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‘Speaking In Code’: Electronic music’s most important documentary?

By terry church
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Electronic music to outsiders can seem at times obfuscatingly exclusive.

The sheer amount of sub genres in electronic music is testament to its confusing elitism and the lines between them are dubiously grey.

It’s always amusing when a family member attempts to understand the music you like (at say a family Christmas party) and you’re forced to describe it as ‘techno’ because they wouldn’t understand anything else.

But electronic music is much more than just music, it’s a lifestyle.


Amy Grill speaks about her film in Barcelona

Documentaries about electronic music then, generally fall into two camps: a sponsor-friendly look at the cult of the superstar DJ with his hands in the air, or a self-indulgent exigent art flick about an obscure record label (that no one will ever actually watch); so to the wider world, electronic music is still as confusing and still as vague as ever.

Tonight, I had a private viewing of the forthcoming electronic music documentary ‘Speaking In Code’ with its director Amy Grill in our apartment in Barcelona.

The great thing about Sonar festival is that so many electronic music figureheads come to the city during Sonar week.

‘Speaking In Code’ (I’m not allowed to reveal too much about the plot) probably comes as close to capturing the feeling of the electronic music lifestyle as anything I’ve ever watched before.

It reveals (subtly) the global electronic music scene to be a set of lissome sleeper cells connected by digital knowledge and collaborative existentialism.

Whilst the lingua franca of the intercontinental business world is the English language, ‘Speaking In Code’ shows how repetitive beats, sound exploration and dancing has allowed great understanding to be forged between cultures, and across borders well under the radar of politics.


‘Speaking In Code’ currently has no distributor

Whilst globalisation requires unified markets, free trade, a global communication system and a standardized moral code, the universal matrix will never be complete without a global culture and electronic music just might be the start of such a creation – the first part of the global cultural monolith, devoid of nationalism and never lost in translation.

The main protagonists in ‘Speaking In Code’ are not superstars either, but rather underground techno heroes the Wighnomy Brothers, electronic music journalist Phillip Sherburne, Berlin-based double act Modeselektor and a sprinkling of other techno figureheads.

“What would be the point of following around a superstar DJ?” said Amy Grill.

“There’s nothing interesting about success, and it’s not something anyone can relate to.”

The documentary’s subjects add a brave honesty to the film. There’s no gloss, no idolism and no glamour – in the end, it’s a painful account about the struggle people face when they take that leap and make music their life.

‘Speaking In Code’ currently has no distributor and therefore no release date but Amy Grill is adamant that “as many people get to see it as possible.”

She’s aiming for film festivals first.

“I’m going to put the same amount of effort and sacrifice into getting the film distributed as we did making it,” she said.

‘Speaking In Code’ took three years to produce, and the film was funded solely by her and her ex-husband’s credit cards.

It is art imitating life and obsessively so.