9 Movies About DJ Culture Ranked
At their best, DJ movies and documentaries shed new light on the highs and lows of the DJ lifestyle, featuring soundtracks from the most iconic music producers. They give insight into the wild world of electronic dance music and being a DJ. In addition, they shed light on the music industry, culture, and the artists themselves in an incredibly fast-paced and historically rich musical genre.
At their worst, movies centered around DJing and dance music culture build on old tropes and cheesy music. And while a bit of cheese isn’t always a bad thing, representing the culture in a way that panders doesn’t do anyone any favors. Sure, for the initiated, it’s great for a laugh. Still, sometimes a bad plot or glaring omissions from a documentary only reinforces stereotypes that make dance music culture even harder to understand and accept as legitimate.
We ranked some of our favorite movies about DJing and club culture. Let us know if you agree by tweeting at us.
It’s All Gone Pete Tong (2004)
Genre: Mockumentary, Comedy Drama | IMDb Rating: 7.3/10
Any DJ will tell you that, aside from playing a train wreck set in front of a crowd, one of their worst nightmares is the possibility of developing Tinnitus or a similar condition. This mockumentary, It’s All Gone Pete Tong, tells the story of arrogant Ibiza sensation Frankie Wilde, who eventually ends up with both.
Before his mid-life musical crisis, he’s highly respected by his wife, drug dealers, friends, and clubbers. Frankie, though, reaches an all-time low when tragedy strikes. He quickly sinks into a profound sorrow and despair over how he can carry out the remainder of his residency for the forthcoming party season after a cringe-worthy live performance that goes entirely wrong.
Genre: Documentary | IMDb Rating: 7.3/10
Maestro takes viewers into the underground New York party scene where it all began. New York dance music culture owes everything to the renowned Loft and Paradise Garage, where things started. The documentary is jam-packed with archival footage of the scene and interviews with the DJs and club promoters that contributed to its success, such as the illustrious Larry Levan.
The filmmakers are as passionate about the culture they are exploring as the people who made it possible, which is evident despite the documentary’s modest budget. Maestro provides a window into the early underground dance music scene thanks to an excellent soundtrack that includes many of the era’s biggest tunes.
Berlin Calling (2008)
Genre: Drama | IMDb Rating: 7.2/10
Berlin Calling takes viewers through Germany’s electronic music scene a few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, with a cocaine-addled Techno DJ named Ickarus, played by Paul Kalkbrenner, serving as the centerpiece. The story revolves around his attempts to have one of Berlin’s most respected labels release his new studio album.
Mr. Ickarus discovers he has flown a little too close to the sun after a full-on night of snorting and dropping pills leads to a naked, drug-induced psychosis and temporary placement in a psych ward. His attempt to finish the album forces him to bring all of his audio equipment to the institution, delaying the release of his masterpiece.
Raving Iran (2016)
Genre: Documentary | IMDb Rating: 7.2/10
Imagine taking an unimaginable risk for your passion. In this breathtaking documentary, two DJs from Tehran put their lives and safety in danger for the love of techno. Anoosh and Arash, two of the most famous names in Iran’s underground techno scene, decide to rebel against the Islamic government by discreetly selling their music and throwing the final techno rave.
Following Anoosh’s arrest, they begin to lose hope until they receive a life-altering call: an invite to Zurich’s Street Parade, one of the world’s biggest techno festivals. They performed in Switzerland, and it all becomes alarmingly real when their visas ran out. The two DJs must next decide what might be their most crucial decision ever.
The reality of the story couldn’t have been more stark. Filming the movie in Iran proved difficult for the film’s British director because the DJs often canceled filming days when things were thought too dangerous. And when Anoosh and Arash were invited to the UK for the film’s premiere, the British government denied a visa for Anoosh for the fear that he “Wasn’t a genuine visitor” that may not return when the visa expired.
What We Started (2017)
Genre: Documentary | IMDb Rating: 7.1/10
What We Started is a documentary that explores the evolution of dance music – and the DJs who helped shape it – over thirty years. Dance music legend Martin Garrix and legendary DJ Carl Cox discuss the dance music culture in-depth, beginning with its roots in New York’s Paradise Garage.
What We Started crams in a lot of history while also capturing the cultural and geographic swings of the scene, following the passage of electronic music across the Atlantic and the growing rave era in the UK. From the beginning of house music with the employment of drum machines and synthesizers to the present IDM frenzy. The documentary also features some of the best DJs in the world, including David Guetta, Paul Oakenfold, Richie Hawtin, and Moby, among the famous artists making an appearance.
With plenty of fascinating anecdotes from the talking heads, an appropriately colorful visual style, and a boundless energy throughout, What We Started encapsulates the electronic music genre and the DJs who made it a success.
What We Started does make some glaring omissions. Besides the overwhelmingly white cast, as veteran music journalist Annabel Ross pointed out in a Twitter thread, not a single woman DJ is mentioned in the 94-minute film.
“There was maybe two mins of women speaking in total — Carl’s sister Pam, journalist Kerri Mason and publicist José Woldring. There to speak about the men. Among all those men and exec producer Pete Tong no one once thought that it might be a good idea to include a woman DJ or few.”
Genre: Drama/Musical | IMDb rating: 6.4/10
Eden, a French movie directed by Mia and Sven Hansen-Love, transports us to Paris’s late-1990s underground club scene and is based on real events. It presents the background of two striving young men named Paul and Stan, who nearly established the renowned electronic music group Daft Punk.
The film demonstrates how they initially enter the scene with their outstanding garage-disco mashups. They meet wonderful friends, fall in love, and everything seems to be going great. But after a few years of leading a life dominated by heavy drug use and partying, their voice has grown stale, much like they have. So they then embark on readjusting their sound. Daft Punk also makes an appearance in this film in an unorthodox way…be sure to look out for them!
We Are Your Friends (2015)
Genre: Drama/Romance | IMDb Rating: 6.2/10
The plot focuses on Cole Carter, a young, ambitious DJ played by Zac Efron, and two of his buddies as they work to become well-known successful DJs.
The movie accurately depicts the dark, lonely depths of a professional DJ’s life. Wes Bentley’s portrayal of James Reed, an experienced, prosperous DJ, and producer who mentors Carter, largely contributes to this. Reed, who is obscenely affluent, introduces Carter to parties, books him for performances, and instructs him in big boy music production at his decked-out home studio.
But things get a little messy after meeting the guy’s girlfriend and falling head over heels for her. Will he suffer heartbreak and forfeit his opportunity to lead the life of a superstar? Or get the cheesy happy ending that seems imminent?
Kevin & Perry Go Large (2000)
Genre: Comedy | IMDb Rating: 5.6/10
This classic work of British comedy tells the story of a journey to Ibiza taken by two naive aspiring DJs. They experience everything from eating snot to getting puked on while on vacation, and their chaperone parents treat them to an absolute nightmare.
None of this dampens their expectations of running into a couple of stunning women and having one of the island’s most renowned clubs take up their one-off record. And it appears they can get assistance from a guy, albeit at some embarrassing expense. Let’s just say they don’t quite get the recognition they hoped for, but witnessing what they’re willing to do for it is funny.
Genre: Drama | IMDb Rating: 5.3/10
The lives of six seemingly unique but interchangeable ravers are followed in this movie as they cross paths during one fateful night. The festival provides an opportunity for budding bedroom DJ-producer Ethan Shaw to capitalize on the enthusiastic online reception to his blandly happy breakout track “All I Ever Wanted.”
This movie is an incredible joy to watch because we see the dance scene from several perspectives. The film’s main characters don’t leave much of an impact because their issues can be resolved entirely in the course of one evening, but the movie as a whole has its share of vivacious pleasures.