“We accounted for basic needs like having sex”: this guy has made a corona-proof suit for gigs
What does the future hold for live music in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic? The uncertainty around the live music industry has already had consequences for struggling venues, cancelled festivals and income-strapped musicians across the UK and beyond.
A recent poll of over 110,000 music fans indicated that a strong majority would favour attending a live music event within the first six months of the end of lockdown. This sentiment has no doubt fuelled the tentative return to live music: we’ve already seen drive-in gigs, while there’s an immersive-yet-socially distanced London music event being planned for October.
In the meantime, the LA-based creative studio Production Club has presented their unique solution: the Micrashell. This futuristic personal protective equipment (PPE) suit has been designed, they say, with the aim of “preserving the essential need for real, in-person connection– one that cannot be substituted with video chat services and virtual raves”.
The Production Club added of their invention: “The Micrashell is a virus-shielded, easy-to-control, fun to wear, disinfectable, fast-to-deploy suit that allows socialising without distancing. Offering relief for industries dependent on social interaction in close proximity, the suit is intended to be a pragmatic yet design-forward solution for this pandemic and others to come.” Let’s be honest — it looks like something from Black Mirror, doesn’t it?
Could it, though, also be the short-term solution to mass gatherings in music venues, clubs and festivals in the months – and possibly years – to come? NME spoke to Production Club CCO and Head of Inventions Miguel Risueño about their ambitious Daft Punk-style design.
How did you devise the concept of the Micrashell?
“We came up with the idea of the Micrashell during a brainstorm when all of the gigs in our industries [live music, tech and gaming] started getting cancelled. Everyone was thinking about virtual events, so we thought we should come up with ideas on how to bring physical events back safely.”
How realistic an idea is it? For instance, what will the challenges be in cleaning each Micrashell?
“The concept behind the suit is very ambitious and thus we will encounter a lot of challenges, which is normal when you are trying to create something innovative. Cleaning will be a time-consuming task — as many other things are — but that’s why trained people should take care of it, which is what is happening in other industries using PPE, such as research labs or healthcare providers.”
Could the Micrashell still transmit coronavirus from one user to the next?
“The whole purpose of Micrashell is the opposite. It adds a layer of protection in a very similar way to what you would find on any other Powered Air Purifying Respirator system.”
How will people be able to hear one another or listen to live music while wearing the Micrashell?
“The system has two speakers and a microphone built inside of the helmet. It’s similar to talking through a Bluetooth headset or an intercom.”
Can you dance, mosh or rave while wearing a Micrashell? How about eating, drinking or smoking?
“Dancing and raving, no problem. Moshing is to be decided as it’s [a practice] more similar to doing sport than it is to attending a normal music show. Eating won’t be possible without taking off the helmet, or at least the suit has not been designed to do so as we think it would compromise the whole system. However, we accounted for some other basic needs like going to the toilet or having sex — hence the top-only suit design — and drinking or vaping. These last two will work based on a custom supply system that’s based on refillable canisters that additionally ensures that nobody can access your drink besides the bartender or yourself.”
Will the Micrashell not fog up in hot environments?
“If we are talking about the exterior of the suit, then it could fog up in a similar way to how eye-glasses do in warm, very wet or small, sweaty environments. The interior — which is usually the most worrisome — will be fine as long as the ventilation is done right and the exhaled air can be ejected out of the headpiece, as is currently designed.”
Have you had any interest from any major companies or festivals in the Micrashell?
“Yes: I’d say mostly [from] artists, followed by music and events industry entities. Of course [there are] a lot of curious people, like the media.”
How much will each Micrashell cost? Will concert venues, clubs and festivals be able to purchase them in bulk and then rent them out to attendees?
“We do not have an exact number yet as we are still immersed in the prototyping process, as well as testing and deciding on features, materials and components. Once the suit is ready, our goal is to follow a business-to-business model where venue owners or promoters buy and handle the suits, as they would be the ones directly benefiting from the increased venue capacity. Additionally, each venue has more purchasing power and ability to handle, sterilise and distribute the suits.”
How soon can you roll the Micrashell out for sale?
“It’s a bit early to be specific on that as the prototyping phase still has so much to say. The goal we are working towards is to throw a safe party with a bunch of Micrashells before the end of the year. If for some reason the [coronavirus] vaccine is already developed and widely available by then — which would be lovely — we will keep working on the Micrashell steadily so that it’s ready for the next pandemic, toxically polluted city or unexpected event where it could be needed. Maybe a party on the moon with a few tweaks!
Out of this world. Where on Earth are you expecting to sell it once it’s finished?
“It will ultimately depend on the partners who decide to work with us, but our ideal scenario would be to bring it wherever a music event needs to happen safely.”
Can the Micrashell help the live music industry get back on its feet?
“We think so. We are concerned about stadium and arena shows where only 20% of the people can fill the venue — we think it detracts too much from the experience. Additionally, we are afraid that prices for those tickets will rise so exorbitantly that only the very rich can go to these shows in person, while most other people will have to stay at home tethered to their computers. It sounds too dystopian for 2020.”
Funny you say dystopian, as the Micrashell feels like the kind of device that should only exist in Black Mirror. Are we living in the darkest timeline right now?
“I have personally only seen season one of Black Mirror when it aired years ago, but I think I got the vibe from my friends telling me about the crazy new stuff [in following seasons]. Based on that, I feel Micrashell is actually the opposite [to Black Mirror]. In Black Mirror everything goes to hell because of technology, while in our world technology is bringing people closer, allowing you to hold hands, look somebody in the eyes, dance close to each other or meet new people physically.
“The alternative right now is to go to socially distanced parties or to party through your computer or phone screen, and both of those feel actually way more dystopian and cyberpunk for me. But there’s hope.”
You can find out more about the Production Club and their Micrashell here.