Future clubbing: Twenty-first century party people

Technology is infiltrating night life. Rahul Verma reports on the weird and wonderful animatronics and 3D effects that are turning clubs and festivals into sci-fi wonderlands

The heaving dancefloor sways to the DJ's metronomic patterns as people filter off to chat at the bar. As a thundering bass line kicks in, whoops and squeals of approval erupt, and a sea of hands rises in salutation. One hand stands apart from the crowd: it's shiny and metal, and belongs to a robot moving gracefully in time to the music.

Meanwhile, at a festival in a dome-shaped tent, cider-soaked revellers wearing Blues Brothers-style shades are gawping, dancing to wonky house and pointing, as new rave shapes, cityscapes and iconic film imagery, such as Superman's insignia, tumble towards them.

These aren't visions of clubbing from the future. These are two club nights, Kreatures and 3D Disco that exist in the present, and reflect how rapidly evolving technology is infiltrating and influencing clubbing, festivals and nightlife.

Kreatures, the night that brings dancing robots – or more specifically animatronics – into clubs, is the vision of the bright minds at John Nolan Films. Its Dalston workshop is a hive of focused activity: sparks fly and machinery grinds as five people beaver away to meet a deadline to provide a squirrel head that can enunciate Spanish words for a TV ad.

Welcome to the weird, wonderful and frankly flabbergasting world of animatronics. What are animatronics? "Animatronics is imitating the anatomy of a person or animal, through engineering or mechanics, and copying the movement and making it as fluid as possible," explains Gustav Hoegen.

In other words animatronics are lifelike puppets (the squirrel's fur is rabbit hair) made from robotics and mainly used in films, adverts or theme parks. John Nolan, whose animatronic work has appeared in films including Where The Wild Things Are, Skellig and Hellboy II, specialises in "skins" – faces, stomachs and mouths.

For Hoegen, Nolan and Josh Head, bringing their painstaking work into nightclubs is about showcasing what they do to a wider audience. "It's self-indulgent, as what I do is usually covered in foam latex and silicone skin so you don't get to see what goes into making a piece of metal look organic in the way it moves," says Nolan. Then Hoegen says: "The Kreatures night is an installation. I've always wanted to do something that shows off what goes into robotics and animatronics."

Where did the idea come from? "Gus and I met Josh when we were working on Where The Wild Things Are in Australia. Josh was dabbling in animatronic performances with a bear head he wore on stage. Gus and I built animatronic mouths for a night and used radio controllers to control their expressions. Josh's approach is revolutionary; no one else is doing it. He has put together a control for a robot with 16 or 30 motors which enable expressions rather than just moving an arm up", continues Nolan excitedly.

Head, who performs live as Ankle Pants, explains: "If it's one of John's mouths or faces you can get a smile or frown. As you drop a part of the track it will trigger an instant movement, and if you slow down or speed up the music the movement will mimic that. It's the equivalent of mixing electronic music and expressions."

Alongside a line-up of big-hitting electronic-music DJs including Starkey, Untold and Milanese, the stars of Kreatures are undoubtedly the animatronics: Hoegen's labour of love takes centre stage – cradled in the palm of an over arching robotic arm – and will be flanked by two macabre sculptures by the YBA Tristan Schoonraad. Nolan's animatronic mouth and stomach will unsettle wide-eyed revellers, and the animatronic movements (including a talking navel) will be controlled by Head as he DJs.

It begs the question what will the audience go home talking about– the music or the animatronics? Head says "The first time I saw a lip-synching puppet I was like 'What the hell?' I was totally blown away, they look totally different on screen. Physically seeing them and hearing them move is something else entirely."

Kreatures is reminiscent of a sci-fi film, and the idea that there's beauty in matching music and machinery has been around at least since Fritz Lang's 1927 movie Metropolis. "It's definitely like Metropolis; that's what we're achieving – moving in time to the music. To me animatronics are aesthetic, like modern art," says Hoegen, who reveals that the robot he's made for the night is worth tens of thousands of pounds.

The urge to shine a spotlight on a niche craft is also true of 3D Disco, which will be at Glastonbury for the second year running, and debuts at the Big Chill this summer. 3D Disco does what it says on the tin; it's a disco or rave – depending on your era – where you don 3D glasses and get down to anything from wonky house to rave classics, as visuals fly towards you.

Around five years ago there were three of us VJ-ing and we were moaning about how visuals always took a back seat to the music and was wallpaper in a club. 3D Disco came from those conversations and putting visuals at the forefront of the show and making the night more of a spectacle," explains the DJ and promoter Nik Barrera.

The VJ teams joined forces and formed the Novak Collective, a group of digital artists who hunkered down to create 3D content. Gradually 3D Disco took shape through trialing material in their hometown of Newcastle's Wax On night, and progressed to performing in Trafalgar Square with Calvin Harris.

The breakthrough for both Kreatures and 3D Disco came when the Smirnoff Creative Grants awards, which gives £5,000-bursaries to people with ideas for club nights with the "wow factor", provided the funds to make the pub talk a reality. "After we won the grant we were able to develop a 360-degree show and take 3D Disco in a bespoke direction, namely a dedicated environment in the round," explains Barrera.

Domestic and international bookings have since come thick and fast, and the flexibility of 3D Disco means they can operate in myriad situations: from in the round, to AV shows in clubs or bespoke footage made to order. The rise of 3D in popular culture, with films such as Avatar and Streetdance, has helped the cause. "We were developing what we did before these films were out but it's primed audiences and made it easier to pitch," offers Barrera.

The music policy of 3D Disco reflects this adaptability and is upbeat, and playful, like the experience. "Our music is really varied, we like to surprise and keep it fast-paced so we'll do house classics, UK funky, Baltimore club, kitsch bits and pieces which we've re-edited and snippets from Flash Gordon and Ghostbusters" says Barrera.

Like Kreatures, 3D Disco hope to take their craft to as wide an audience as possible: "We're hoping to develop our shows in planetariums because they're 360-degree spaces. Another aspiration for the dedicated environment is producing content for younger age groups. So you could have 3D Disco at a festival and daytime programming for kids," explains Barrera.

Above all both Kreatures and 3D Disco are about putting wonder and amazement back into nightlife. It's no surprise their emergence has come as the superclub era draws to a close; watching a bloke, superstar or not, playing CDs, or, worse, MP3s, is as much a spectacle as watching someone read their emails. But a robot dancing... well now you're talking.

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine