Searching for repetitive beats feels like a time capsule of 1980s UK in virtual reality

In Pursuit Of Repetitive Beats is a nostalgic exploration of the UK’s acid-house movement and the rave scene of the 80s. Read on for our full impressions.

VR can uniquely transport you to moments in time like no other medium can. Away from the games there is a treasure trove of immersive experiences, the kind that don’t always give you the same freedom, but still offer compelling journeys: Astra, Empereur, my bodyi Sen are some of the favorites. Following their 2022 debut, I recently tried In Pursuit Of Repetitive Beats and found myself hooked.

Going hands-on during the NewImages Festival at the event’s XR Market, it’s easily my favorite “new” experience of this trip. Designed as a room-scale experience, I put on my headphones, wore a haptic vest, and found myself in 1989. The room-scale setting lets you walk around to explore, but also supports artificial locomotion based on a stick and a smooth turn of the camera. .

I’ve always lived in the South of England, but In Pursuit Of Repetitive Beats taps into a wider UK cultural phenomenon that’s surprisingly relatable. Best described as an interactive documentary that unfolds around you, exploring the illegal side of the Acid House movement in Coventry in the 80s. This short but engaging journey follows three enthusiastic enthusiasts as they try to find a warehouse party throughout the evening.

The experience changes in several different scenes. One minute, you’re exploring a typical bedroom full of football posters or a police station before heading to that near-mythical warehouse. This ties in nicely with current interviews from acid house stalwarts like MC Loud & Nasty, Tony McCook and more, putting them in booklets you can physically pick up. As someone who didn’t know the history of the scene beforehand, I was drawn to their stories and these environments look fantastic.

In Pursuit Of Repetitive Beats screenshot

There is an impressive attention to detail that captures this era well. Developer East City Films often uses television and radio broadcasts from 1989 to help recreate that era. At one point I felt like I was walking into a visual synthesizer mixed with a radio tuner, changing stations as I walked. Hearing old football scores mentioning my local team AFC Bournemouth was a pleasant surprise.

It’s a fascinating time capsule that has left me nostalgic for a time before I lived. While it’s not the longest experience at 45 minutes, I still found myself thinking about it almost a week later. I particularly liked how East City Films integrated the haptic vest support, enhancing the immersion by syncing with its appropriate soundtrack.

After this screening, I spoke with director Darren Emerson, co-founder and CEO of East City Films, to learn more. Emerson is known for creating VR experiences steeped in social commentary, starting in the early days of modern VR with efforts like Witness 360: 7/7, Indefinite, Common Ground, and most recently Letters From Drancy.

In Pursuit Of Repetitive Beats screenshot

Emerson was initially approached by Coventry City of Culture Trust to create In Pursuit Of Repetitive Beats, which the Trust later co-funded with the British Film Institute (BFI). Although Emerson grew up in London, he wanted to make sure this represented a lived experience that anyone involved in the rave scene at the time could have had.

I wasn’t around in 89, but the process was the same. The narrative where you go to a friend’s house, “Where are we going? What about this flyer? How do we know where it is?” before jumping in the car, not having a mobile phone or internet… this is a lived experience. I wanted to represent it in ’89, when it was much more fundamental politically and culturally.

Part of recreating that era involves using real-life broadcasts, as Acid House organizers often used pirate radio stations to broadcast their message. We discussed the aforementioned scene where your physical position is like a radio tuner.

“As a kid, you’d be fascinated because it didn’t really make any sense; it was a code. Outside of your bedroom, there’s this whole world you don’t really live in. You’re trying to find pirate radio stations, going over classical music, news, cheesy ’80s pop – all these different things, eventually you get to pirate radio that tells you where the rave is happening.”

In Pursuit Of Repetitive Beats screenshot

Emerson says I’m not the only one to come away from the experience nostalgic, telling me how In Pursuit Of Repetitive Beats often resonates with electronic and dance music fans.

“I think nostalgia is a huge element in this kind of storytelling; you can create really vivid worlds that resonate with people.”

When asked why he chooses virtual reality over more traditional filmmaking, Emerson believes virtual reality is about connections and emotion, which is why he focuses on communities in his work. That’s why he chooses virtual reality over traditional cinema, and believes that many music documentaries are too similar.

“After a while, it gets really boring. My main thought was, I don’t want to hear anybody talk about it. I want to do it; I want to be there. How can I be there? The only way I can- ho It’s really if I do it in VR And of course I have people you pick up who do commentary like interviews but they’re in the space with you.

Since premiering in Coventry two years ago, In Pursuit Of Repetitive Beats has continued to tour numerous festivals and East City Films is planning a new eight-stop tour soon. When asked if we’ll ever see a house version of In Pursuit Of Repetitive Beats, I was told that East City is looking into it. However, the touring aspect creates additional release considerations.

As for future plans, I’m told another consideration ahead of a home release is considering adding co-op multiplayer “in an LBE sense.” Emerson came up with ideas of having an endless rave that people could join at will, along with guest DJs. While it’s already a great experience, I can see the potential behind this idea and I hope we don’t have to wait too long for the home release.

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