December 23, 2022

Metaculture Music Round-Up: The Community In Re(ar )view

From the highest highs to the lowest lows, we went through it all this year.

Metaculture Music Round-Up: The Community In Re(ar )view

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.

This update is a bit longer for our year-in-review post.

What do we say about 2022? There were so many moments of triumph and tragedy for the virtual rave scene this year. A few musicians crossed into real-life gigs, visual art exploded in an amazing way, and new creative subcommunities are being born of the same rave participants who made the dance floor as alive as it's been. VR could not ask for a better assortment of artists. There's something beautiful blossoming this year, but we've still got a lot of demons to battle with.

The Good

  • Decentralization of the club scene began, and it was good. House parties and small gatherings were a delightful kick on top of existing mainstream venues. It was far easier to get lost in clubs where you didn't know anyone, which reflected real life a lot more. There are now jazz nights and blues dives. The international community as a whole also took singing to a new level, with cleaner stages and grander theatrical designs.
  • VJs are out in full force. Back in the day of the first VR clubs, visuals were an extra on top of a DJ performance. You got a solid background on a Twitch stream sometimes, but if you were lucky, there were looping visuals and cool effects. Ghost Club helped to elevate virtual VJ'ing into an art; the English community caught on, and now we even have creative dancing over glitched visuals as entertainment. Take the above sample of visuals from emerging VJ, RegenStorm (and stay tuned in this article later for another amazing example!). Experimentation with cameras and overlay are happening pretty quickly now and it's great to see develop.
  • Hey, look, VR's music scene is on tv! This was a thing this year and it was great.

Harassment reached a guttersnipe level of low.

The Bad

  • We lost some wonderful people, both to quitting the game and, for some, spiritual transitions. Loss is a part of life, but it's even harder to process when you're relatively young and the dance floor feels like it stretches into forever. We remember those have departed, and we wish to see those we can again. It's all we can hope for.
  • EAC's onboarding was handled terribly. It ran off at least one music venue to ChilloutVR, and caused a temporary air of destabilization. Although VRChat's numbers recovered, things could've been better. Looking back, administration probably should have revealed new features coming into the game first and then announced what those features were going to cost afterwards. This issue was a learning experience for everyone, and will probably look a lot different next time something similar is introduced.

The God-Forsaken Ugly

Harassment reached a guttersnipe level of low. It's very hard to talk about this without pointing out examples that others will feel is too personal. There were some real horror stories in 2022, including but not limited to stalking, doxing, and the aim to embarrass and humiliate others purposefully. It's no wonder people have begun to quit, including ravers who haven't even been here a year yet.

What are we doing if we're providing a reason for curious onlookers to be unsure about social VR? We have Meta in the general public getting trashed for their Horizon avatars, but a deeper examination of this platform finds a game that doesn't have a very robust abuse reporting system. Different types of evidence, such as Discord logs, can apparently be faked--leaving VRChat's Safety team unable to accept most social interaction screenshots.  That leaves few options for users to protect themselves, including the idea of just filming your game sessions so you can catch people whenever they try to bother you.

VRChat has acknowledged how bad harassment has gotten and is starting to address these issues. However, there's another problem underneath all of this: some VR musicians are harassing each other. But, why? For attention? For greater opportunities to work with staff? Because one of them plays riddim and the other hates it? From what I can glean, it's mostly commercial. It's been happening forever, but this year saw harassment between virtual clubs at a real breaking point. It was highly intrusive to everyone involved and very embarrassing.

It isn't seen as polite form to mention intra-community issues on a public forum, but it's being mentioned now because it absolutely has to stop.

This scene is in very real danger of losing people to exhaustion. Two years tops, and the sparkle that makes this place great will slip through our fingers completely (hint: the thing that makes it great is other people). And while that doesn't seem consequential, it is very much so when you think about how Horizon Worlds isn't a success and Rec Room is designed for children. There's no place like VRChat right now, and its cultural happenings need to be preserved however it can.

A Possible Path Ahead

  • The new groups feature is already changing how people make friends; it's going to change the social dynamics of virtual venues now, too. True decentralization can't happen in a venue-driven creative community, but some of the intense centering around a handful of people in the rave scene will begin to loosen. This is going to help when harmful behavior occurs out of desire to keep control of whole social scenes. Sorry, but this isn't 2021!
  • The virtual filmmaking scene, already present with its own festivals in VR, is going red-hot in 2023. Get ready for tons of great films and people discovering their inner director.
  • At least one immersive theatre performer might be poised to become a bigger celebrity in a few years' time. People are also going to check out VR theatre more and it could possibly draw another assembled company into the fray by late 2023.
  • User-originated philosophy in VR is poised to expand. The first buds of this pursuit exists in longstanding academic groups, such as StemVR, The New Design Congress, and still-growing virtual organizations dedicated to literature and transhumanism. It won't be without its growing pains, either; these groups, who come from a user-first perspective rather than VR developers such as Tony Parisi, will be a whole other vibe entirely. There will inevitably be a culture clash between the two.
  • There will be more musicians quitting the virtual rave scene. There's been a brain drain over the aforementioned string of harassment in 2022. That brain drain is going to expand a little more moving forward, mostly from the group of musicians and regular ravers who joined the community between 2020-2021. Some performers from 2021 and earlier who don't necessarily "need" to be here, will engage with more commercial irl pursuits. That lucky handful might end up being so busy that they can't come back.

Some Wilder Predictions

  • Meta could have two possible paths: they might either finally open Horizon Worlds to everyone and then luck out in developing a world of their own, or they could finally run out of options to make their platform work and start actively poaching talent from platforms such as VRChat. As in, paying them some good money to perform over there.
  • Altspace might kick the bucket fully by late 2023 or early 2024. This can only be counteracted by a risk they take that will save their platform (you never know what's going to happen in tech, honestly).
  • More VR game developers could advertise their games at Vket or run promotional items on Booth, in order to reach social VR users. This is already happening and looks like it might expand. Will gaming and social VR finally unite and start talking to each other? We'll see what happens.

The Last Round-Up Of The Year

Xenon Chameleon is a musician we've featured on The Metaculture before. This time, Xenon's back with an even more polished album in collaboration with Kelbin in a fusion of breakcore, IDM, baile funk, and "some Renoise and VCV Rack wizardry". It's a wild and fun ride.

Servo's Tiny Concert

Servo is an amazing live performer with a buttery-smooth voice. Her latest performance has been published on Soundcloud for everyone to enjoy.

"Got to record this live in VR with a bunch of friends!" she exclaims. "I wanted to create an atmosphere like NPR's Tiny Desk series, since I think VRChat currently lends itself well to small intimate concerts. Vocals and keys are played live through into my audio interface mixed with the drum track I arranged so I can record the original audio at the same time as people hearing the full mix through my mic. Hope to do VRCDN concerts in the future once I have a full set together with covers and original music!"

Defying Expectations With HexAlice, SoftlySteph, and FelixYung

Earlier this month, I wandered into a venue owned by DeityAnubis and witnessed this amazing meld of audio and visual performance by HexAlice (DJ), SoftlySteph (dancer), and FelixYung (analog glitch rig). The result was nothing short of astounding. It defined a moment for me where I said to myself, "This is it. This is the music scene we were looking for. We're seeing a pinnacle moment here."

HexAlice also has her own thoughts and notes: "The description in the youtube video has more details on our thoughts on the performance, but I wanted to add that I realize this is a little unusual of a submission, but I think that giving some appreciation to the performance as a whole- dancing, vjing, and djing, would be an interesting inclusion. It was a real pleasure working with Steph and Felix on this show to create a really somber and beautiful performance for December's full moon."

xxHardbit3s Hits Hard With SUM TYPA JUNGLIST

SUM TYPA JUNGLIST is raw and professional at once, which is amazing to run across for an album. But xxhardbit3s is an endless source of energy, so I'm not surprised they turned this one out.

This album, as xxhardbit3s describes it, " a jungle ep heavily inspired by the sounds of 90s jungle/drum and bass, dancehall, reggae, dub, ragga, dubplate, juke, footwork, and more. I wanted to pay homage to some of the most badass music I have come to find in my life that is responsible for everything I do today. JUNGLIST MASSIVE!"

This was a huge article and had a lot to cover. Thank you for making it through! Have a great New Year and we'll see you next time.