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I’m watching DJ Calvin Harris appear in avatar-form on a six-inch phone screen propped up against my laptop screen on my desk. In a weak attempt to foster the correct vibe for a virtual EDM show, I turned off all the other lights in my room, leaving only my two screens to set the room aglow. Still, rave vibes are difficult to reproduce considering it’s Friday at noon and I’m strictly under the influence of three cups of coffee.
Swiveling in my desk chair as an animated Harris begins to turn digital discs, I settle in for what promises to be, for me, a new experience. The TikTok LIVE concert, courtesy of the virtual entertainment company Wave, isn’t the first time TikTok has hosted an VR event. In 2020, the video-sharing app hosted The Weeknd in a virtual, livestreamed concert. Not to mention, that in the early days of the pandemic, a number of virtual concert startups thrived, with companies like Wave bringing artists like John Legend and Tinashe to the digital stage. But the return of live concerts hasn’t killed their online alternative—just last year, MTV introduced a Metaverse performance category at the Video Music Awards.
Technically, Harris’ show was conceived as a VR concert. People with a headset from Pico, a VR company owned by TikTok’s parent company Bytedance only available in Europe and Asia, could see an immersive digital experience. For the rest of us though it was just our six-inch OLED screens.
Harris opened the show with his remix “C.U.B.A / You've Got the Love.” His avatar, which inexplicably had glowing yellow eyes, never strayed from the virtual booth. Occasionally, it would raise its arms or clap, but that was the extent of the avatar’s physical movements. Perhaps these moves work on a real stage, but in the Metaverse they are the visual equivalent of elevator music.
The crowd, which was situated in a circle around the booth, was slightly more enthusiastic. People—users tuning in from the Pico headsets—were depicted as figures with teardrop-shaped heads and long oval bodies. But without legs, the virtual audience just floated around while waving their skinny arms. As their hands moved, lines of neon lights trailed behind them in an obvious attempt to recreate the glow-in-the-dark vibe at most traditional EDM shows. Its clear that they were the prioritized viewers—in the middle of the song“Giant,” Harris started shouting out people’s usernames.
On TikTok, the action was all in the comments section. Some examples included:
“Rave bae where you at”
And my personal favorite, “calvin harris is probably in sweats with a bag of cheetos next to him.”
When Harris requested everyone put their hands in the air during the middle of “Blame,” TikTok viewers responded by flooding the comments with a variety of hand emojis. The comments section also revealed some confusion over the livestream’s general concept. As Harris performed “Outside,” one user commented “PLZ WHAT IS THIS.” Similar comments popped up throughout the stream, with TikTok viewers wondering how they could enter the virtual crowd and if this was a Roblox event.
The confusion was also evident by viewership—a livestream that started with 15,000 viewers had dropped to 11,000 viewers by the end of the 40-minute set.
Part of that drop in viewership may have been due to the low-quality of the stream. I can’t speak to the VR experience, but people viewing from TikTok saw highly-pixelated, blurry graphics. Even if the effects had been sharp, it was clear there was no clear aesthetic for the show: On multiple occasions, the background had random fish or dolphins floating above the crowd. At times, Harris’ avatar would be encompassed by sparkles.
In some ways, it makes sense for EDM to venture into this landscape—the genre is by definition the intersection of technology and music. But, for many EDM fans, half of the appeal is in the community aspect of the genre. People love the outfits and the dancing just as much as they love the music. To separate these features likely makes the set less appealing to anyone who isn’t a die-hard Harris fan.
But maybe I was the problem. Perhaps if I’d fully committed to dressing up and dancing around my bedroom, it would have been easier to immerse myself in the show. But watching the set in sweatpants in my room on a Friday afternoon wasn’t exactly what most people have in mind when they think “rave.”
Harris wrapped the set with fan-favorite “Promises.” Two large hands moved around him behind the DJ booth as his avatar invited the virtual audience to join him on stage. Like Casper the Friendly Ghost, the floating bodies migrated their way over to him. Green and blue lights followed as the avatars bopped around Harris's.
It was an anticlimactic end to a tedious set. But, for some viewers, it succeeded at least in setting the tone of the night. “Now i want to go to a party tonight,” one user commented. I sincerely hope they get there.
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California Reopens Without a Vaccine Verification Plan—So Where Does That Leave Businesses?
Sharon Town Lee ripped off a cluster of laminated public health flyers from the front window of her pet grooming salon in Santa Monica Tuesday.
It's June 15, the day widespread mask mandates and social distancing protocols in California become concepts of the past.
Sports fans and concert goers can now scream into the air. At Disneyland, visitors can again wait in long lines and crowd around princesses as the park expands its capacity limits.
Under state protocols, vaccinated individuals are no longer required to cover their faces at gyms, in the grocery store or other indoor settings — minus a few exceptions.
And many business owners including Town Lee are letting customers inside mask-free, without checking vaccination records.
Sharon Town Lee ripped off a cluster of laminated public health flyers from the front window of her pet grooming salon in Santa Monica.Photo by Francesca Billington
"It's not our responsibility to show whether you've been vaccinated," said Town Lee, who chairs the local business district spanning Pico Boulevard and gave her employees incentives to get vaccinated.
The state's updates come as a relief. Town Lee, who is hearing impaired, can read her customers' lips again. While her small shop was largely empty in the morning, most people walking along the business district wore masks.
Private businesses can now pick between one of three state protocols: require all patrons to wear a mask, trust customers who say they've gotten the shot or establish a "vaccination verification process."
"It's a sensitive thing to ask people," said Rod Martinez, a supervisor at Literati Cafe in Los Angeles. "So we're not."
The question of enforcement remains murky — not to mention optional.
Last week, Newsom hinted at a new state-endorsed verification system to help private businesses hoping to check. SFGate reported that it'll look like a digital vaccine card designed to replace the paper ones issued by pharmacies and doctors.
How — and even if — stores and restaurants will ask customers to prove vaccination credentials is up to them, Newsom said. The governor was quick to remind viewers that his tech system isn't a so-called vaccine "passport," messaging that echoes tech startups like Healthvana.
"There's no mandates, no requirements, no passports in that respect," Newsom said during a press briefing Friday after drawing more winners for the state's cash vaccine incentive program.
Some business owners worry that requiring masks could turn off potential customers. Town Lee said that it almost feels like discriminating against people who don't want to be vaccinated for a variety of reasons.
At Ace Hardware in West L.A. store manager Brian Peacock said that three hours after opening, only one customer stepped inside without a mask.
"He walked in and said, 'I'm vaccinated!'" said Peacock. "For the most part, everybody has been wanting to wear a mask."
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Wave Raises $30 Million to Serve the Next Generation of Concert-Goers
Wave, an entertainment technology company that turns performers into digital avatars and puts them on virtual stages where they can entertain and interact with fans, announced a $30 million series B fundraise on Wednesday.
The L.A.-based company has now raised $40 million total.
Live performances typically comprise upwards of 70% of musicians' incomes. With in-person shows shuttered amid the coronavirus pandemic, the music industry has been embracing new ways to generate revenue and drive fan engagement. Wave represents one such channel.
The fundraise was led by Seattle-based Maveron and SF-based Griffin Gaming Partners. L.A.-based Raised in Space also invested, as did several entrepreneurs, including Alex Rodriguez and Scooter Braun.
Braun, who manages megastars Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, likes how Wave CEO Adam Arrigo is bringing tech to the music industry.
"The future of the industry depends on it," Braun said in the funding announcement. "Adam and his team at Wave are bridging these two very important industries to create transformative experiences for the next generation of concert-goers, with a refreshingly artist-first approach."
Maveron general partner David Wu added: "We believe Wave is perfectly positioned to build the defining consumer brand at the intersection of music, gaming, and social interactivity."
"My cofounder (Aaron Lemke) and I started the company four years ago to help musicians make money," Arrigo told dot.LA. "We've been touring musicians and we know how hard it is."
Eventually they realized that Wave shouldn't simply try to recreate a real concert, but rather leverage the opportunities unique to the digital world.
"Our shows have rarely looked like normal concerts," Arrigo says. "Artists can be 1000x their size. Fans can be flying above the stage."
Wave has hosted more than 50 events for audiences of up to 400,000, for artists including John Legend, Imogen Heap and Tinashe. Fans can watch shows through VR headsets, via desktop, and on gaming devices.
Arrigo's career has centered on the intersection of music and gaming. He was formerly a game designer of the Rock Band video game franchise.
"From working on that game I learned that when you create new experiences you can create additional revenue streams for the industry," he says.
To that end, Arrigo doesn't imagine that Wave will replace in-person concerts; instead he hopes to complement them. He points out that although ticket prices for live shows have skyrocketed over the years, the scale of a virtual performance — where millions of people attend for free — can make it much more favorable for an artist than filling the 20,000 seats at the Staples Center.
The company's business model, Arrigo says, is based on in-app purchases, a percentage of which are shared with the performer.
"We give musicians a platform that allows them to reach fans in new ways," he says.
But Arrigo envisions growing beyond music.The platform's "new category" of performance combines elements of gaming, interactivity and social media. He thinks it can expand into theater, sports and stand-up comedy, among other events.
"We're really optimistic about the health of the business and people connecting virtually," he says.
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