April 5, 2023

Metaculture Music Round-Up: Mature Sensibility

Another celebrity DJ throws his hat into the VR performance ring. What happens from here?

Metaculture Music Round-Up: Mature Sensibility
Image: AemethVR

Our series of music round-ups covers sound you'll only find in virtual reality, produced by artists who socialize and work there. From acoustic to hardstyle techno, what's sonically relevant is being documented with us.

If you find an artist you like, click through the track information to give that person a follow (and buy something!). Your support is what keeps them making music--and we always love new sounds.

The featured photo of this article is taken in Millenia, a virtual nightclub in VRChat built a few years ago by a user named MelonBread. Back then, DJs from physical spaces were beginning to migrate to VR in lieu of COVID, WaveVR was closing as an alternate virtual platform, and the idea of clubs being more than just a place to dance and get fit in was spreading. Thus, Millenia welcomed curious crowds into its dark hallways.

A recent trip back to Millenia shows the club experiencing a resurgence in interest. When asked about it, MelonBread expresses surprise and happiness at the users who just... showed up and started throwing parties in the crypts one day.

This isn't without explanation. Groups of users who arrive in VR choose worlds to set up an identity in and then filter into their primary activity of choice. Those arriving into the virtual rave scene in VRChat, specifically, come to define a generation with their own outlook and architectural style.

A venue belonging to the live performance series, XPR Events.

This isn't exact, but the general timeline kind of looks like this. Some of these eras have a bit of overlap. A very sincere thank-you to the virtual rave scene's other embedded historian, Mojopeg, for helping me to put this together:

Pre-VR Digital Worlds (2004-2020): Second Life as primary platform, but goes back even further than that. Experimentation and live singing performances. DJs tended to play top 40s; indie/folk style DJs with excellent curation (read: music is often sensual). Experimentation with URL-adjacent music genres making appearances in the community. Heavy reliance on Shoutcast for delivery of music streams to listening audiences. Duran Duran is one of this era's greatest musical guests; later on, the grid would also welcome Sam Rolfes and Club Cringe. We also highly recommend reading up about Minecraft music festivals from this time period.

Early Dance Era (2017-2020): VRChat and The Original Three dance venues (DDVR, Dirty Dancers, and Elysium, though Void Club and Club Mello also get a mention). Rizumu and GrooVR's founding towards the end of this era, with GrooVR's shuttering marking its final days. Live music (singing/guitar) during this time is still the most popular type of audio-based event, and for a while eclipses club experiences. WaveVR runs parallel to VRChat's early club scene and is frequented by many of the same users. TribeXR is a virtual DJ program which also has its own community. Venues in VRChat are often big spaces with bright and wild colors. The members of the Early Dance Era later will be referred to as "The OGs".

First Commercial Era (Late 2019-2021): Professional DJs with pre-existing careers arrive and begin a trend of virtual venues that are truer to physical scale. Some venues also host merchandise booths, storefronts, or limited commercial events. In this era, "realism" is synonymous with "better immersion". Ghost Club, Loner, Shelter, and Slyfest are the primary examples of venues representing this time period. Renown music acts are often invited to play at some of these venues to draw crowds. VRCDN grows popular, a service resembling Shoutcast but for audio and video. Many performers arrive during this time with the intent to use VR to build back out to a physical career. WaveVR closes and moves forward as WaveXR. DJs such as RuTransverse begin hosting raves in NeosVR, along with VRChat ones. The first wave of prominent VJs, such as Kill U and Reflex, set the standard for visuals in music performances.

First Counterculture Era (2021-2022): More DJs from different walks of life appear, "What exactly is a club, anyway?", and playfulness in architecture. Experimentation with lightworks and shaders. Experimentation with anything that would make a club different and interesting, really. The VR definition of "immersion" begins to change in scope as a result and comes to define more of a quality of experience. Hei$t and Club Piss are primary examples of venues created during this time, infused with sharp satire and a disregard for the norm.

Maturity Era (Late 2021-2023): The first signs of decentralization. Clubs break apart and re-form in association. More professionals build their own venues. MUZZ establishes SANCTUM and opens a Patreon; despite the service being used for other clubs before, this still causes controversy and a discussion in the rave community about whether musical performances in VR should be for pay or not. Dieselworks, a music collective with a focus on jungle and drum n bass, builds a variety of venues to serve different performance needs. One of them is a small, personal world called Cozyworks, intended for friends to gather in a home-style setting to enjoy music and movie nights. Cozyworks, along with Afterdark Apartment by Reava, kicks off an interest in the future trend of house party style venues. Concrete's brutalist structure (and its intense related series, CELL:BIND) reflects a mature sensuality from this time period, changing the game in how visuals were represented in virtual venues. In Final Fantasy XIV, Club Cyberia XIV appears and features a mix of DJs from different music scenes, including VR. The VRChat anticheat upset causes some users to migrate to ChilloutVR, where they begin hosting club nights. VRChat introduces the Groups function, finally breaking the absolute need to friend certain users in order to attend music performances in general.

Eclectic Era (Mid 2022-): The VR music scene grows into the first buds of a larger world. More clubs can be found in Altspace (now closed) and Horizon. The music platforms VRROOM and HipHopInVR establish themselves, and Rec Room begins its own concert series again in earnest. A focus on the occult, rituals, tribal influence, and an interest in philosophy dominate the new wave of music venues in VRChat. Performers from the First Commercial and Counterculture Era begin physical tour efforts, mostly sticking by larger conventions such as MAGFest (along with cross-reality portal events becoming more popular). The English and Japanese live singing communities achieve a resurgence in popularity, with Jazz In VRC being a special draw. While having always been worthy of adoration, VJs and poster artists begin to consider their work more deserving of their own products and exhibits. This ties into VR's growing interest in virtual photography and establishing gallery experiences. Friend Club and PSHQ are two examples of music venues personifying the Eclectic Era.

Remember the sensuality of the pre-VR days, championed by DJs with an extensive knowledge of indie tracks? The Eclectic Era picked that trend back up, along with a liking for dark spaces with a religious flare. Thus, Millenia got a second life of its own.

Now there's a flavor for every kind of virtual raver out there.

Fatboy Slim. Image: ENGAGE

A New Wave Arrives

And so the first signs of a second commercial era appear. This has been something that's been feared by the virtual music community, due to a good number of users who believe VR should remain as accessible as it possibly can. On the other hand, Imogen Heap was one of WaveVR's first guests when the platform was still running a few years ago; that performance was also free to enjoy. Many recognizable names in music have also been invited to play at venues commonly associated with the rave scene's First Commercial Era. To say industry-level musicians haven't existed in VR before would be false.

So far, Megan Thee Stallion's Enter Thee Hottieverse series in 2022 was a separate app to download and play with its performances. VRROOM's concert series with Le Juiice, web7, and Maxence in January 2023 was also pre-recorded; both of these follow the performance school of thought that WaveVR established in its heyday.

Now, Fatboy Slim, a leading name during the early 2000s era of big beat and EDM, has arrived with his own concert series on the VR platform ENGAGE. If you missed the show, here's a video review by OtterWorldly. Longtime XR reporter and VRROOM owner TonyVT SkarredGhost also gave a detailed writeup of the experience.

Here's why Fatboy Slim's performance is important: it's another industry-level DJ, as Jean-Michel Jarre, making a closer attempt at a platform of users experiencing music and visuals together. Jean-Michel Jarre has been creating similar experiences for a bit, but another act showing the same interest means it might open up the gates for even more multi-user music experiences of this caliber to arrive again.

VRROOM had this setup as well with its opening concert series, but it wasn't electronic dance music being played with the feel of a rave. Fatboy Slim purposefully places himself at a booth with equipment, and keeps the visuals moving in the style of a club while the experience pushes its people to actually party. Was this purposefully inspired by existing virtual venues? Was it accidental due to the artist's own intent for his audience to experience? A good question to ponder.

As much as it might begrudge someone from the OG VR rave era to say this... the concert series also is a great fit for industry-level DJs who don't have the time or resources for performing live, which can be pretty intensive. Instead, they can scale with the original style of WaveVR, adapted for ravers to come and dance to a special performance. Since these performances take so much to put on, they can't happen so often either. For now, it doesn't feel like the market for virtual concerts with paid tickets would be very saturated.

But what about bigger names? Paid virtual performances can't scale too much in profit yet for A-list stars, but just like with the Sanrio VR concert series, there will still be some people who will want to buy tickets to see their favorite performer. If Billie Eilish's managers suddenly decided to bring her to VRChat for a limited paid event, for example, the servers would probably crash from how many people would try to buy a ticket. But if another and another star began to advertise tickets in VRChat for concert series in quick succession, audiences would grow tired of it and start to opt for free performances instead.

It doesn't spell the death of the virtual club and it doesn't spell the death of a music community who loves to gather and party together. At some point, the creative golden era of this scene will pass. We'll all get older and move on to other things, but the technology will create new scenes as platforms continue to develop.

This moment in time was not about who would have the greatest club forever, the longest tenure, or who had the biggest attendance numbers. It was about the friendships we had and the memories we made.

Let that not be lost as a priority.

The main room of Millenia.

More Singers To Check Out

If you've been craving more rock singers in the virtual music scene, you're in luck. Here are two new music videos to check out, both with great direction:

YMLEGEND's Not The Same is engaging and great to listen to. Young Chi also makes an appearance with a rap verse:

WHSPRS is another amazingly talented singer. His new song, Fox Boy, is about falling in love with another furry online:

Singing music acts are becoming more advanced and professional-sounding, which will inevitably lead to more types of music being welcome in VR. Everyone wins.

Other Music Documentation Series To Enjoy

It's not enough to simply write about a world of virtual music. One must hear the sounds of these artists as much as possible. Fortunately, the are a couple of great series which are helping to do the job.

Garage30 Radio has featured 54 musicians on its series so far, each one sharing a mix that showcases their best sound. Showrunner and host Blackoutboi does an excellent job of introducing performers, relaying some fun facts about them, and hyping up the listener for the main act.

The Virtual Voices Podcast is another currently-running series which interviews artists who perform in virtual reality (not to be confused with the XR interview series by Kent Bye, Voices of VR).

There have been a lot of other podcasts about the music scene in the past, but they are either no longer active or are still working to post more episodes. As more series stick around, we'll link them for additional exploration and support.

Vaizor Publishes A Fun Flip

Drake's Controlla is normally a steady and more serious song about a relationship; Vaizor's flip turns it into a joyful, bouncy anthem.

"I've been inspired by tons of vrchat DJs and musicians involved with Jersey Club in the VRChat scene and have been trying to put that inspiration into practice," Vaizor writes. "This space pushes me forward and always surprises me. I hope I can share that passion and give back that inspiration to others as others have done for me."

Listen to the track here:

One Night In VRChat

The title track by DJ Ginge and LeeM feel like a parody trance song from the early 2000s in a good way. The pulsing beat and robotic voice narrating the story are an absolulte throwback.

Ginge explains how the song came about: "Myself and LeeM were in a VR rave, talking about making a techno track like the classic track One Night in Hackney (or the even older One Night in New York City) and how funny it would be. So we did it."

Check out the song below or on Bandcamp:

Revisit Retro Gaming With Sach

Sach's latest work has a heavy influence from earlier console titles. "I grew up with Nintendo and many of its flagship games on the SNES, Nintendo 64, Gamecube, Wii, you name it. In this specific work, I started with audio samples from the Aparoid Queen of Starfox Assault and as I built the foundation of the song I wanted it to reflect the intensity I felt years ago when fighting the Aparoid Queen the first time. The name of the work is a direct reference to the game Starfox Assault."

Assault feels like dodging attacks from a level boss. The repetition of the track's introduction is also wonderfully clever.

And that's it for the round-up! We'll see you next time. Thanks for tuning in.