Gurn with the flow: Don’t Think – The Chemical Brothers live – review

Don’t Think takes us on a trip to the pulsing heart of a Chemical Brothers gig. The beats are big, the visuals trippy and the crowd zonked. Considering the band don’t go in for old school rock ‘n’ roll style theatrics, it does very well to keep the attention.

Don't Think robot

Like most dance acts, the duo spend most of their time twiddling knobs and pressing buttons, rather than prancing around the stage interacting with the punters. This could make for a rather dull movie, especially as there is virtually no dialogue or behind-the-scenes action. The film’s director, Adam Smith, does everything in his power to make sure our attention doesn’t flag.

Smith obviously put quite a lot of thought in to how best to immerse a cinema audience in the throbbing day-glo spectacle that is the Chemical Brothers playing live. He also has the advantage of having worked with the duo for almost 20 years. Along with Joe Wright, director of Hanna and Atonement, Smith was a part of Vegetable Vision, who projected visuals at raves and early Chemicals gigs.

The images explode on the screen: paint balls pop, bugs scuttle, robots march and nothing stays still for very long. Considering the concert visuals support much of the movie’s weight, I found myself caught up in them for the greater part of the film with only the odd moment when it occurred to me that ‘you probably had to be there’, or rather ‘I wish I was there’.

Pretty pictures are not the only thing to keep the attention. Smith also uses plenty of audience shots taken using small cameras in the audience to take us right into the heart of the action. The cameras also stay with a limited number of individuals which allows Smith to create a narrative (of a sort) as people bliss out, get the fear and gaze at the stage.

He even plants a woman in the crowd who he uses to give an insight into the state of mind of the audience as she loses herself in the music and later wanders around in a daze near the food stalls. Smith explained that her perceptions are created by allowing “some of the images from the show to head off the screens and invade the festival.” So the little robots on the screen appear walking around in the woods.

The film was shot at Fuji Rock, the largest music festival in Asia, in the summer of 2011. This adds an interesting twist as the  Japanese audience seem to be really open to the experience, more so than a typically jaded Western one – everyone really gets into it. At least, Smith doesn’t select any footage of show-offs or poseurs like you might see over here. Some of the dancers’ gurning, mashed-up expressions are really funny.

Don’t Think starts with an eerie, soul version of The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows. Sung by Memphis Blues singer Junior Parker, the sample finishes with the line, “lay down all thought, surrender to the void”. This psychedelic maxim sums the film’s tone: the gig is trippy and absorbing, and the film works to drag you under too. There is no voice-over nor talking heads reflecting on the moment, it’s not that sort of film.

In order to surrender it certainly helps if you don’t think. While this is probably quite a lot easier if you’re dancing on a Japanese mountainside and in the ‘right frame of mind’, Adam Smith does his best to take us there.

Don’t Think is screening around the country on Feb 3rd, for more info / tickets check out

VN:F [1.9.13_1145]
Rating: 4.0/5 (1 vote cast)
Gurn with the flow: Don't Think - The Chemical Brothers live - review, 4.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating