Beats: Pills and thrills from the 1990s rave scene

Review: Scottish drama will strike a chord with nostalgic Gen-Xers

Unauthorised raves: Lorn Macdonald as the madcap Spanner in Beats

Film Title: Beats

Director: Brian Welsh

Starring: Cristian Ortega, Lorn Macdonald, Laura Fraser, Brian Ferguson, Ross Mann, Gemma McElhinney, Amy Manson, Rachel Jackson, Neil Leiper, Kevin Mains

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 101 min

Fri, May 17, 2019, 05:00


Beats opens with a clause from one of Britain’s most bizarre laws. Introduced by the Tories in 1994, with a nod to Footloose, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill took aim at the UK’s rave scene by banning music events “wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats”.

That clause has direct consequences for the two friends at the centre of this Scottish drama. Awkward Jonno (Cristian Ortega) and his madcap best pal Spanner (Lorn Macdonald) are soon to be separated. Jonno’s parents, including his strict cop stepdad (Brian Ferguson) and his mother, Alison (Laura Fraser), regard Spanner and his thuggish older brother as “scum”. The family plan to move away from their rundown West Lothian housing estate.

Before geography gets in the way, however, the lads plan one last blowout weekend at an unauthorised rave announced by pirate-radio DJ D-Man (Ross Mann).

Nostalgic Gen-Xers assemble! Working from Kieran Hurley’s successful 2012 one-man play, Beats can feel overstretched especially during the early downtime scenes. The plotting around the central relationship can feel a little on the nose. (Does the new stepdad have to be the attending officer on every scene?)

Still, the interplay between socially clueless Jonno and devil-may-care Spanner is never less than appealing. Perhaps more importantly, the film does a terrific job of replicating the rave scene adjacent to the cultural kerfuffle of Cool Britannia. Ben Kracun’s crystalline monochrome shots and director Brian Welsh leaves an extended rave sequence do the talking before Beats swerves toward psychedelia as coloured swirls and images of urban decay flicker across the screen. The setting may beg comparison with Trainspotting but somewhere between La Haine and Dazed and Confused is closer to the mark.

Shots of Tony Blair on the television remind us that the social inequality that threatens to come between Jonno and Spanner isn’t going anywhere.