I’ve been thinking about why 2016 feels a tiny bit empty to me, despite having achieved a few nice things and being very busy. I think it’s simply because every other year since 2010, I’ve put on at least one substantial event involving lots of other people.
2010: Shift Run Stop 50th party
I organised a 50th episode party for the podcast Roo and I were making regularly at the time, at a cocktail bar in London, where many of the previous guests swung by (including Dr Sue Black) and there were games to play, but I think no cake (? What?) That was the first thing I’d ever booked a venue for.
A series of panel events run out of my old office in London, co-organised with a copywriter colleague. These events were really terrific. I booked us some extremely high calibre guests, including Rhianna Pratchett, Sydney Padua and Helen Lewis. The same year (I think!) Roo and I did a live on-stage show at the games conference, interviewing Dominik Diamond over Skype to a packed venue at The Conway Hall.
2011 was also the first, mini, Hack Circus. Russell Davies gave me an hour at his event, Interesting, to do anything I want with. I got in some interesting contacts and threw together a one-hour mini cabaret… if I recall correctly I booked Sarah Angliss to play theremin, Sandy’s drawing machines, representatives of a computer museum demoing stuff, a thermal printer doing OCR, MJ Hibbett leading a sing-along, and Nervous Squirrel & crew on a giant modular synth the size of a wall wearing masks of animals on the backs of their heads. Looking back, it was quite a production for a one-hour segment in a daytime conference.
2012: The Event
I got really into apocalypses around this time, and everyone thought the world was going to end, almost as much as they do nowadays. The Event were two different apocalypse events that I organised over two consecutive weekends in a room under a pub in London. I’m not sure why I did two. I think it was a case of ambition and excitement taking over. I had no idea how exhausting it was going to be, or how thrilling. We had talks from the likes of Naomi Alderman, Alby Reid, and Catherine O’Flynn, immersive panel discussions about zombies, fragments of apocalyptic musicals… everything. It was a big, cramped, terrifying, sell-out, standing-room-only blast. Of course, it was another prototype for Hack Circus.
2013: Hack Circus Time Travel Live
The project launched in the autumn with HC Time Travel Live (details of all the HC events are linked here). I booked some of my dear friends from previous shows mixed in new voices and we sold out the 80 seats quickly. It was fantastic fun: science, meditation, inventions, weirdness and even a real time machine. It was at least 3 hours long, 10 acts I think, and I paid to get it professionally filmed.
2014: Hack Circus This is Reality, Access All Areas, Starship Hack Circus, Home for Christmas
Bloody hell, we did four in one year! This is Reality took place in the Site Gallery in Sheffield and the talks and performers offered different takes on the theme. We had a train set running around the upstairs corridor of the gallery, one of the speakers did the whole thing in character in a lab coat with a real brain in a jar. There was a Kinect/dance performance.
Access All Areas was part of my residency at Lighthouse Arts, and involved live 3D printing of brainwaves, a very funny talk about killer bulldozers, a real life social engineer, a room of Seb’s inventions and more. We started out seriously worried about selling tickets, and ended up packing the room out with the record number of people who had ever been squished into that space at Lighthouse (80+).
For Starship Hack Circus, we decided to send the audience into space. I got the Space Studios in London’s Hackney and we did an immersive ‘trip into space’ experience complete with scientist tour guides, aliens, live VT from ‘Earth’, artistic reflection, a radio being hacked by Irish aliens, post cards, stickers, sick bags, live music, and a petulant air stewardess.
Home for Christmas was more of a Christmas party vibe, back in Sheffield in December, but we still managed some live coding demos, a self-aware face projection, a Reindeer fortune teller machine, a Christmas music quiz, cake, crochet conception kits, and an actual magician.
You can see how things were really starting to escalate by this point.
2015: Underworlds The Musical and M.O.R.T.Y
In February, with my friend the music technologist and broadcaster LJ Rich, I created an immersive musical to coincide with issue 7 of Hack Circus. We convened under a pub to venture deep into the heart of “London’s least-known underground volcano” stopping for talks and performances from HC regulars and new voices. There were maps, funny graphics, US SINGING SONGS, costumes, props, ME RAPPING WITH A PUPPET, and a rammed-in audience dressed for caving waving their torches aloft during the soulful songs. We wrote (and LJ recorded) a lot of really good songs for it. The show was on BBC World Service radio, and written about for The Independent.
In the summer and autumn I took my life extension booth (“M.O.R.T.Y: A cure for life”) on the road to Bradford for the British Science Festival and Brighton for the Digital Festival, and subjected hundreds of individual audience members to a personal consciousness-purifying experience in a box, with lasers (thanks Saul), a thermal printer (thanks James), and loads of other weird surprises, e.g. a balloon graveyard of regrets. To accompany it, I also hired a videographer and made a documentary about life extension culture (thanks The Arts Council).
And then I got this residency at Rambert till Feb 2016…
2016: No live shows.
I feel like all I did this year was a couple of residencies and the installation at the Lowry. It’s been a real change of pace, haha, going commercial. But I have ideas for more shows, and next year I’m damn well going to do them. Because looking at this blog post, I guess I’m a showman, when it comes down to it. And frankly it’s just cruel to stop me putting things on.
Watch this space. Tickets on sale for something totally new in 2017.