Virtual Clubbing: What's it like?
Last week, we explored the virtual game world, delving deep into the Fortnite realm to understand it more. This week, we turn our attention to another corner of the online world- the virtual clubbing experience.
The meaning of Venue: Live entertainment as a site for community bond-forming
Festival-goers are more than just consumers of live entertainment. From a cultural perspective, live entertainment concerts and festivals are a form of secular mass ritual, as occurrences that satisfy the human desire for a tribal sense of belonging.
In particular, electronic music festivals — with their origins in the late twentieth-century rave culture movement, have at its core a strong community vibe, celebrating values of non-judgement and freedom of expression. Over the years, electronic music festivals have evolved, with the EDM genre festivals entering commercial, mainstream society.
By the time the 2010s came along, these EDM music festivals have evolved to become social media events as well, having come a long way from its roots in hushed-up oft-illegal mass underground raves where the fewer pictures were taken, the better.
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, live entertainment has experienced one of the biggest slumps to date. Across the world, major music festivals, concerts, and sports leagues have been canceled, leaving people in search of new platforms for obtaining social connections and a sense of belonging they once got from the real-life stamping grounds of clubs and concert venues.
Clubbing in Cyberspace
Now, we see new digital communities cropping up to reconstruct the facsimiles of everyday spaces in the virtual realm.
The global lockdown has incited an explosion of virtual clubs, where live-streamed concerts and DJ sets are widely hosted on social media feeds with hashtags like #TogetherAtHome rallying around. Young people are engaging with these virtual platforms in different ways, from elaborate shows to informal one-offs. What’s interesting about the virtual clubbing trend is that most have a more interactive and intimate air, coupled with an authenticity that users look for (but don’t always find) on social media.
To investigate its appeal, our Culture AI examined popular Instagram accounts of popular virtual clubbing platforms such as Club Quarantine, Covid Room, Distant Disco, Club Matryoshka, PAPI Juice, The Zone, United We Stream, and others. The top sentiments that emerged were: Creativity, Affiliation, Expressiveness, and Affection.
From my home to yours: DJ Livestreams introduce new social dynamics
As America entered quarantine, DJ D-Nice used his Instagram feed to stream DJ sets from his home in LA. What started off with an audience of just 200 Instagram viewers quickly went viral to tens of thousands overnight, including a parade of celebrities from Rihanna, Jeniffer Lopez, Oprah Winfrey to Michelle Obama, and Joe Biden.
The slew of glitterati names and democratized access formed part of the special appeal. Turning up to these e-events held the thrill of potentially spotting a celebrity popping up in the live stream too — much like the chances of running into famous people at Coachella.
Although an established name in celebrity circles, many viewers were discovering D-Nice for the first time, letting them peek into an exclusive world. Viewers shared an emotional moment when Lionel Richie partook to the scroll of live stream viewers — to which Nice changed gears, segueing up Richie’s lustrous early 1980’s ballad “You Are.”
Besides fostering an emotional connection, the intimacy of a virtual club experience is another highlight. A live stream bypasses the impediments of a noisy club and crowded dance floor with the DJ booth far removed from the main writhing dancefloor mass. These streams offer closer encounters with DJs, performers and partygoers, often from their private spaces, without elaborate makeup or expensive outfits, making for a more personalized and involved experience.
Creating spaces for spontaneity and community engagement
Virtual clubs are going beyond one-directional streaming, making the audience active participants rather than passive consumers.
The Zone strives to mimic the true spirit of nightlife — it’s up to the crowd to create the party’s vibe — adjusting the lights, putting on costumes, talking to each other in different 16 different “dance floor” chat rooms such as “Cabaret”, “Flirtation Station” and “Goddess Yurt”. A special “hot tub” room even has guests in their swim attire with baths running, staging a unique mixed reality experience.
With this, guests can experience flitting between ‘rooms’ to meet different people — much like going from different rooms in a real-life nightclub.
What people are craving for is this communal experience, along with a sense of discovery and participation. The question now is whether these new experiences will mark a permanent shift to how we socialize? Post-crisis, we may no longer need real-world meet-ups to feel social affinity — if we have learned that we can get the same feeling virtually.
The internet as a canvas for freedom in creative expression
Art collective, PAPI Juice, for example, shows how nightlife can be used as a means for creative expression and social change. It hosts diverse Instagram streamed parties with music curated to thematic events, intended to celebrate queer and trans people of color. Creative visual imagery is central to communicating the group’s vision.
Digitized, cartoon party sketches reflect warm and playful social commentary. They feature queer men and women of color breaking stereotypes, hijab-clad women and folks of all body types looking hip as ever.
In a time of high paranoia, people are looking for any small means of elusion to help counter the unusual reality they are facing. Virtual clubbing experiences score high on this front.
Club Quarantine, a queer online dance party organization, curates an visually experimental Instagram feed expressing various aesthetic styles, from y2k to brutalist.
As the party grows, it’s shaping up to offer brands a new way to access youth culture. LiveXLive Media, a live entertainment media company, initiated a pay-per-view campaign for brands through digital ticketing, fan tipping, digital meetups, merchandise sales, and sponsorship.
In China, e-commerce giant JD.com launched its own live stream club experience partnering with liquor brands like Budweiser, Pernod Ricard, and Carlsberg to boost alcohol sales during the quarantine.
Live streams represent a huge opportunity for advertisers as they are not only accessible through the web, but also on connected devices and Smart TV’s and across mediums — from podcasts and interviews to show pilots.
Visibly, virtual clubs are changing live music experiences, but will the freedom, playfulness, and democratizing potential of these digital spaces translate to new economic models for live shows — whilst being sustained by brand sponsors, advertisers, and paying audiences?
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