Saturday, April 02, 2005

Los Angeles Survival Research Labs show

SRL Robots. My phonecam sucks.
Originally uploaded by IvyMike.
On Friday, my brother sent me a link to the Los Angeles Survival Research Labs show on Saturday:

If you don't go to that you are a fool.

I had already seen a link to the show on Boing Boing, so with two endorsements, I definitely had to go.

It was a little adventure getting there; the directions to Dangerous Curve say "Get off the 101 at Alameda", and when it turned out the Alameda exit was closed, my carefully memorized directions went out the window. Let's just say I broke more traffic laws than I ever thought I would. Eventually I found where I was supposed to go, and followed the throngs of hipsters to the show.

A large crowd had already formed, and we stood around jockeying for viewing position, listening to the weird mechanical howl of the machines warming up, and watching the artists getting ready for the show. I noticed that the artists all had some serious hearing protection, as did most of the crowd. A few minutes later, the crew passed out earplugs to the rest of us, raising the suspense level even more.

The show started with the launch of four military-style flares, sky-high. My view of the show was blocked by the crowd, so it's a little difficult for me to tell if there was some kind of narrative, but here are some things that I saw:
  1. Half a dozen mechanized torsos, squirming around the 'battlefield'.
  2. A three-story tall wooden trojan horse having its wooden legs destroyed from under it.
  3. The same trojan horse reduced to a pile of cinders.
  4. A robotic hovercraft with massive heated, glowing, fire-spewing airhorns.
  5. Something I would describe as a giant "baseball-pitching machine" that I think was going to shoot two-by-fours (My view of that was blocked, so I never actually saw any in flight. But that machine had some serious kinetic energy in the flywheels, so I didn't mind having some bodies between me and the machine.)
  6. Another hovercraft, this one piloted by humans, Mad Max style. The craft bellowed a thick white cloud of noxious kerosene-smelling smoke on the crowd.
  7. A six-legged walking vehicle as big as my car stomping around in the background.
  8. Lots of flame and smoke and random projectiles way back out of my field of vision. I think lots of cool stuff was going on that I missed. Sorry, I wish I had seen it all too.

The cannon had a "Miller Lite" sticker on it.
Originally uploaded by IvyMike.

But the visuals weren't even the half of it. Sweet Zombie Jesus, the noise! There were blasts of pure bass that rumbled my gut. The robotic heated airhorn craft I mentioned above generated a throaty growl that made my kneecaps shake. There was a giant, swiveling cannon that fired giant belches that were so loud that it ceased to be noise at all, and instead became a physical impact on your body. This cannon was fired directly at the crowd several times, causing most people to duck, thus giving me my only unobstructed views of the show.

The net result is that the mechanical grinding, screeching, humming, fire, smoke, explosions, kerosene stench, random destruction, and being actually fired upon make for a pretty intimidating performance. I asked myself, "Is this stuff safe?" several times during the show.

At some point, the show ended, although it didn't feel like there was any obvious "finale moment". The crowd cheered, but we could all hear that the fire alarms in the Dangerous Curve building were going off from the smoke that had billowed back inside. This must have triggered a response from the fire department, because a minute later, firemen were threading their way through the crowd.

Fireman looks on in disbelief
Originally uploaded by IvyMike.

The audience started to disperse, and some people started crossing the barriers to get a close look at the robots. It seemed like this was OK, because a few SRL staff saw this and didn't seem to care. But then a minute later, someone got on a bullhorn and proclaimed something to the effect of, "Folks, thanks for coming out, but we're in trouble here, because we didn't inform the fire department about the show and didn't have a fire marshall on the scene. Please move back behind the barriers so we don't get in any more trouble." I guess the show was more underground than I thought.

LA Fire Truck
Originally uploaded by IvyMike.

I hung around for a few more minutes, but it seemed pretty clear the fire department wasn't going to let anything else cool happen, so I left. As I wandered away, I passed by a small group of firemen and heard one of them say in disbelief, "...I didn't know WHAT the heck that was..." I'm not sure if he was referring to a particular robot, or the whole show. Either way, it made me smile.


At 8:15 AM, April 04, 2005, Blogger Jokir said...

Cool article - I was standing about three people in front of was GRRRREAT!

Did you see the videos over at


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