Q&A: Film Director Kevin Kerslake on His Movie Electric Daisy Carnival Experience
In the last 20-plus years, filmmaker Kevin Kerslake has amassed a mind-boggling list of music-industry credits, not only shooting videos for Sonic Youth, Prince, Green Day, R.E.M., the Rolling Stones, but also directing the visual treatment of Nirvana's "Come As You Are" and the MTV VMA-winning Ed-Sullivan-homage "In Bloom." So it's something of a genre departure that Kerslake--who will begin working on the film adaptation of J.G. Ballard's Running Wild starring Samuel L. Jackson this spring--is the man behind Electric Daisy Carnival Experience, a feature-length electronic-music concert doc released on DVD this month and produced by EDC founder Insomniac Productions.
"I did a film back in 2000, with [Insomniac CEO] Pasquale [Rotella] on Electric Daisy Carnival, but this was all conceived as a three-part series," explains Kerslake. "This is the first attempt to really put it out to a wider audience, and to turn people onto what the scene is all about."
Many people think the scene is all about is drugs--at the 2010 EDC in Los Angeles, which drew more than 180,000 people and where this film is primarily set, a 15-year-old died from injuries related to a drug overdose and more than 100 people were sent to the hospital. Compounding EDC's negative publicity woes, there was a mini-riot at last summer's Hollywood premiere of Kerslake's film Electric Daisy Carnival Experience, which caused Regal and AMC Cinemas to cancel their upcoming national screenings. But Kerslake insists that's hullabaloo is only one part of the story, and a tiny one at that. "There are negative aspects of anything that I might endeavor to do," he says. "But I don't choose to focus on those." We spoke with him recently from the West Coast.
You've been shooting music for 25 years. What would you be the closest thing you've experienced to EDC?
As far as a festival, it's probably closest to Burning Man. It's a 360-degree experience. When you typically go to a show, and even other electronic music festivals, it is all eyes on the stage. EDC isn't like that. Really, everywhere you look, there's something going on. Whether it's the rides or performers or artwork, it's an interactive world. The level of production that you see--and the scale of production that you see--is pretty impeccable in terms of they have. Insomniac has their shit together, there's no doubt about that.
Is there a different attitude than there is at other events?
I've never seen a fight at Burning Man, I've never seen one at EDC. When you're walking through a crowd, typically in these events, inevitably you're going to bump up against some people. At other shows, that shoulder or that elbow is going to turn into a fist. With EDC, that person who you bump into, you end up striking up a conversation with them. Then you grab them by the hand and you take them to the next stage you're going to. This happens all the time--this is not just my own experience. There's a connection that you establish, that I've never seen anywhere else, other than Burning Man.
There's an abbreviated DJ AM set almost exactly halfway into the film, along with footage of A-Trak and Travis Barker talking about him. What was the thinking behind putting that in the middle of an otherwise joyous film?
I moved it around a bit, and it sort of always naturally gravitated towards the belly. Pasquale grew up with AM. [AM] had relationships with a lot of people in the movie, so I felt like, if it skewed more towards the beginning, it imbalanced things.
I never really felt like there was anything like it, in terms of honoring his presence in that community. His sets were always really infectious and it just sort of demanded being there.
What else was your objective as a filmmaker in putting this together?
To make an introduction to those outside this world and to speak to the people within it. And to touch upon [this world's] various components: whether it's life as a DJ, or life as a performer--the acrobat onstage--or just people in general who attend this events and dig the music.
I've read a few criticisms that the film functions more like an advertisement than an objective document.
That's a really unfair criticism. What that implies is that we should be focusing on the dark side, the negative aspects, because they have garnered much more news coverage. But the size of this community is so massive, most people aren't necessarily drawn to the dark side.
These events are really trying to pull people together and let people share a common experience and create bonds that are--especially now, in a pretty divisive world--hard to form. I think the philosophy, the ethic behind most promoters--that I work with, anyway--is community-based, and looking out for your fellow man, and sharing the love.
That's a fair point--120 people taken to the hospital in a crowd of 185,000 is a small percentage--but it did seem odd that there were only one or two passing mentions of drugs in the film.
It's there in the parking lot. We're not making a film about the parking lot.
There aren't drugs inside?
People do stuff. I'm not focused on that. I've shot music--God--25 years. All sorts of different types of music and there are different drugs that course through every single one of those. From hip-hop to punk-rock, to even more psychedelic stuff. For me, it's old news. That was back in the '60s and the '50s, even with jazz. Why do I have to be obsessed with something as a filmmaker that I feel is old news? And really sort of secondary to the experience?
But if the issue is that you'd be retreading old news, aren't love and community in the context of musical gatherings "old news"?
Back in 2000, we did just focus on that. I don't know. It would be asking you to write the same article again and again and again.
It's funny, whenever you talk to people outside of this world, or even on the margins of it, [that aspect] does come up a lot. And you do have to defend the virtues of it.
There was something of a riot at the film's premiere Los Angeles opening. How did that affected the film's release?
It was calamitous for us. We were really focused on a theatrical platform--that's pretty special to have a theatrical platform. To lose 90 percent of our theaters, it was catastrophic. There's no reaction. I've got an emotional reaction to it. But in a business sense, it hurt.
What was it like to watch that happen outside your own film?
It was pretty surreal to watch all that unfold. Being there, at the premiere, seeing the riot-squad march up the street, start aiming shotguns at kids' dancing in the street? For a second it was like, This is Kent State.
The Electric Daisy Carnival Experience DVD is out now.