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what falling asleep at a gig could mean for the future of music

Ever been to an overnight concert where you're provided with a bed and actively encouraged to sleep through the whole event? In a time of interactive lightshows and hologram popstars, could Max Richter's SLEEP-over be paving the way for a more...

by Russell Dean Stone
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Mar 23 2016, 5:25pm

Contemporary classical composer Max Richter has been inviting audiences to come and sleep through his record breaking eight-hour marathon composition, SLEEP. Richter recently arranged three consecutive nights of sleepovers at Berlin's Kraftwerk venue for the public world premiere of SLEEP, where sold-out crowds of pajama-clad listeners subconsciously experienced the entire live performance. Yep, you read that right -- you can now pay to listen to music in your sleep. So, is SLEEP the final frontier of live concert going or the dawn of a bold new age of alt immersive live music experiences?

Here's how the BYOB (bring your own bedding) event works. Upon arrival, you pick a bed from the giant floor plan and then literally go and make your own camp bed and lie in it. Richter and his ensemble start the show at midnight and play through until 8am, though you'll find people already doze off at 10pm, two hours before the music even starts. Casually redefining the idea of a snoozefest, it's a rare instance of being able to literally go out all night and still get enough sleep to go to work in the morning.

Assuming that most of the 400-strong crowd weren't sleep deprivation sufferers looking for an aid to help them catch some z's -- they'd do better streaming SLEEP from the comfort of their own memory foam mattresses -- why are audiences so keen to join in?

With record sales decreasing over the last decade, live shows are where the music business is making its real dollar. If we're being extremely cynical you could say we're moving to a model where the actual music is a prop to support touring and merchandise sales, which are making the lion's share of profit. At the same time, audiences in 2016 are seemingly prepared to pay higher ticket prices, especially for unique experiences -- $2000 Justin Bieber meet and greet anyone? That and we're consuming so much digitally, it's no wonder we're drawn to making a connection IRL.

The real adventure of SLEEP isn't actually the music; the rousing strings and booming bass notes get quite repetitive. It's gramming pics of the epic venue, live tweeting the experience with the hashtag #OneWorldSleep, it's walking around at 4am watching strangers sleep (like a creep), it's waking up at 7:30am in the windowless space and being inexplicably drawn to the crowd at the front of stage in a cathartic moment of camaraderie. It really is about participating.

In that sense, SLEEP owes more to immersive experiences like Secret Cinema, rather than any live music concert in the traditional sense. Just take the location, picture a disaster movie evacuation scene, something like the Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part I, when the District 13 base is attacked and they head down to the emergency bunker, but instead of a bunker it's an enormous concrete tomb that would put the dwarf halls in The Hobbit to shame. 

None of this is to say that SLEEP itself is a cynical exercise in marketing. Although you could look at it as capitalizing on or commodifying sleep time. At times it felt more like performance art than anything else, with the audience cast as sleeping participants -- like Tilda Swinton asleep in a glass box for her Museum of Modern art piece.

As I rolled up my bedding in the morning and headed for the blaring sunlight of the exit, I wondered how much it would cost and how long it would be before we're all paying to go to arena shows where we can sleep in the same space as our favorite popstars. I wonder if Taylor Swift snores?