In Pursuit of Repetitive Beats
Dark nights. Flashing lights. A line of petrol heads revving their engines at a nondescript service station. The distant sound of thumping bass shakes the ground and a barbed-wire fence is cut straight down the middle. Looking over your shoulder for those spirit-curdling blue lights, the coast is clear. It stinks of skunk, you’ve arrived.
Welcome to In Pursuit of Repetitive Beats, an immersive VR experience built to celebrate the rich musical history of the West Midlands rave scene, directed by Darren Emerson of East City Films. Supported by the BFI and Coventry City of Culture Trust, this tale of musical hedonism throws it right back to the second Summer of Love, 1989, when ecstasy and Acid House ingratiated themselves to the country’s nightlife scene, with Coventry finding itself an unlikely epicentre for the UK’s burgeoning rave movement.
“This has been years in my mind,” says Emerson of the project, whose every detail has been painstakingly recreated in virtual forms, be that M6’s Corley Services or the erotic calling cards found in telephone boxes around Coventry in the 80s, “the main thing was just getting the voices and making sure we had contributors.” Emerson enlisted the help of Amnesia House promoters, real-life ravers and scene legends such as Joe D, Vicky Dixon and Neville Fivey, whose gripping testimonies abound from interactive club flyers. “It’s really about their story,” Emerson concedes, “but also about a shared, universal experience.”
Kicking off with the squelchy, pulsating basslines of Joey Beltram’s Energy Flash, the tale starts at pre-drinks, with your pals skimming through various pirate radio stations to catch a hint as to where the night will take you. After hopping into an orange Peugeot 205, you’ll whizz down the motorway to the first meet up point of the night, incensed by the freedom of the open road and the wind kissing your forehead – oh wait, that might be the weed again.
‘In Pursuit of Repetitive Beats’ image courtesy of East City Films
Then, a police station. You haven’t been nicked though, you’re infiltrating an initial crack-down on the scene that would culminate in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994, making listening to ‘repetitive beats’ in an open-air space consisting of more than twenty people totally illegal. After hearing how a select few promoters got about establishing the city’s once-vibrant underground club culture, you slot your coins into a payphone to find out the hunt is over. You’ve located the warehouse, and your night is about to reach its climax.
Emerson wasn’t around for the halcyon days of Acid House, so the experience and hunt for this illegal rave interpolates the memories of those on the ground, whilst also drawing heavily on his own clubbing experiences at university in the late 90s. With many a night spent driving around the Kent countryside or taking to various fields, abandoned railway tunnels and at one time, a disused nuclear submarine, this pursuit of pleasure was as much about figuring out the person he wanted to become with his pals as it was chasing highs under pulsating strobe lights in a vacant warehouse with sweat dripping from the ceiling.
“Whether it was 89, or 95, there’s a common connection to doing something like that where you’re with people and you finally feel like you’ve found a community,” says Emerson. “[In Pursuit Of Repetitive Beats] is about those seminal, defining moments in your life, when you’re with your friends, free from your parents, you don’t have any responsibilities yet. You’re hitting the road and you just don’t know where you’re going. And you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Though the experience has been created using the latest advancements in the VR world, from gridded floors, censors, volumetric captures, headsets and wind machines, the irony of leaning into a distant world that pre-dates smartphones and music streaming, is certainly not lost on Emerson. “For me, the magic of VR is using technology to reconnect with humanity. You put on the headset, you put on the headphones, all this kind of stuff, and once you do that, it’s just you in there, you have no distractions.”
Ultimately, the subjective narrative Emerson created for his pseudo-open-world is all about an adventure, giving ravers of the past and present the ability to share in the moment of this bygone time with a couple of beautiful strangers, if only for an hour. “People come out going, “I just want to go clubbing” or “I’m going to call my mate from 25 years ago.” It’s been mental – and it’s just like, yeah, reconnect!.” It seems his mission, then, has been fully accomplished.
In Pursuit Of Repetitive Beats runs at The Box in FarGo Village from 29th March – 1st May. Tickets are available here