Over the last two decades Fred Deakin has been creating interactive spaces in various realms: online through his design agency Airside's work, in live environments via his club nights and concerts by his band Lemon Jelly, and by producing interactive installations specifically for art spaces. He joined us on 14 November to give a Lunchtime Talk about creating these projects and to explain his goals, methods and criteria for success.  

Fred began his talk by explaining that a key theme throughout all his work has been connecting with people. He always strives to create memorable experiences for people, to take them out of the humdrum into a transcendent place. His first experience of creating events was the club nights he ran in the mid 80’s while he was at University in Edinburgh. He explained that creating a brand and identity for the night, and the poster design was vital, because if you have a rubbish poster then nobody comes. Similarly you have to make sure there is something unique and interesting about your night because if they come and have a awful night they won’t be back. He explained that it’s a Darwinian way of learning, the iterative feedback loop. Creating the strong identify is important because you want people to feel part of a community. He said running club nights began too easily, because you’d watch what was cool in London and then six months later you would do it in Edinburgh. Fred explained that there is something about ‘cool’ that is very seductive, but it’s also restrictive, it’s not about joining in, and with this in mind he created Thunderball.

Fred then showed us a poster for Thunderball, the club night with a different, through stalls, bouncy castles, ice rinks and audience engagement it aimed to give people a mind-blowing experience, be an interactive space and encourage participation. Fred talked about the ‘carrot and stick’ as a famous model of how you can get people to engage with things. Thunderball was all about carrots, it was about teasing people and giving them a reward. They didn’t have to engage beyond the lighting and visuals, but when they did, they were rewarded. Selling out to crowds of 2000/3000 people, it was one of his most commercially successful club nights but Fred said he began to get irritated by the scale of the night and wanted to create something a bit perverse...

As the name suggests, Misery was the worst club in the world, it was like a public service for other club owners because no matter how bad your club was, misery was worse. They put raw onions all over the dance floor so as you danced you ended up crying, they forced people to do the ironing as they came into the club and they even used to hand out flyers to people in the street saying ‘bring your flyer and pay a pound more’ and people did. It was not the carrot, it was the stick, but somehow the personality of the event was so strong it got people in. Misery was marmite, it wasn’t for everybody but the people that got it, absolutely loved it.

Impotent Fury
Fred then introduced us to another of his club nights, Impotent Fury at 333 in Old Street. The main feature of this club night was the wheel of destiny. On the wheel there would be twelve different types of music, it would change from night to night but it would always be massively varied, from country and western, to techno. The wheel would be span every half an hour and Fred would play whatever genre it landed on for the next half an hour. Fred explained that there was something about the wheel being the higher authority, which enabled people to let go of their taste and embrace whatever music was being played. Another key factor of the night was ‘The Wardrobe Of The Stars,’ this was a interactive space; a small section of the club that was filled up with second hand clothes, a mirror and a camera. The wardrobe was being watched and whenever something interesting happened they would take a live feed of the space and project it above the dance floor. He said that instead of being embarrassed about it, there would then be a massive queue to use the wardrobe. It was interesting to see how people responded to this discovery of performance, and Fred thinks that if they’d had an invitation to perform it wouldn’t have been half as effective.

Lemon Jelly

Fred then talked about his award winning electronic duo Lemon Jelly. Formed in 1998 with Nick Franglen, Lemon Jelly have been hugely successful, gathering a large following and being nominated for the Mercury Music Prize and BRIT Awards. Fred explained that he wanted to take the engagement level he’d found making the club nights and take it further. It was a great chance to have authorship over every aspect of the creative process, from the live visuals, to the record packaging, the advertising of the album, the website, and the gigs themselves. By having total control, they were able to deepen the sense of engagement and community around the band. At their gigs they would have entertainers to make queuing more interesting, and they would have games instead of support bands. It was all about taking an experience that might normally be boring and transforming it into something entertaining and enjoyable. At a gig at Somerset house, they played a game of ‘play your cards right’ with audience participation, Fred explained it’s nice to get someone out of the audience because they feel like they are part of it, however it doesn’t really engage the audience.  They then told her that if she won she’d get a prize for the whole audience – a free limited edition mix CD, and if she lost, nobody would get it. This sense of peril engages the whole audience and suddenly there becomes a real sense of interaction between everyone at the gig, you have to raise the stakes. Fred then moving on to talking about his previous design agency Airside, and the interactive spaces they created.


Airside was founded in 1998 by Alex Maclean, Nat Hunter and Fred Deakin. Airside grew at a time of enormous changes for the creative industries, initially known as either a web design company, or as illustrators or even as innovative interaction designers, they diversified into film making through animation. Genre shifting and restless curiosity for the challenges of emergent media meant that they were hard to define as any particular kind of design company or agency. Airside went on to create ground breaking projects in emergent digital media whilst honing skills in traditional design and film making and won dozens of awards along the way from D&AD and Design Week to BAFTAs. They were one of the first design agencies to sell t-shirts, prints, toys and sculptures from our their online shop; and created interactive art installations for the V&A, the Big Chill and Bestival. In March 2012, Airside closed [read more here] enabling the three founding members to explore new artistic projects and practises. Fred explained that their motto was to blow peoples minds, have fun and make money, in that order.  He then talked about one of their early projects Jam Tokyo-London.

Jam Tokyo-London
Fred showed us a website Airside created for a Barbican exhibit called Jam Tokyo-London. The website took their principals about making boring things interesting, and put them online. Fred showed us the flash version of the site and explained the concept; on the HTML website they had a drop down menu, but on the flash version there is an exhibition space, filled with moving icons; each representing a person in the exhibition, and a curator icon in the corner, who will pop up with some instruction if you haven’t engaged with the site in a while. You then select a statement depending on what information you want to find out, for example ‘if you’re an artist fly,’ and when you click on the button, cloud icons appear at the top of the screen and all the artist icons move to the top of the screen, as if they are flying. Fred explained it’s doing exactly the same as the drop down menu, but it’s doing it in an amusing and entertaining way, it’s adding a level of depth and functionality to basic engagement.

Fred then introduced us to Meeghoteph, a self initiated project by Airside. Meeghoteph was an ancient alien God, confined to a booth, who visitors could interact with at the Big Chill Festival. Fred started of by showing us a video of people’s reactions to Meeghoteph, which you can watch here. There is a person behind the screen talking into a vocal effects unit and controlling the app, which you can see on a screen in front of you. Fred explained that most of the participants had no idea that there was a person is controlling Meeghoteph, they just assumed it was a piece of interactive software, and because of this, people really opened up. Fred explained that the interaction was a conversation, dressed in a way to make it feel like an interactive space.

‘Inside’ was their first venture into a fine art gallery, an invitation to exhibit from The Walker gallery for Liverpool’s biennial. They came up with the concept of a box that had landed from outer space, which was filled with strange creatures. These creatures were interactive and could be controlled by footpads on the floor. They wanted to create a space within the gallery where people could feel liberated, from the normal social conventions felt within this kind of space.  Fred explained that it went well, and children really engaged with it, but he wanted to continue to bring more weirdness into a traditional fine art space.

Electricity comes from other planets

Electricity Comes From Other Planets is the first creative project to be attributed to Deakin's new company Fred & Company. Fred Deakin collaborated with fellow ex-Airside co-director Nat Hunter, programmer and animator Marek Bereza, and music producer James Bulley to create an interactive audio-visual installation for the Joue Le Jeu (Play Along) exhibition at France's national digital museum, La Gaîté Lyrique in Paris.

 Fred explained that he feels that this project was one of the best examples of his work of a real world interactive space that had real engagement. The brief was to create something that was visually exciting, even when not in use and engaging for individuals and groups. Fred then played a short documentary about the installation he created Electricity comes from other planets, which you can watch here.

The installation, in the galley Mezzanine space was a full immersive audiovisual experience, where each of the eight planets react to people’s movement within the space, generating both music and projected animations using a combination of generative programming, Kinnect sensors and projection mapping. He said that the idea was that you were stepping into a space where you could be in control and create. The simple touch points on the floor give clear invitation to explore and to play. The audience are then rewarded with audio and visual feedback by accepting the invitation, just like in Fred’s earlier club nights.


Fred said that he feels that there is a decreased depth of experience and engagement with music in the recent years, as everyone is downloading and listening at a much more of a surface level. He explained that music is much more accessible which is great, but are we perhaps losing value, as it’s harder to give a depth of engagement? Fred then explained that he feels there is still room for a new digital musical experience within the real world, especially with interactive installations.

To conclude Fred explained to create effective interactive spaces you need to create strong interactions with your audience, and you need a strong personality that people can bond with. You should add value to the boring interactions you have to do, to get peoples loyalty. You should make the audience the star, as they don’t want to consume passively anymore. You need to find the sweet spot between telling them exactly what to do and letting them run riot, and lastly, you need to feed them lots of carrots.

To find out more you can visit the following websites:

Lemon Jelly: http://www.lemonjelly.ky/
Airside: http://www.airside.co.uk/
Fred & Company: http://www.fredandcompany.org/


Was there logic behind the colour and sound combinations you created in Electricity comes from other planets?

I think most of it was instinctive. Of course some colour and audio combinations make sense, such as more aggressive colours matching louder audio, and it also had to look visually effective.  

Do you find you have to give people permission to play?

Absolutely. I believe that a) people are desperate to play and b) they are absolutely terrified to play, especially grownups. You have to be brave and lead by example. When I DJ I’m pretty stupid, it means people tend to relax and think well, if he’s making an idiot of himself, then I can too.

How do you find it changes your way of composing – do you start with the visuals or audio or do they work in parallel?

Defiantly parallel, and I feel that’s one of the strengths of this project. I’m lucky because I have a hand in both, I can develop it simultaneously. It’s an interesting balancing act because a project where the visuals lead is a film with a soundtrack, and a project where the music leads is a music video. I’ve done a bit of both and I’m interested in what the middle ground really is. I think developing them both simultaneously gives you so much more opportunities to create value.