Forming the ecstatic crescendo of the renowned Manchester International Festival, DYSTOPIA987 was Skepta’s vision of a rave rebellion in a technology-dominated world.
The brief was to create a ‘placebo’ experience that touched upon the heightened visual and audio experience created by psychedelics – except this was to be a drug-free, healthy alternative. The question that was to be answered was whether technology could be used to create a stimulant to physically bring people together and to give them more of a sensory rush than other less salubrious alternatives.
A mixed reality room was to sit alongside a plethora of other technologies scattered throughout the warehouse venue in The Depot in Manchester. This would include projections, LED screens, thermal imaging cameras, bluetooth networked headphones and more. The technologically ambitious event was as a part of the Innovate UK-funded Audiences of the Future demonstrator from the Royal Shakespeare Company, Epic Games and Magic Leap.
As part of an array of installations and immersive theatre, Draw & Code worked directly with Magic Leap on a mixed reality experience that was intended to be a drug-free hallucinogenic trip.
The environment posed a number of challenges to the hardware; a dark, industrial room in which ravers would be encouraged to explore a stark, abandoned office space formed the backdrop as the sensors in the headset overlaid a glowing, abstract layer onto their surroundings. Every hand movement the viewer made created a trail of swarming 3D shapes that hung in mid-air as the sounds of Skepta played on the Magic Leap One headset. The dark environment would be a worry to any Magic Leap developer, but the experimental kit handled it with aplomb.
With little more than a cerise pink uplight in the space allocated for the experience, the device worked impeccably. Only clouds of dry ice passing through the area gave it any trouble, but redirecting them to give the space a hazy presence rather than a full-on smokescreen cured this issue.
The shows were a big success with the hashtag #Dystopia987 revealing a torrent of praise on social media – in spite of all the ravers being required to forgo their phones for the duration of the event. Only the most ‘connected’ dancers got to try the Magic Leap for themselves, but those that were selected to don the headsets loved it. There was even dancing between strangers as they got lost in the experience – it was quite the spectacle!
Famous faces from the worlds of music and art tried the headsets while outlets such as the BBC, The Guardian, Vice and Mixmag covered the spectacular event. Will the future of music events be crammed with technology as DYSTOPIA987 was? Based on the success of this series of events, we can only hope that the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.