While working day and night on a startup for 2 years I had no time to write articles about immersive experiences, but as part of ongoing market research and to ‘maintain my relevancy’, I continued to dive into as many immersive experiences as possible whenever and wherever I could. I’ve probably been to 40 or more over the past two years in cities across the US. That project has concluded so I have time to share again, so here we go!
Last week I was in London for the first-ever World Experience Organization (WXO) Summit at the end of June. (Thank you James Wallman and Olivia Squire, and so many more for organizing.) The summit was only 2.5 days, but I wouldn’t fly to the UK from the States without making the most of the jetlag, a free flat, and the opportunity to check out what London has to offer, so I spent seven days on an immersive safari exploring the following seven experiences.
- 6, Marble Arch Place, London W1H 7AP, UK (map)
- 1.5 blocks from the Marble Arch Underground Station
- Adult tickets start at £25 (~$32 at today’s exchange rate)
Frameless is an immersive digital art experience that, like many others recently, remixes and animates works from old master painters into a new digital format and presents their work projected onto some combination of walls, ceilings, and floors to create an immersive experience. Admittedly due to the unprotected and stale IP, varying quality of experiences, and copycats galore (i.e. up to 6 Van Gogh experiences touring the globe, sometimes 2 in the same city at the same time!), it’s gotten to the point where I let out an audible groan whenever I see a new Immersive <Insert Your Favorite Master Here> Experience announced.
I was prepared for more of the same with Frameless but was pleasantly surprised at the quality and dynamism of their execution and the fresh delivery of content from many old masters. I will publish another article soon which explains in more detail why I liked it and why am recommending you go see Frameless. While I can blow through most digital immersive experiences in 30 minutes, I would recommend allocating at least 2 hours for your visit to Frameless.
- Charing Cross Rd, London WC2H 8LH, UK (map)
- Immediately adjacent to the Tottencourt Road Underground Station
- FREE to the public (Music events in an underground venue are paid ticketed entry)
Outernet London is an immersive art ‘district’ located at the edge of SOHO. Spanning a city block and featuring the NOW Building, it has five immersive digital environment spaces, plus an underground venue geared to live events. The marquee environment is a massive 4-story tall space with 8K resolution LED screens on all four walls and the ceiling. There are three other smaller digital environments of varying sizes, plus a walk-through arcade, each of which can be activated with creative, social impact, or brand content depending on the day.
When I visited Outernet London it was Pride Month. To celebrate, the main room was displaying “Emoji Shower: Pride Edition” and the arcade was a morphing rainbow tunnel. Another space was showing “The Spaces In Between” by Rupert Newman and PixelArtworks. A third digital environment was showing a social impact piece about empowering women in the workforce, and the fourth digital space wasn’t open. Speaking of open, make sure to check the website for hours as the free public spaces are only open during certain times and days of the week. You should expect to spend an hour exploring. I will definitely go back to the Outernet each time I am in London to see what’s on.
- 1 Pudding Mill Ln, London E15 2RU, UK (map)
- Immediately adjacent to the Pudding Mill Light Rail Station
- Adult tickets start at £55.00 (~$70), but I recommend the dance floor for £77.00 (~$98)
ABBA Voyage is pioneering the future of live musical performances. As an interdimensional traveler, experience designer, and executive producer who interweaves in-person, virtual, and tech-enabled experiences, I knew I had to check out ABBA Voyage even if just to see what all the hype was about. I remembered hearing rumblings about its innovative use of immersive technology. The rumblings were well-earned. The creators and collaborators of ABBA Voyage have pushed the envelope on what is possible when you blend a world-famous band from the 70s with modern-day Industrial Light and Magic capabilities, futuristic technology, Swedish design, environmentally friendly ingenuity, world-class concert production, and live band performance.
ABBA Voyage is truly a phenomenal experience. I cannot stop gushing about it. I met someone who has seen it three times already and I am jealous. The same person says it is one of their top five concert experiences of their life, and I’d have to say for me it’s in the top ten. I will go see it again, in London, or whenever it finally goes on tour. This experience can not be described properly in just one paragraph, so I’ll post another article that dives in further.
Sure, it helped a bit that I am an ABBA fan. I don’t know all the words to all their songs, but it turns out I do know most of the words to their most famous songs, as did the other 3000 people in the crowd who were having the time of their lives on a steamy Monday night. You don’t have to be a huge ABBA fan to enjoy ABBA Voyage, but I bet you will be a huge fan by the time you leave their custom-built arena and take a trip into the future.
- Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden, WD25 7LR, UK (map)
- About 40 minutes outside of London, but is worth the trip via car, bus, or train
- Adult tickets start at £51.50 (~$65)
Tickets to the Warner Brother’s Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter sell out months in advance and for good reason. Even if you aren’t a huge Harry Potter fan (Really? WTF?) you have probably seen at least one of the films and seen the quality of production and care that goes into the masterful storytelling which made the series of novels and films one of the most beloved and successful IPs ever. That same love and care went into crafting the Warner Brother’s Studio Tour which is the actual location where the films were made and is full of many of the exact costumes, props, and sets that were used in the films.
This tour is a MUST DO and necessary pilgrimage for Harry Potter fans, and truly for anyone who likes to learn about the behind-the-scenes production of films. With a digital guide and loads of making-of interviews and more, the experience is a deep dive into the wizards of Harry Potter, both the wizards on the screen and the wizards who designed, built, directed, and made special effects happen to bring the stories to life.
I must confess that I messed up my own visit and sadly I did not have enough time to actually complete the experience. I am going to write a more detailed article on the experience and logistics of getting there so you all can learn from my mistakes and do it better. The main takeaway is to book early and do whatever you can to make a whole day of it if not two days. Also, if you win the lottery, receive a major inheritance, or are just feeling generous and want to sponsor a buddy for the adventure, I’m ready for a return visit the to UK and the Warner Brother’s Studio, and will even buy the first round of Butterbeer.
- Kensington Palace & Kensington Gardens, London W8 4PX, UK (map)
- 5-minute walk from Queensway Underground Station
- Adult tickets start at £25.40 (~$32)
Crown to Couture is not technically an immersive experience, but it was also more than just a museum exhibit. When you factor in the opportunity to explore the royal family apartments at Kensington Palace, along with viewing 200 stunning creations and artifacts from historical and modern fashion extravaganzas in the largest-ever exhibition at the Palace, it was time spent transported and immersed into another time and place. Besides, a friend from British Vogue was one of the stylists of the exhibit and arranged for several of us to visit the sold-out show. (Think you Dena Giannini!) It’s a worthwhile stop on any tour of London while it is open through October 29.
Crown to Couture illustrates the relationship between modern celebrity culture and royal fashion. It shows how the palace functioned as an early red-carpet celebration as far back as the Georgian court. Pieces worn by modern celebrities such as Billie Eilish, Lady Gaga, Billy Porter, and Dita Von Teese were compared alongside couture and accouterments from various ladies, queens, dukes, and lords from the 18th century.
My group played two informal games as we walked from room to room. The first was “If you could take just one piece from the exhibit (including couture, accessories, furniture, fixtures, etc.) what would it be?” and the second was “How do you think they went to the bathroom while wearing that outfit?” Sometimes a nearby, and apparently very well-informed docent would overhear us and give the answer to that second question while a larger group gathered around and giggled. I wonder what secrets of palace life you will discover on your own visit?
- Canada Street, Surrey Quays Road, London, SE16 7PJ, UK (map)
- 5-minute walk from Canada Water Transit Station
- Adult tickets start at £35.00 (~$45)
Phantom Peak is what happens when interactive live theatre is overlaid on top of an elaborate campus-wide open-world escape room and futuristic multi-threaded mystery set in an old western saloon town. You may have to read that sentence a few times, but it’s all true. They call it steampunk, but I’d say it was more like West World with a healthy smattering of modern screens and retro buttons to push. I was glad I brought a steampunk outfit in my suitcase to wear for the evening. It’s always better to be a part of the show, especially when there are hundreds of people dashing around on missions while exploring a town square, performance halls, ponds, stagecoaches, dozens of rooms, an arcade, a store, an ice cream parlor, 2 bars, a cafe and more.
The WXO Summit was hosted at Phantom Peak for our 2.5-day gathering, thanks to Glen Hughes and the team at Phantom Peak for letting us takeover. We filled every nook and cranny with speaker sessions, breakout groups, and VR demonstrations by day. On our first night, we all had a drink (or two) and stepped through the curtain to play the game for the evening. Phantom Peak has been very successful since it opened in August of 2022, and they are plotting expansion into new territories, including the US. Apparently, some people have visited many times to tackle different ‘trails’, each with its own puzzles and versions of the narrative, and there is quite a subculture emerging from it.
I would go back to Phantom Peak. In fact, I may have to. I got distracted checking out the numerous spaces, set design, and game mechanics, and it wasn’t until our time was almost over that I actually decided to try to play along with the plot. With only 20 minutes left before the closing ceremony, I wasn’t very successful. I have no idea why there were platypuses all over the place. I don’t really know who Jonas is or why I should care. I’m pretty sure there are spaces I didn’t even discover. Admittedly, I hadn’t really prepared for the night and after I finally decided to play along, it was frustrating getting stuck at one of the puzzles and then having the show end. I’m no quitter though, and I certainly have enough Western and steampunk costumes to come back and keep trying a few more times.
- Temporary Pop-Up at Hackney Downs Studios, 17 Amhurst Terrace, Lower Clapton, London, E8 2BT, UK
- 5-minute walk from the Rectory Road Overground Station
- Pre-registration via the website is strongly recommended
- Go sober. This is a fun experience, but it's also science and a rare opportunity.
- General Admission tickets are £15.00 (~$19)
After a hugely successful series of 4 sold-out pop-ups across the UK, over 1 million people have engaged with the Dreamachine experience (congratulations to Jennifer Crook and the Dreamachine team!) This instance was installed especially for a showcase during the WXO Summit. It will remain open at its current location for a few months. Undoubtedly it will remain hugely popular and you should go, and go as many times as you can. It is an immersive group experience like nothing else. For a few people like me who have tried personal brainwave entrainment devices, imagine something kind of similar to that personal experience, but at a mega scale.
The Dreamachine is a seated, multisensory audio and visual experience with music and light, designed to be enjoyed with your eyes closed. That’s right, people are buying tickets and lining up in droves just so they can lay around a custom-built circular couch with embedded audio speakers with their eyes closed while they are sharing a blinky light experience, but it’s so much more.
What will you see? No one knows. It’s different for each visitor. In the High Sensory experience (recommended) the strobing lights and audio elucidate hypnogogic hallucinations that are created by your own mind. Hypnagogia is the transitional state between waking and sleeping. It’s a potent meditative space that can evoke clarity and calmness of mind, and a stunning visual show of colorful waking dreams as interpreted by your brain and your brain alone. It’s a legal trip that is grandparent appropriate, and it’s also a way for the masses to participate in a fascinating and emerging multidisciplinary science experiment.
The team at Dreamachine is made up of leading technologists, scientists, composers, philosophers, artists, and more who have created a safe, nurturing, and thoughtful opportunity for humanity to explore one of our most mysterious frontiers, ourselves. After the experience, there is an opportunity to dialogue, draw, or take some time in private to process with a nice cup of tea and a cookie. Such a British way to end such a profound experience and journey.
There were so many immersive, experiential, and live performance adventures I wanted to check out but on this visit, I only had a week to dive in. What other live or immersive experiences would you recommend in London?