Interview: Kieran Hurley's Beats performed at the 2012 Edinburgh Festival
The play explores collective and individual identity in the decade of rave culture and chemical excess
This article is from 2012.
Kieran Hurley’s play, Beats, resurrects the 90s via one boy’s journey though the club landscape of 1994. Written, directed and performed by Hurley alongside DJ Johnny Whoop and VJ Jamie Wardrop, it’s a story of ‘chemical excess’, love, longing and repetitive beats. First performed as part of the Arches BEHAVIOUR festival this year, it won Best New Play at the Critics Awards For Theatre In Scotland. Henry Northmore talks to Hurley and Whoop about their exploration of rave culture.
Can you briefly explain what Beats is about?
Kieran Hurley: ‘Essentially, it’s a monologue set against the backdrop of when the proposed Criminal Justice Bill was attempting to place restrictions on rave culture and the free party movement. It’s essentially the story of a 15-year-old boy going to a rave for the first time. It’s performed on stage with DJ Johnny Whoop, who’s also done the lighting design for the show. And there is a projector screen, which is constantly projecting visuals and film footage that has been mixed and manipulated by VJ Jamie Wardrop. So it’s using a lot of the apparatus of a nightclub to create a theatre show.
‘Part of what’s being explored is the landscape of post-Thatcher Britain, where there was a concentrated attempt to dismantle certain ideas about collectivism in favour of a competitive, individualistic culture. I’m considering rave culture as a youth culture trying to reconnect with an idea of collective identity, and so this young boy’s journey into that world is the basic story by which some of those bigger political questions are touched upon, if not fully grappled with, but they’re there in the context of the story.’
You’re too young to have experienced the birth of rave culture, so what did you draw on to recreate the era?
KH: ‘In 1994, when the show is set, I was nine. Almost coincidentally, I have a big brother who’s six years older than me. I also had a period when I was into techno and the ‘stuff’ that’s connected to all that. So I have an interest in the culture and I have always been involved in certain types of grassroots, social activism. There was a whole generation of young people who essentially didn’t define themselves as being a part of a political movement, suddenly, by having their way of life restricted, became in some way radicalised. There’s this weird crossover between activist movements and the free party movement, and it redefined the shape of direct action protests from the mid-90s until now.
‘People have commented on its authenticity – a lot of that’s got to do with Johnny Whoop making sure the details are right because he knows so much about the culture and history because he lives and breathes it.’
Was music integral to the piece?
KH: ‘In a way there were parallels with how a DJ might construct his set, and the journey he wants to take his audience on with how we constructed the story. The two evolved next to each other. Also, the visuals that Jamie’s created, I’m just really pleased with them, because the great thing about collaborating with artists of other disciplines is that it extends the palette of what we’re able to do with the show. There’s definitely a sense that it’s a collaboration across three different disciplines.’
Johnny Whoop: ‘The music does enhance the storytelling, although nothing can take away from Mr Hurley’s excellent monologue. I like to think it gives the piece some extra life and helps to immerse you in the scenes, possibly tinkering with your emotions in the way only music can.’
How different was it creating the soundtrack to Beats compared with a DJ set?
JW: ‘There were some similarities and some differences. I had to take into account the mood we were trying to set with each track and how that would affect each scene – that was similar to when DJing live and judging what direction to take the music in next. The main difference is having a set list of tracks in a set order – usually when playing out at a club I will play with the crowd a bit and see what kind of style or vibe is fitting the party.’
Do you also like the fact that it’s going to be a late-night show?
KH: ‘I think we’ll get some different audiences through the course of that run. A lot of people afterwards have been like, ‘I really want to go out dancing, I’ve not been out in ages.’ So if people want to build their night around it then it’s in a good time slot.’
Traverse Theatre, 228 1404, until 26 Aug (not 20 Aug), 11pm, £17–£19 (£12–£14)