For the second instalment of our Llais Festival coverage, Josh Ludewig went along to the Wales Millennium Centre to try out their latest interactive, virtual reality experience, In Pursuit of Repetitive Beats, created by Darren Emerson.
In Pursuit of Repetitive Beats is one of the latest interactive virtual reality experiences, playing at Wales Millennium Centre as part of their Llais Festival. The experience was created by award-winning filmmaker Darren Emerson, set during the Acid House movement in 1989, and invites you in search of an illegal rave taking place one night in Coventry.
The experience begins with you being led down a dimly lit corridor adorned with luminescent graffiti and neon posters, capturing the rave vibe. Eventually, leading to a large room where you are given some
glowsticks to really put you in the mood of a 1980s rave, after which you will be taken to segmented play areas where the Wales Millennium Centre staff equip you with the tools to enter the virtual experience such as a VR headset, headphones, and a sensory speaker pack.
Upon entering the virtual space, you are greeted to a Tron-like void with the floor being made up of a neon grid with the rest of the space being a black void, except an old record player and a record in the distance, instantly drawing you in to interact with it.
Once you do, your surroundings seamlessly melt away as you find yourself on the record itself as it spins creating an endless black road as beams of light fly past, before a second transition occurs transporting you into the car seat of a Fiat Cinquecento cruising down the motorway in the middle of the night, you ‘lift’ your head out of a sunroof and ‘feel’ the cool breeze (a nearby fan is activated), the whole experience from the visuals, sounds and multisensory techniques being used really allow you to feel the ‘buzz’ in the air.
Throughout Beats you’ll visit a number of unique locations, from a teen’s bedroom filled with rave memorabilia, a Coventry police station, a motorway service station, and an abandoned warehouse. Within each location, the narrative is delivered through neon posters designed after popular rave flyers designed in the 90’s. Once you interact with these posters, a famous DJ or event organiser from the period will give some insight into the Acid House movement, making the experience much more than a ‘Dance, Dance, Simulator’ but something more akin to a biopic.
You visit each location in the context that they are stops along a group of teens journey to find the rave. This exceeds in creatively adding a locational context to the insight that the DJ or event organisers are talking about, but also lets you feel the excitement of the easter-egg like hunt for a rave. This VR-biopic really allows you to step inside a piece of history, as it is almost impossible to capture in the modern day due to the advent of technologies such as the mobile phone.
This is where the size of both the set locations and play space should be mentioned. Some immersive experiences utilise fairly small play areas restricting your ability to explore the location. However, the Wales Millennium Centre should be commended here for transforming their Wolfson Studio into (roughly) large eight by five-meter play spaces, allowing you to really move around and explore the locations, which adds to the immersion. While this can be quite disorienting, the WMC staff have precautions in place to help you out if you feel uncomfortable.
Beats also makes use of acid-trip-esque visuals, during one sequence your hands emit blue and pink lighting as you float through neon bodies, while the speaker pack on your back blares out a body thumping Acid House beat. There was a danger these visuals could have come off as tacky, but these visuals ultimately add to the experience and really allow some of the more creative uses of virtual reality to shine.
In Pursuit of Repetitive Beats marks another success in the immersive film genre in its utilisation of virtual reality to tell an interesting story, using the full creative power that VR allows without falling into a gimmicky trap or even the traps of its own context. Instead, In Pursuit of Repetitive Beats successfully navigates these pitfalls and delivers an interesting documentary on the Acid House Movement.
In Pursuit of Repetitive Beats runs at the Wales Millenium Centre until 6th November. Tickets are available here.