Raving lunatics

Cyberdance Collective the Pod are heavily into the New Age club scene. They also like taking the mickey out of it. Liese Spencer discovers late-night cyber-comedy
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It's one in the morning and beautiful people are dancing to a sample that runs, "We take drugs and listen to loud music". Slides are flashing gnomic, subliminal messages to the banging techno mantra. It could be any club, were it not for the old-fashioned hair-dryers that sit on either side of the entrance. On closer inspection, these prove to be "ego-recalibration units", and a man in white who calls himself the Drone is busy settling punters under their helmets like nervous grannies. Two lanky ravers appear on stage in wrap-around shades and the music kicks in: "Imagine something impossible!" demands the bare-chested, silver-trousered one. "Imagine drinking from a star-filled stream at midnight!"

This is the Pod, a "Cyberdance Collective" who have transformed the Pleasance into "a fully amniotic environment computer, modelled on the uterine system of the hump-backed whale". Here, human organisms more used to a spot of theatre or light sketch comedy are asked to relinquish self-hood and rebirth themselves into post-modern humour. Club sub-culture has arrived at the Festival.

Talking to the Pod the day after their Edinburgh debut was a bit like ingesting the entire ICA back-catalogue - a pseudo-illuminating, if indigestible experience. One learns that they are a kind of "eco-historic techno thought- sphere"; their guru is Bob C Farzenligger, a man they bumped into at Timothy Leary's Net funeral, and a visionary who actually predicted the millennium 30 years before it was going to happen. They are future evangelists. "Everyone's living in the now, but the future is where things are going to happen."

The Pod have recently been doing a lot of LV26. The drug was "originally discovered by the American government, and introduced into the water supply during the consumer crisis to make women buy more expensive skirts". They challenge today's obsession with the "aural canal. We want to make music that can be heard by all organs." "Doing it all night" for the Pod means a late video-conferencing session - they reject "the analogue, linear relationship of physical sex".

In their chosen eco-sphere of pastiche comedy, the Pod reject names, preferring a "shifting identity matrix". In the prehistoric world of humano- relationships and comedy circuits, however, they inhabit the more prosaic personas of Julian Barratt and Tim Hope, a pair of stand-ups who met a year and a half ago performing at "the smallest club in London", where they discovered a shared passion for rave culture. "We've both been into it for ages," admits Hope happily, "the whole Megatripolis thing in London, the Glastonbury scene."

With the exception of a few catty house lyrics, clubbers are not renowned for their ironic detachment, generally preferring to submerge themselves in primal trance and arm-waving. Barratt and Hope are unusual in that they failed to leave their well-developed sense of humour in the cloakroom. The result is a multi-media comedy experience that combines the hedonistic pleasures of rave with a sly, associative commentary on the New Age info- verbiage that accompanies it.

Rather than rubbishing clubbing through their one-man shows, Barratt and Hope decided to turn the thing around and become stand-up DJs. "It's getting rid of that kind of humour where you sit a row of people together in a room and joke at them," explains Hope. "By using lights, installations and noise, you can destroy the group mentality. It's like an art installation with an enormous sound-system to deal with hecklers."

If, in the language of Pod, Hope and Barratt are transgressing the boundaries of traditional comedy, the interface between them and their characters is so blurred as to be unidentifiable. In the flesh, they are tall, trendy Londoners, personifications of their own imagined audience. Hope has spikey blonde hair and cool, horn-rimmed specs, Barratt a tiny wisp of goatee that clings to his chin like velcro tumbleweed. Their stage outfits come from their own wardrobes. Most significantly, perhaps, Hope has successfully recorded dance tracks for the Universal Egg Label.

Barratt is adamant that they're not ridiculing the whole scene. "It's just that people seem to forget that we're simply normal people going about our everyday lives and begin to extrapolate ridiculous notions about reality." Like all the best ideas, once you have seen the Pod you can't understand why it hasn't been done before. Their show lampoons every aspect of a huge contemporary sub-culture, and as the scene evolves, they plan to move with it. "If the Pod got stuck as a musical parody it probably would wither quite quickly," muses Barratt. But with a Web-site already established, and plans for a CD-Rom, there's little chance of that happening. True to their multi-media roots, plans are afoot for a series on Radio 1, they are presently negotiating a record deal, and look forward to hosting their own London club on the back of their well-deserved Edinburgh hype. "I want people to make that existential leap," Hope says. "To think 'I can dance and laugh - I'm evolving!'"

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