British invasion archived at museum

Interactive exhibition lets visitors play rock star

Just how did British pop get from the Beatles to the Arctic Monkeys? That’s what the new British Music Experience aims to answer.

Housed inside London entertainment complex the O2 (in what used to be the Millennium Dome), the BME leads visitors through generations of British music, from postwar to the present, in a permanent exhibition that opened March 9.

On display are iconic pieces of memorabilia such as David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust getup and Sex Pistols tour posters.

However, much of the BME is focused on getting visitors to live out their rock-star dreams in the Gibson studio outfitted with Gibson guitars, Baldwin pianos and Slingerland drums — though “No ‘Stairway to Heaven’ allowed,” BME’s website warns playfully.

“The whole point of the BME is not just about looking at artifacts like costumes and instruments behind glass cases,” says assistant curator Sarah Clarke. “The idea is that you can really explore styles and artists by hearing music and watching videos.”

Instead of a traditional paper ticket, visitors receive a

computer-chip-implanted “Smarticket” allowing them to access interactive elements onsite and to log onto British- at home and download their own studio noodlings, access three free iTunes U.K. tracks and learn more about the BME archive.

Part of the BME’s inspiration came from American exhibitions like Seattle’s Experience Music Project, the Grammy Museum in L.A. and Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In fact, the BME’s executive curator, Bob Santelli, worked on the Cleveland and L.A. projects.

Ranging from skiffle to punk to urban, with stops at blues, rock and reggae, the BME is already attracting visitors of all ages. “It’s really popular with families — the kids like the interactivity, and the parents get to relive the old favorites of their youth,” Clarke says. “There’s something for everyone.”

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