Created by Darkfield, Brenda Longfellow and Crackdown
Shifting the boundaries of immersive experiences, Darkfield Radio enters a new season with Intravene, an experience which plunges audiences into the sordid centre of a drug epidemic in Vancouver. Advancing from previous productions, Darkfield infuses a sense of analysis with their newest transmission – incorporating documentary evidence, expert creatives (Crackdown) and activist Brenda Longfellow into the narrative to offer an authentic, and profoundly intimate portrayal of drug addiction, with a post-neo-noir element, swirled into the storytelling mechanics.
Slurring, confused, and perhaps not where they expected, listeners find themselves with a ticket number awaiting their treatment call. Surrounding them are the sounds of an Overdose Prevention Site, designed in the wake of Vancouver’s drug epidemic as a former drug user and now manager of the OPS Trey Helten struggles with the rise of new synthetic benzodiazepines. Over 20 minutes, listeners begin to forge a sense of the stresses and suffering of the drug users around them, from all classes of life, before they come to the crushing realisation that they aren’t a witness to this, they’re an overdosing user.
When Darkfield tells you to do something – do it. The advice in both episodes to listen with headphones rather than a stereo device is crucial, with distinct noises and audio techniques providing a 360-degree immersion (though less so with the second episode). It, apologies for the colloquialism, turns heads. Quite literally. From the onset of violent noises and ripples of chatter from behind listeners, the immersion takes no time to implement itself. Intravene has a desire to grasp listeners’ attention from the onset and hurtle them through the processes of drug rehabilitation.
Benzodope is an uncomfortable listen but does precisely what it sets out to do. We, listeners, are the user of the drugs. And for those who have never taken anything stronger than Ibuprofen, may find the intense nature in which the production scratches away into your heads comes with an unexpected force. The sound design is intense, simultaneously occurring in the surrounding space as it does internally: Darkfield’s creative producers shining once more with their company’s expertise in precise and accurate audio design.
Where episode one introduces a fictional sense of storytelling mechanics, with a foundation in the rise in benzodiazepines, episode two takes a more intense and lengthy insight into Podcast Crackdown’s host Garth Mullin’s familial history with Riverview, after discovering his great-grandmother Rosa spent more than 26 years in the facility. It is all told through authentic and verified medical records, doctor’s notes, and even taking a trip into the now silent hospital.
It takes Intravene into a more grievous and contemporary light, where Benzodope forces listeners into the bodies of a drug user, Riverview presents them with the reality of those left behind and the abuses they endured. Mullin’s commentary is unique, though those looking for a continuation of the production aesthetics of Benzodope will need to hold on for a good 20 minutes.
The amalgamated production aspect between Darkfield, Brenda Longfellow and Crackdown offers diversity and richness in understanding the delicate image drug usage has. And where Intravene: Benzodope lays the foundation for intensity, there are teething issues with the transition between the two dynamics of storytelling between episodes. The two pieces stand out on their own but cannot quite find a quick enough pacing to explain the why of moving from fictional storytelling to a Podcast format.