These Parties Get A Rave Review

Every generation needs its ecstatic rituals, and today's kids have raves, chemically friendly overnight bliss-outs presided over by electronic shamans with names like DJ Spooky or Scanner or Moby. Manning the control boards like captains of a psychedelic ship, they guide the dancers on a throbbing techno tide, lifting the crowd's communal spirit up, up and away on a sweat-drenched transcendental joyride. This underground techno-rave culture is the subject of two current movies, the documentary "Better Living Through Circuitry" and the indie feature "Groove" -- a sure sign that the phenomenon has not only reached sea level, but probably peaked.

Though the musical terminology -- jungle, acid house, trance -- may be new, the idealistic rhetoric we hear in interview after interview in director Jon Reiss's documentary will ring a bell for any veteran of a '60s be-in. "The age of Aquarius, it's here," says DJ Keoki, but without the optimism of the "Hair" years: he's seen the deep alienation that drives some kids to seek oblivion in drugs. These idealistic electronic rituals belong to an era of diminished expectations; the political grandiosity of the '60s (and its accompanying sense of privilege) has been replaced with a more circumscribed notion of bliss -- nirvana as a night on the town. Like the musical notion of sampling -- which the eloquent DJ Spooky compares to "ancestor worship" -- the ravers are more mix-and-match revisionists than revolutionaries.

Fascinating but repetitious, "Better Living Through Circuitry" does a good job describing the scene. Writer-director Greg Harrison's Sundance hit "Groove," which follows its clutter of characters through a rave in an abandoned San Francisco warehouse, comes closer to capturing what it feels like. Lively, likable and refreshingly unsensationalistic about the drugs and sex that come with the territory, this techno-propelled mash note to the rave spirit sticks to the surface, but it burrows just far enough inside its young, confused, pleasure-seeking characters to make us care how they greet the dawn. Like any good musical, it makes you want to leap to your feet and dance.

Better Living Through CircuitrySeventh Art
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