratajkowski in a bottle service club. Emily Ratajkowski is Zac Efron’s love interest in the movie. Emily Ratajkowski is dating an older DJ because of his access and money. Later on, however, Zac Efron gets Emily’s attention when he starts producing music; Then before you know it, the pair elope to a rave festival and have a romantic experience in Las Vegas.
5. Stick with real friends; Bros ensure your success.
The proliferation of dance music has turned it into a billion dollar industry. In a way, dance music has become greedy business. It monetizes off the backs of thirsty audiences that creators and their music draw; Thus there are people whose purpose is to commercialize music. For example, Zac Efron becomes more popular when he starts networking with influential people. He starts to DJ more parties, produce, and gain Emily Ratajkowski’s affection. In the process, Zac Efron crosses his mentor, Wes Bentley, and loses everything. The cool people he befriended all turned their backs on him, including Emily Ratajkowski. The only people Zac Efron could to turn to are his childhood friends. Not only do the childhood friends support him, but also they push him to focus on being great.
6. Capitalist’s profits depend on artists, innovative music, and word-of-mouth.
In 2013, SFX events made headlines. The EDM events company started producing more festivals and offered an IPO; Yet while wealthy individuals like Robert Sillerman desire power, they cannot succeed without music because the artists bring the fans. The one song Zac Efron produces in We Are Your Friends is why people are at the music festival. Once there, Zac Efron performs real music through his passion, which isn’t about money.
7. Vote with your money; purchase songs and support live music.
Dance music draws criticism for how artists market themselves on social media. There are some publications like the one I write on, DJ Mag, that promote rankings. These rankings essentially summarize the genre’s biggest artists. The rankings are resumé builders. They also are launch pads earning talent gigs, record deals, and essentially more money. Music charts are useful resources, but established artists can manipulate them. Up and coming artists feel left out to dry and don’t even try promoting themselves even with genuine aspirations. Zac Efron’s character Cole, in We Are Your Friends is not wealthy. In fact, Zac Efron and his friends are known as losers from the Valley that need sales jobs to make ends meet. Although Zac Efron earns himself a shoebox full of money working, he realizes that his boss is greedy and unethical. In addition to his best friend Squirrel dying, real-life experiences motivate Zac Efron into producing. Zac Efron bases his music on personal dilemmas. The one song that he makes changes his life and it can the lives of others that are inspired by it.
8. Fake it until you become it.
Networking is a skill that complements working hard. In this digital age, technology increases productivity. Just because opportunities aren’t right in our face, that doesn’t give up. Instead, you keep going, figure out a vision for the person you want to become, and network. For example, Zac Efron meets Emily Ratajokowski for the first time in a nightclub. In We Are Your Friends, Emily Ratajkowski’s name is Sophie. Sophie asks Cole, “do you promote here?” Zac Efron, who finds her attractive, lies and little does he know that Emily Ratajkowski’s boyfriend is a big DJ. This DJ later on becomes Zac Efron’s mentor that gives Zac Efron’s character an enhanced outlook. As an eager underdog, Zac Efron starts believing in himself because of his hard work and willingness to learn. Ultimately, networking well helps Zac Efron fulfill his destiny and make DJing his career.
9. Drug culture isn’t a myth, but not everyone scores drugs for a good time.
Sometimes when read the news, you hear about drug overdoses. A lot of the time, these situations occur at music festivals. This negative publicity turns into greater precautions from fans and event organizers. It also turns into a misguided view of identifying drugs with EDM culture. We Are Your Friends cuts in several instances where the characters depend on drugs to have fun. The drugs try to make We Are Your Friends seem authentic, but in reality drugs are rare. They’re rare because they’re expensive and festivals are also expensive. While drugs are unavoidable at festivals, everyone isn’t getting high like the movie hypes. Some can’t afford it and you’d never know the one’s that can because only a fool posts drugs on social media. Outsiders shouldn’t perceive drugs as essential when most people actually can have good times just being themselves and with good friends.
10. Follow your dreams
This cliche plays into number 8, but everyone should follow their dreams. Despite any social status, positivity can be a huge difference maker in life. Millennials on social media tend to give others the idea of success, but it nothing comes easy. Challenges can help you become the best version of yourself while also inspiring others. More importantly, you don’t have to work for someone else making them rich all your life. For example, in We Are Your Friends music is what makes Zac Efron tick. Zac Efron is so passionate that he can’t even take off the headphones in the car. Music is all Zac Efron wants to think about. Despite the possibilities of becoming a superstar, Zac Efron wants to make DJing his full-time job. As Zac Efron’s character develops, in the movie, he realizes that turning this hobby into a profession is realistic. Cole has doubters about success like friends that don’t believe it’s all sustainable, but Zac Efron doesn’t bang Emily Ratajkowski without being interesting. In other words, life is short. You don’t want to waste it. We Are Your Friends succeeds around this positive narrative that’s relatable and inspiring.