"Groove," the San Francisco rave movie, is one of the most overhyped films I've ever seen. Sure, it was true to the scene, and kind of sweet, but it was as insipid as a Mentos commercial and full of atrocious dialogue. As the glowing notices spread throughout the glossies, I was baffled -- hadn't these people seen the same film as I did? When the movie finally got two thumbs down from Roger Ebert and the other guy, I felt wickedly gleeful.
But now the first volume of "Groove's" soundtrack is out (two more are planned), and I'm glad about the film's success: It means this sublime disc will have a chance to find the attention it deserves. What drama there was in "Groove" was supplied almost wholly by the music, and the best of that music is here in an exuberant, eclectic mix by Wade Randolph Hampton (DJ WishFM), "Groove's" music supervisor and one of San Francisco's most dazzling musicians.
Almost since rave culture was born over a decade ago, musicians and DJs have been trying to capture the dance-floor experience on a CD. It hardly ever works. There often seems to be an inherent clash between the sustained rhythms that whip a crowd into delirium and the variety that makes music compelling on a stereo. Impressively on "Groove," the flow is seamless but the sounds are diverse.
San Francisco locations are featured in the film, and the "Groove" soundtrack makes use of local musical talent, too. There are a couple of celebrity acts on the disc, including Orbital (who lend their rapturous 8-year-old classic "Halcyon + On + On") and John Digweed (recording as Bedrock), whose overblown "Heaven Scent" provides the movie's triumphant and inadvertently hilarious climax. The album's real stars, though, all come from the S.F. underground -- in fact, the record is enough to convince even a cynical local that the gentrifying dot-com stampede hasn't totally pulverized the city's culture. (The film was actually financed in part by two young Internet players.)
From Dmitri Ponce (recording as Baby D Love), who plays the promoter's sidekick in the film and appears on the disc's cover, there's the spare, infectious electro-house of "You're the Lucky Ones." Recording with E.T.I., DJ Garth, a pioneer in the area rave scene, contributes "20 Minutes of Disco Glory," a haunting house track with spine-tingling builds set against hallucinatory descending pulses. Hampton himself gives us "Duke's Up" (recorded under the alias W), with a mellow, funk-tinged rhythm undulating beneath firefly synths and forlorn horn tendrils.
Best of all is the disc's final track, "Infinitely Gentle Blows," which is simply one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard. It's performed by Alter)ring, a San Francisco artist who combines traditional Indonesian music with digital effects, and remixed by Scott Hardkiss of the house collective the Hardkiss Brothers. The sounds are cut up without feeling fractured, and the beats skip and echo joyfully while the melody intensifies subtly but ecstatically. It's both subdued and ravishing -- like a choir of angels underwater. It's also moving without being maudlin, touched with a spark of spirituality that never smolders into New Age miasma. It's everything "Groove" the movie wanted to be, and everything that San Francisco in its finest moments still is.