'Sleep Concert' at Dubai's Theatre of Digital Art gives new meaning to 'snooze fest'

The show channels psychedelic music of the 1960s and combines live music, audiovisual displays and meditation

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Taking a snooze in the middle of a DJ's set would be the last thing on your mind when you head out to a concert. Yet at one unique event in Dubai, dozing off mid-show is not only acceptable but ideal.

Sleep Concert, which is on at the Theatre of Digital Art, or Toda, at Souk Madinat Jumeirah until this weekend, is channelling a psychedelic music tradition that dates back to the 1960s. Combining elements of live music, an audiovisual show and meditation, the event aims to induce audiences into a “psychedelic state” of relaxation.

We enter with some idea of what to expect; cosy beanbags to relax on, soothing music probably, and a chill vibe set against a backdrop of trippy, moving projections typical of Toda presentations. The first hour promised to begin with mesmerising music and minimalist abstract light and video art to help lull us into slumber.

We arrive a little later after the 10pm start only to find the imagery already floating on the theatre walls, in multicoloured, swirling patterns that look like poured paint. The visuals have our full attention for the first few minutes, as we soak in the ambience.

As it turns into a more spacey, abstract theme — still in intense colours — over the next half an hour, we settle deeper into our beanbags and try to get more in tune with the settings, if not catch some Zs.

The music, by Russian artists Yuri Elik and Pavel Mikhailov, is relaxing, with low chanting and ambient sounds thrown in, creating an outdoorsy feel. We’re nowhere near drifting off, but slowly zone out into a chill-but-distracted headspace with vague thoughts popping up (do I remember where I parked? What are those random letters on the screen? Is it warm in here?).

I notice my friend is not yet “immersed” enough and on her phone, but the others around us seem lost in the proceedings, so it's probably only us who are failing to silence the brain chatter.

Around us, the visuals get more inky and gooey, primordial ooze-like, giving us the feeling of being inside a womb or cocoon, and sure enough, a couple of wiggly worms even appear on the screens.

After a few more distracted minutes, the screen goes dark, the music switches up, and imagery starts appearing with incongruous elements that one might otherwise expect to see in strange dreams (think trees with eyes, sea creatures with arms). It's this that finally sets the "mood" for me as I doze off for what feels like half an hour, but turns out to be only five minutes. I startle awake to see reptilian creatures still floating around. My friend, meanwhile, is fully passed out on her beanbag.

OK, mission accomplished, at least for one of us.

About 90 minutes in, I start to wonder if this deep-sea phantasmagoria has gone on for a tad too long, and as if on cue, the screens go dark again. The vivid, multicolour, blotted effects are back. I decide to close my eyes and focus more on the music, but the projections soon get far too bright and kaleidoscopic for that. The tunes are now slower and deeper and certainly calmer, but not quite slumber-inducing for everyone around.

Molten lava-like effects, steadily floating upwards, are accompanied by what I imagine are Amazonian rainforest-like sounds

The bright colours fade and shift to black-and-white spidery, shimmering forms and my now half-asleep brain wonders: space rays from a UFO? Am I in the Matrix? This is way too jittery to induce sleep …

A few minutes later, I’m roused from my stupor (or was it sleep?) to see the hues have changed again — this time, it’s molten lava-like effects, steadily floating upwards, accompanied by what I imagine are Amazonian rainforest-like sounds.

At the two-hour mark, which is midnight, I have given up all hope of going to sleep but a glance around reveals that most of the attendees have drifted off into some kind of slumber or meditation.

More of the brilliant, swirling watercolour effects come on, putting on a show for the last hour, and the music starts getting more upbeat, meant to awaken the audience and leave them feeling refreshed. Ironically, it is exactly at this point that I somehow manage to drop off, waking up only at the end of the show when the bright screens suddenly go dark.

I feel rested and my last slumber felt like a long sleep-meditation.

This is one of those events that fine-tunes the idea of socially distanced chilling in the pandemic age, so it’s definitely worth putting on your to-do list if you have a penchant for offbeat and immersive experiences, the likes that Dubai never fails to impress us with.

Theatre of Digital Art Sleep Concert will take place on February 25 and 26; 10pm-1am; tickets from Dh150 for adults; www.toda.ae

Updated: July 09, 2022, 7:16 AM