Halyx: a cautionary tale about developing dreams

Experiential design is all about tuning an idea or an emotion to the senses in a way that it all comes together to resonate emotionally. In the same way that a well-conducted orchestra brings the dark mood of Wagner right through each instrument when played live and we feel it.

By Eddie Sotto

eddie sottoSo when you tune a dining experience, it’s more than the food. It’s also the lighting, the texture of the napkin, the music in the background and the way the servers treat you. It is everything, right down to the slab of butter in that tiny dish and the pulsing candle on the table. It’s a deep and harmonic sensory experience in support of conveying a romantic evening, not just a meal.

Everything matters. And to that end, those details either mesh seamlessly or they don’t. If you don’t clearly understand what you want the guest to feel when you begin, they never will. The experience will feel conflicted, as many half baked projects do. Half of what we do is tuning broken experiences.

So here’s a story of what happens when you have a vague but powerful idea, and things don’t quite come together despite throwing both money and talent at it.

The story of Halyx

Enter Halyx, a Sci-Fi metal band from another galaxy. The concept was wholly unique and yet, only played one summer at Disneyland in 1981.

It was created in the era of Kiss and leveraging the costumed glam rock bands of the ’70s, yet riffing on the craving for all things Star Wars. Unlike most bands that organically form from members meeting in a garage with a social agenda or something to prove, Halyx, like the Monkees, was manufactured.

It was a sketched marketing idea in search of an audience. Each member was cast into an ever-evolving concept of what the band should be. Sometimes ideas come together and sometimes they don’t, even with a budget and the best talent it can buy. I found a certain admiration and respect for the journey, the earnest desire for a very bold idea to work.

Halyx Disneyland

I saw Halyx perform that summer in the shadow of Space Mountain and was confused by hearing an incredibly professional musical performance. But what I saw was musicians parading as wannabe Wookies, Stormtroopers and Ewoks with no explanation. There were even several rows of rabid fans.

What were they trying to be? Was this Kiss in space meets Pat Benatar? The music was great, but the show felt like a gimmick. Thrilled by the notion of Disneyland hosting a band that played loud, original, hard-hitting metal with aliens performing it.

Not 200 feet away was another stage where cover bands played in go-go boots and orange spandex. What a contrast. Gimmick or not, I couldn’t walk away. I was smitten by the idea that the Star Wars Cantina band had hit the road so to speak. Halyx was so original…but perhaps too original.

Halyx was a near miss

Halyx poster DisneylandTo get a better idea of how this enigmatic idea got its start, there is now a Halyx documentary. This takes us through the genesis and ultimate final exodus of the band. It shows how ideas like this even get made. This provides a lesson in why knowing exactly what the vision wants to be and how to look at each element in support of a controlling idea is important.

The inverse is what happens when the vision is vague and you just keep adding detail and artifice hoping it will evolve into something. We need to know why we think it will work, what the emotional triggers will be, and what will harm an idea.

Not to say that you can’t get lucky and land on something that clicks. But, in this case, a near-miss did not sustain further tinkering.

Perhaps seeing the band as a project to be evolved would have made Halyx the eventual hit that all the hard work demanded it to be. Record labels used to invest in bands and over time their albums matured and they found an audience. Sadly, Halyx did not get that chance. You be the judge.

Disneyland’s Forgotten Sci-Fi Rock Band – Live From the Space Stage, the Halyx feature documentary, is currently free to watch.