Tracking Dr. Nelly Ben Hayoun’s voyage into the futures of nightlife experiences with Tour de Moon

© Nick Ballon

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What if love were connected to the cosmos? Or if bacteria could communicate and define borders? What would life look like on the moon?

Founder of the charity and postgraduate University of the Underground and NASA’s International Space Orchestra, Dr. Nelly Ben Hayoun, doesn’t have the answers to these questions, but she’s helping cultivate the spaces to imagine them. Tour de Moon is an immersive three-city, four-day festival of public events, taking place in May and June 2022. We talk to the founder to discover how festivals can encourage new ways of thinking, through celebration of youth culture and nightlife experiences. To experience for yourself, sign up for free tickets to Newcastle or Southampton.

© Nick Ballon

For those who aren’t familiar, what is Tour de Moon?

Tour de Moon is a hybrid, multi-faceted festival dedicated to celebrating nightlife and counterculture across the world, especially in the UK. It’s an urgent response to a history which is repeating itself; a platform for shifting mindsets; a playground for social experiments where we can test out new ways of being and interacting. Whether it be through playwriting, filmmaking, musical collaboration or science, our aim is to challenge the status quo and offer a vision of alternative futures. It’s radical imagination, in practice. 

On our epic journey across the country, Tour de Moon has already hosted a four day festival in Leicester and is heading to Newcastle and Southampton to do the same. Alongside the three main cities, the Moon Convoy is also travelling to ten towns and cities across the UK.

© Nick Ballon

In particular, who is it that the Tour de Moon mission has in mind?

I guess the answer to that is two-fold. On one hand, we aim to serve the next generation of creative minds – particularly 18 to 25-year-olds – and on the other, we focus specifically on nightlife creatives: both workers and visitors. We believe that, by nature, the night is a time of maximum creativity as people are required to find new ways of functioning and communicating. But despite this level of innovation (not to mention the industry’s economic value!), it’s still considered to be a marginal practice. These are the kinds of issues we aim to address.

What approach does Tour de Moon Festival take to strengthen the infrastructures supporting emerging talent?

It’s about reckoning with a colonial past, and off the back of that, redistributing wealth. That’s our fundamental objective both as a festival and as a team. In practice, this looks like issuing £1 million worth of bursaries to young creatives across the globe. Or in other instances, recognising the creative vitality of youth centres and nightclubs, and investing in their sustenance when governments won’t. These kinds of spaces are a breeding ground for creativity, a vital means of collaborative thinking and being. So aside from the main festival, we’re trying to cultivate and nurture a network of support that will extend far beyond its parameters.

© Nick Ballon

We’ve become rather accustomed to ‘hybrid’ models in recent years due to the pandemic. What form does Tour de Moon’s virtual facet take? Are we talking live streams?

Not quite! As well as the festival’s physical manifestations – a playground formed of giant inflatables, immersive theatre performances and films, live music, panel talks and our very own zine – we’ve actually developed our own artificial intelligence engine. With the expert help of the Creative Director of Google’s Creative Lab, Tea Uglow, ‘Luna’ was born. Since then, its intelligence has been put to use in online therapy for young people who want to discuss real world issues. Through a platform provided by WeTransfer, anyone can now ‘Talk To The Moon’. Go on, have a chin-wag!

We have a digital creator programme through which we commission meme creators from across the world to infiltrate digital platforms and spread the Tour de Moon agenda. This could be Google, Amazon, Facebook. As an example, some OnlyFans creators would produce their usual content but with the imposition of a huge moon asset which we provided them with. This is what makes it so exciting: all we give to creators is a really open brief and a whole lot of trust, and they make something new out of it. Trusting the creators you commission is paramount.

On that note, we’ve also collaborated with White Pube – the arts, culture, and everything in between publication – who host a series of ‘Moon Games’: video game commissions that scrutinise the typical traits of contemporary game design. Each of the four games call into question things like the role of non-playable characters, faceless killings and insidious imperialism, acting as an urgent intervention into harmful generic norms.

© Nick Ballon

The main parts of the festival are located in Leicester, Southampton and Newcastle – all of which are distinctly ‘not London’. Was it a conscious decision to elect cities which are often less likely to play festival host?

Yeah, absolutely. It was of utmost importance to embrace geographic dispersion and demographic diversity, and our final decision actually came from a big study we did to uncover the locations that had received less in the way of Covid-19 recovery measures. Together with the level of state support, we also considered factors like the breadth of night time experiences for 18 to 25-year-olds; the extent of accessibility to STEAM expertise (Science, Technology, Arts and Mathematics); and metrics like deprivation indices. 

© Nick Ballon

© Nick Ballon

And the Leicester leg of the tour has already taken place, right? How did it go?

I think we were all just amazed that it did go! We’re such a small team because we distributed most of our budget through bursaries but, as I said, the Tour de Moon model is built on the trust we instil in those we commission, and it was incredible to see it manifest in the way it did. It was like a miracle! Proceedings had to be fluid, and it became this incredible real-time collaboration, always subject to change and intervention. The audience feedback was amazing. The main response was discomfort, surprise, fear: exactly what we’d sought after!

Any emerging talent we should be looking out for?

Oh my goodness, that’s difficult! No young person I’ve encountered has failed to amaze me. Mirrored Fatality might be my hot tip. They’ve received three of our grants so far! But I urge you to take a look at the work of all of our geniuses and bursary winners via our website.

© Sarah Merret

Tour de Moon is one of 10 major creative projects commissioned as part of UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK, which is taking place across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales in 2022

Free tickets to the festival’s Newcastle and Southampton events are available to book now

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