In Pursuit Of Repetitive Beats Feels Like An '80s UK Time Capsule In VR

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

VR can uniquely transport you to moments in time like no other medium can. Away from gaming lies a treasure trove of immersive experiences, ones that don’t always give you that same freedom but still deliver compelling journeys – Astra, Empereur, Body of Mine, and Sen are a few favorites. Following its 2022 debut, I recently tried In Pursuit Of Repetitive Beats and found myself taken in.

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

I’ve always lived in southern England but In Pursuit Of Repetitive Beats taps into a broader UK cultural phenomenon that is surprisingly relatable. It’s best described as an interactive documentary unfolding around you, exploring the illegal side of the Acid House movement in ’80s Coventry. This brief but engaging journey follows three rave enthusiasts trying to find an all-night warehouse party.

The experience shifts across several different scenes. One minute, you’re exploring a typical bedroom filled with football posters or a police station before moving onto that almost mythical warehouse. That’s inter-spliced well with modern-day interviews from prominent acid house figures like MC Loud & Nasty, Tony McCook and more, placing them on flyers you can physically grab. As someone largely unfamiliar with the scene’s history beforehand, I was drawn in by their stories and these environments look great.

There’s an impressive attention to detail that captures this era well. Developer East City Films frequently uses TV and radio broadcasts from 1989 to help recreate that era. One moment felt like walking into a visual synthesizer mixed with a radio tuner, changing the station as I walked along. Hearing old football scores mentioning my home team, AFC Bournemouth, was a pleasant surprise.

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

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

The Coventry City of Culture Trust initially approached Emerson to create In Pursuit Of Repetitive Beats, which the Trust later funded alongside the British Film Institute (BFI). Though Emerson grew up in London, he wanted to ensure this represented a lived experience anyone involved in the rave scene back then could’ve had.

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

Part of recreating that era involves using real-life broadcasts since Acid House organizers often used pirate radio stations to get their message across. We discussed the scene mentioned above in which 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 that you don’t really live in. You’re trying to find the pirate radio stations, going past classical music, news, cheesy 80s pop – all these different things. Then, finally, you get to the pirate radio that tells you where the rave’s happening.”

Emerson says I’m not alone in leaving the experience feeling 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 type of storytelling; you can create really vivid worlds that resonate with people.”

When asked why he chooses VR over more traditional filmmaking,

Emerson believes that VR is about connections and emotion, which is why he focuses on communities in his work. It’s why he chooses VR over traditional filmmaking, and he believes that many music documentaries are too similar.

“After a while, it gets really boring. My main thought was that I didn’t want to hear somebody talk about it. I want to do it; I want to be there. How can I be there? The only way I can really be there is if I make it in VR. And sure, I’ve got those people around that you pick up who provide commentary like interview talking heads, but they’re in the space with you. They’re guiding you.”

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

Regarding future plans, I’m told another consideration before a home release is considering adding co-location multiplayer “in an LBE sense.” Emerson floated ideas of having an endless rave people could join at will, alongside guest DJs. While it’s a great experience already, I can see the potential behind this idea, and I hope we won’t be waiting long for a home launch.