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Seeding the future - or burying the past?

Cyberseed cyber-festival

Cyber culture comes to Britain for a multimedia club night. William Gibson couldn't make it, but you can always rely on Simon Trask for an honest report.

Many things were promised for Cyberseed. Billed as "Britain's first cyber-festival", it aimed to draw together state-of-the-art virtual reality systems, computer graphics, film sfx, cyber art, video games, cyber groups, robots and cyber fashion within a club environment, complete with sound systems and live video mixing.

Originally set to take place at Bagley's Studio over two days in October last year, Cyberseed was put on hold at short notice when the venue owners suddenly decided they wanted £10,000 upfront. Not to be put off, event organiser Brian Davis began negotiating for another site, with the result that Cyberseed took place a couple of months later at The Fridge in Brixton. Only by this time the 'festival' had turned into a one-night club event, and Cyberseed was only able to deliver some of what it had first promised. The momentum was lost, the moment had passed - and the damage was done.

What's more, in stark contrast to the publicity blitz which had surrounded the original event, Cyberseed at The Fridge had only low-key publicity, and ended up attracting only a relatively small audience. For the venue owners, more used to hosting packed-out regular club nights, it wasn't enough, and The Fridge will not be putting on another Cyberseed night.

Turn on. tune in. lie down: mouse potatoes in search of the future.

But what exactly was Cyberseed? And what did the 'cyber' label actually mean? Well, the event seemingly took its cue from the cyberpunk ethos of William Gibson's Sprawl trilogy and Gibson's famous dictum about the street having its own use for things. "Cyber is the underground, a completely global experience," Brian Davis proclaimed from The Fridge's stage as he opened the night's proceedings, adding that "the technology is coming out of the hands of the multinational corporations and into the hands of the people - down to the street." Clubs, he said, had a key role to play in the emergence of the new "cyber culture", and then went on to describe a vision of global raves taking place over the Internet (the 'network of networks' which allows you to go online to the world for the price of a local phone call).

In practice, The Fridge's stage remained decidedly local throughout the night - trapped in its own little world, you could say - while the promised videoconferencing in the hi-tech enclave of the VirtualiTea Room never materialised. I came away from Cyberseed feeling that it was both ahead of and behind the times. 'Ahead' because the technology which could realise Brian's (and a lot of other people's) vision of a global club isn't in place yet - or, at least, has yet to find its way down to the proverbial street. 'Behind' because there was something very '80s about the hard, aggressive, industrial edge (and edginess) which characterised many of the night's events, from the showers of sparks flying off the metal-clad opening act to the boldly fetishistic cyberfashion show, the new wave alienation of Trauma Corporation to the primitivist aggression of massed French drummers Les Tambours du Bronx. Somehow it seemed only fitting that a fight should break out during Les Tambours' set.

Live vision mixing onto a video wall at the rear of the stage was provided throughout the night by a combination of Hex's Matt Black and VJ crew Digital Invasion. Cyberseed also saw the debut of Adamski's new band, Zipper, while "disinformation hip hop" was provided by The Bubbleheads alias rap veterans Melle Mel and Afrika Islam, who flew in from the real Bronx. Also in evidence was Rolf Gehlhaar and his Soundspace system - a collection of ultrasonic sensors hooked up to an Atari ST, which in turn controlled a couple of Yamaha TX81Z modules via MIDI. The system reads position and movement within a physical 'soundspace' defined by the sensor positioning and translates this information in real time into gamelan music! Normally used with handicapped children, at Cyberseed it interacted with bemused punters - providing a rare instance of light relief in an otherwise intense night.

Meanwhile, the VirtualiTea Room (a regular fixture at London club Megatripolis) had taken up residency for the night in a hot, crowded, noisy side room upstairs. Here you could play around with Philips' CD-i, learn to navigate a desktop VR system, and watch specially-encoded videos in 3D by donning some rather unusual glasses. Up another flight of stairs and you were in the gods, where you could encounter, among other things, brain machines, an alternative bookshop, Atari ST-based live video manipulation, and Fast Breeder, an underground bulletin board dedicated to "bringing artists, activists and others into uncomfortable proximity."

Rather ambitiously, Brian had originally envisaged Cyberseed becoming not only a regular monthly event but also a travelling roadshow. It remains to be seen whether or not it will re-emerge - and, if it does, what form it will take. For now, it seems that Cyberseed was a one-off event which - like the sparks that got the night off to such a dramatic start - flared and then died.

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Music Technology - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Music Technology - Mar 1994

Feature by Simon Trask

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