On Virtual Futures 1994
Dan O’Hara shares his memories of Virtual Futures 1994.
Virtual Futures ’94 was the first of the three VF events held at the University of Warwick. Smaller and less unwieldy than the carnivalesque behemoth that followed in 1995, it still attracted some 300 attendees. Its success led Eric Cassidy and; myself to organize the Thomas Pynchon: Schizophrenia & Social Control conference which took place that November, almost just to keep ourselves busy inbetween VF events. The speed at which these events could be put together was dictated entirely by the internet; Mosaic, the first graphical web browser, was slowly starting to gain in popularity, making it possible for us to publicize these zero-budget conferences globally.
The shortage of funds forced us into innovation in other ways. VF ’94 was propped up financially by its own club night, a strategy we continued to employ subsequently. In ’94 I brought in The House of God, the Birmingham-based techno collective whose numbers include the now-famous DJs and producers Surgeon and Regis; in ’95 the Parisian duo Rob Maze & Tom Louichon, and the London collective Technet played; in ’96, by which time all the original VF team had left Warwick and the conference was continued under the aegis of Sadie Plant, I took control of the decks myself, DJing alongside A Guy Called Gerald, Tom Middleton, and Technical Itch. This unlikely marriage of hardcore techno and academic philosophy produced some of the most memorable moments of the VF events: one image burnt onto everyone’s retinas was that of a certain pair of well-known, ‘cutting-edge’ cybertheorists demonstrating their avant-garde credentials by dancing like Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.
Not all the speakers we tried to bring to VF ’94 could make it that year, which meant that another conference was almost inevitable. For example, I was desperate to bring Hakim Bey, the New York-based writer, to VF ’94, but was unable to do so as there was some doubt over the legality of his entering the UK. We found a way around this the following year…