Interview: ‘What We Started’ filmmakers talk world premiere and the evolution of EDM
Martin Garrix

“What We Started” makes its world premiere tonight, June 15, at the LA Film Festival. The documentary is breaking all kinds of boundaries as it takes a look back at the 30-year evolution of EDM, giving behind-the-scenes access to fans like never before. The film stars iconic DJ Carl Cox along with newcomer Martin Garrix, and features talent such as Moby, David Guetta, Paul Oakenfold, Tiësto, Ed Sheeran and many more.

Directors Bert Marcus and Cyrus Saidi, producer Cassandra Hamar and executive producer Pete Tong, spent the last two and a half years bringing this project to life. AXS recently spoke with Bert, Cyrus and Cassie, to find out more about what went into making the film.

AXS: So, what was it for you that made you want to tell the story of EDM?

Bert Marcus: Being someone who isn’t from the electronic dance music scene, I felt like I could look at things pretty objectively. When it was brought to my attention that there was not an all-encompassing film on the genre that had been told properly, I did my own diligence and realized there were many great pieces out there but they weren’t telling the full story of how this music came to be and its influence on American culture. I was excited at the process of tackling this genre of music. So, Cyrus and Cassie and I and Pete Tong, we just kind of dove right in.

AXS: Cyrus, being that you’re directly involved with the music, what do you personally think about the whole evolution of EDM?

Cyrus Saidi: Initially, I got involved with dance music in the ‘90s; the era when raves were shunned upon and illegal. It’s a subject that we actually cover in our film. For the last 15-16 years, I’ve wanted to make a film to tell the story of dance music. It wasn’t until I actually watched some of Bert’s work that I thought he would be the perfect candidate to make this film. The objectivity is what had been missing in the electronic music industry. And no one has ever made a dance music film in the sense of it being all-encompassing, where it combines both the insider’s and the outsider’s point of view. For the people who are in the industry, we’re all very excited about where [EDM] is today. Most people don’t know, but dance music actually started in America. It went to Europe because it was sort of snuffed out here; it took life there and then came back here. The 2008 era is when it blew up in America and radio took it over. Now it’s a thriving industry.

BM: There are so many facets of the history of this genre that so many people don’t know or understand. The story of the music is one that is deeply-rooted in human resilience. The music had almost disappeared because multiple authorities tried to shut it down for such a long time and it’s important for people to know that this music has struggled for its survival.

AXS: Can you tell me a little bit more about what went into making the film?

BM: It was a huge undertaking. We didn’t want to rush it and we wanted to tell the story right. So we brought in some of the major key industry players to work as advisors; people who have been a part of this industry over the last 30 years. Pete Tong is the music supervisor. And bringing in the likes of Carl Cox to be one of our main leads was extremely important to us. We didn’t want to try to capitalize on just the success of EDM over the last six or seven years but really wanted to tell the story properly, showing how this music evolved and its significance on American culture. I think the other part was bringing in Martin Garrix, who is the complete polar opposite of Carl. We started tracking Martin when he was still a teenager and following him; traveling around the world to various festivals with him and watching his rise. To really see the evolution from a guy like Carl Cox, who made this industry what it is, to how a kid like Martin is able to thrive and to actually be such a phenomenal influence in the scene today, brings in a totally different side.

Cassandra Hamar: I also just want to jump in on some of the ingenuity and creativity that it took to actually shoot the footage. Because when you see the film, we shoot in nightclubs, we shoot in packed festivals and we were able to shoot in places where some of these clubs or festivals have never actually given other documentary crews access to before. We didn’t want to take anything away from the moment people were experiencing but wanted to capture it authentically. So, we had crews up all night shooting in Mexico, and Ibiza and all over the world. That was a huge part of how we got this film made.

BM: Authenticity I think is the word that we all use and hold close to us with this film. This is the first time you’re going to see a film in this genre that has everybody, from the underground to mainstream, and we wanted to keep it real. We didn’t want to exploit anything or take advantage of anything. It was really to provide an experience that has not been provided before because it’s tough, like Cassie said, to gain access to a lot of these venues and artists in such a genuine matter.

AXS: Why do you think now is an important time to tell the story?

BM: I think now is the perfect time, especially with the closing of Space [nightclub] in Ibiza - and having Carl become the pillar of that place. Also with Martin being ranked the No. 1 DJ in the world a few months ago by DJ Mag and all the various outlets. It seemed like the perfect time to really show the evolution of the music and the different facets. I think the place that Carl and Martin are in make it an interesting story, especially being our main characters that we track over the last two and a half years.

AXS: As the filmmakers, did you learn anything about EDM that you didn’t know before?

BM: For us, the great part about this was that we didn’t come in with our own biases from the industry where we had an agenda or something that we felt before we started writing and producing the film. We just wanted to get it right and we wanted to learn everything we possibly could from people who have been doing this every day for the last 30 years, to today’s biggest players in the industry. I think the biggest key was absorbing as much information as we possibly could.

AXS: What do you hope people will take away from the film?

CH: I think there are a lot of stereotypes from various sides, not only from inside dance music but also the mainstream public, about what electronic music is. So, we were hoping to dismantle that through this film. I think because of the objective approach we took, we’re hoping that no matter what stereotype you might have coming into the film, that you’ll no longer have that stereotype once the film is over.

AXS: What do you see for the future of EDM?

CS: The emergence of electronic music into pop music over the last six years has been pretty progressive. Six years ago we had people like David Guetta and Calvin Harris change the game. But their music was actually quite obvious in terms of it being EDM. You’d have the song portion of it, which was the pop music aspect, and then you’d have the drop, which was the dance music aspect. But just in the last year, we’ve seen a lot of artists producing music with a pop sensibility that has become seamless. So people aren’t really even aware that this is electronic dance music anymore. Today we see everyone, whether it’s Katy Perry or even Diddy, embracing dance music and its producers. Its growth is also tied to computer technology. Because it is essentially, computer generated music. So, as long as computers evolve I think the music will also evolve.

It’s clear with “What We Started,” that we’re approaching another exciting time in EDM history. Bert shared that things may be getting even more thrilling as they’re currently working on incorporating an interactive component to the film, which could include some live performances.

For more on “What We Started,” keep it right here on AXS.