Movie Review: Dark City Beneath the Beat

TT the Artist's love letter to club music finally gets the wider release it deserves.

I’m thrilled that Baltimoreans are finally going to get to see rapper/music impresario TT the Artist’s film, a love letter to club music, the healing power of dance, and, above all, the city of Baltimore. But I confess I’m sad that it won’t be screened in a packed theater (for now). Oh, the party we would’ve had.

Still, this kinetic, kaleidoscopic film, one that manages to acknowledge Baltimore’s deep-rooted struggles while celebrating its spirit and beauty, is well worth seeing on video. The film, which is barely over an hour, is hard to describe. It’s part music video, part documentary, party hip-hop-inflected Busby Berkeley musical, part tone poem. If you’re looking for a linear history of club music you won’t find it here. Instead, you meet some of its main players (a few, like Mighty Mark and TT herself are identified; several, somewhat frustratingly, aren’t). You learn the colorful names of some of the dance moves (like the Sponge Bob, Crazy Leg, Sexy Walk, and Cherry Hill) and watch some beautiful spoken word rap and dancing.

Occasionally the film, which combines soaring drone footage with on-the-ground camerawork, pauses for an elaborate musical number. In one case, as orange jumpsuit-clad dancers surround the puckish emcee DDm, we see them in aerial view, creating stunning patterns against the Inner Harbor. In another, an all-too-resonant tragic-comic dance number features a white cop at Lexington Market, first finding the club music irresistible, then shooting dead (with a finger gun, in this case) the black man who performs it. We get brief glimpses at the King and Queen of Baltimore dance competitions, we hear about gone-too-soon club dance legends like K. Swift and Tamika “Fatgirl” Raye, and we hear straight talk about Baltimore’s violence and addiction.

The dancing—filled with kicks and scissors and stepping so fast it sometimes looks like the film has been sped up—is electrifying. There is something a little bittersweet about the film—namely, that TT left Baltimore for LA to start her own, all-female record label, Club Queen records. No doubt she still has mad love for her adopted city. But her absence will be felt.

This review originally ran when Dark City Beneath the Beat played at the Maryland Film Festival. It is now available on Netflix.