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Twenty-four hours in state of unconsciousness

Stephen Barber

Futurama Nights, October 1978

Published: 04.07.2017

Now the dead will no longer be buried, now this spectral city will become the site for execrations and lamentations, now time itself will disintegrate and void itself, now human bodies will expectorate fury and envision their own transformation or negation, now infinite and untold catastrophes are imminently on their way —ready to cross the bridge over the river Aire and engulf us all — in this winter of discontent, just beginning at this dead-of-night ­instant before midnight, North-Sea ice-particles already crackling in the air and the last summer long-over, the final moment of my seventeenth birthday, so we have to go, the devil is at our heels… And now we’re running at full-tilt through the centre of the city, across the square beneath the Purbeck-marble edifice of the Queen’s ­Hotel, down towards the dark arches under the railway tracks, the illuminated sky shaking, the air fissured with beating cacophony, the ground underfoot trembling.

As we pass through those long, sloping tunnels, their arched brick walls streaming with water, the trembling intensifies. Beyond the far side of the tunnels, in near-darkness, a chaotic straggle of bodies extends towards us along the narrow pavement at the base of an immense, abandoned building, seven hundred figures or so —elated and exhilarated, simultaneously downcast and accursed —girls in fishnet tights and ripped silk dresses, scarlet-lipsticked mouths and bleached or jet-black hair, boys in ancient black-leather motorcycle-jackets or heavy overcoats and hand-inscribed razored t-shirts, all emitting their own vocal strata of noise against the monstrous bursts from that building’s interior. And against the facade, there also stand resolutely isolated, shadow-hidden figures, in silence, alone, near-embedded into that building’s soot-encrusted, scarred surface, shards of broken brick against split-lipped and hooded faces, disjointed from that straggle of bodies.
At exactly midnight, the paint-peeled oak gates of that now-derelict tramshed —its vast interior space once teeming with steel carriages ready to head on electrified lines for the city’s peripheries, and now emptied-out for over twenty years —are due to be prised open, and the Futurama festival will begin at that instant. It will not end for ­exactly ­forty-eight hours. Many of the crowd carry tattered blankets in the expectation that there could be sleep to be had in the unknown world inside the tramshed facades, others carry nothing but a plastic-sheathed entrance-card with a stencilled image of a ghost figure in a 1930s suit, face gone beneath his hat....

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Stephen Barber

is the author of twenty-five books, including seven novels, most recently White Noise Ballrooms and The Projectionists. Eadweard Muybridge and the Future Projections of the Moving Image. He has received several awards for his books, which have been translated into many languages, such as Japanese and Chinese. The Independent newspaper (London) once called him “the most dangerous man in Europe.” He is a professor at the Kingston School of Art, Kingston University, London, and a visiting research fellow at the Free University Berlin and Keio University Tokyo.