By Peter Quattrocelli
A high-tech solution (no) for electronic music lovers languishing for the dance floor.
On the eve of Melbourne’s fourth lockdown, a collective sense of disappointment descended on the city as the dreaded ‘postponed’ announcements flooded inboxes and social media, but a team of DJs from Melbourne managed to maintain his scheduled concert.
Their dance floor was packed with over 100 music lovers, but without breaking any of the five rules for leaving the house, and not at Richmond’s Corner Hotel as expected.
Punters mostly danced alone at home, but virtually danced next to each other in an animated game world, painstakingly customized by the designers into a virtual rave.
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Activated by computer hardware and virtual reality (VR) headsets, the virtual rave was led by Solitary, a team of local musicians and DJs. This was just one of the many regular events that have sprung up in VRChat, a massive multiplayer online virtual reality game launched in 2014.
As the electronic music scene is universally battered by the constant lockdowns of COVID-19, this virtual world has become an antidote for those yearning to return to the dance floor.
“I think what’s going on in virtual reality right now is sort of the next big thing,” says Lincoln Donelan, co-founder of Loner. “People are slowly seeing now that there is real content for virtual reality. “
In June, the VRChat team announced a Series D investment round that secured US $ 80 million in funding. The team and investors have recognized the rave scene, including Loner, for its ability to “repeatedly set and raise the bar” on the platform.
The animated world is not photorealistic, but it does try to mimic what you would expect to see in an electronic music club.
“It’s like a dark, underground, kinda crappy place, but that’s where you’ll meet some nice people.” People you want to befriend and dance with, ”says Donelan.
In this dark, lo-fi rave scene, lockdown reality escapees can even score virtual party drugs.
“We have pills in the bathroom you can click on them and it blurs your vision and changes colors.”
Individuals in VRChat are represented by personalized avatars, and it’s not uncommon to find yourself on a dance floor in a world filled with characters inspired by animated TV shows and video game culture.
Since Loner started hosting virtual raves over a year ago, the collective has nearly 1,200 users on its Discord server, an online messaging platform used to build the community that eagerly awaits. details on how they can join the next party.
The most popular events reach capacity instantly, with events held in VRChat at this point limited to around 200 users.
Additional guests wait until a seat becomes available, providing an air of exclusivity similar to queuing at a club until it’s your turn for security to wave at you.
Donelan says part of the inspiration to create Loner came from the poor experiences he and his friends had at offline virtual events during the lockdowns.
“They were over the top and clingy. Even though you were in VR you were still sitting there watching something happen, there was no interaction, ”he says.
Chris Hornyak, a video essayist living in New Jersey and YouTube video maker The Virtual Underground: An Introduction to the VRChat Rave Scene – who has racked up more than 18,000 views since May – described his first rave as “unlike anything” he had experienced.
One particular event left him so immersed that it momentarily blurred the line between the real and virtual worlds.
“I remember standing in the middle of the room, really feeling the music, then looking both sides of me and seeing people dancing,” says Hornyak.
“Someone’s arm swung to the side in front of me and I backed up a bit. My brain fully thinking that I was completely in this space. It was as if the helmet was completely gone.
In most cases, individuals take control of their avatar through a virtual reality headset as well as two hand controllers that allow position tracking, but the level of immersion varies depending on the hardware.
As a gamer, Hornyak has access to a powerful PC with a premium VR headset plugged in, the Valve Index. He also has a set of body tracking devices that he can attach to his arms and legs, which allows him to map all of his movements to his online avatar.
It’s a setup that he says costs around $ 4,500 (AUD 5,800).
For those looking for a less immersive experience but still want to participate, VRChat is accessible via a desktop computer without a virtual reality headset.
“There are people who are considered longtime members of the community who don’t have an RV but just have a desktop and I think that’s what makes it special,” says Hornyak.
“I think we are witnessing the birth of something that is in its infancy right now and I can only imagine what that will look like in five to ten years.”
Australia’s largest music festival, Splendor in the Grass, hosted an ‘extended reality’ version of its 2021 event in July. It allowed ticket holders to browse a digital replica of the festival in VR.
The long-running Burning Man cultural event in the United States will host a ‘virtual burn’ this year. It gives users a chance to “dive in, connect with burners around the world… and participate in immersive and fun performances and conversations”.
Jacob Grant, a Newcastle-based musician and DJ who performs under the nickname Just A Gent, has his music played at three different Loner VR events. He says what’s appealing about VRChat events is that they attract a large crowd that you can interact with.
But he doesn’t know if music festivals testing virtual events will be able to emulate this card.
“I think it’s pretty crazy but I don’t know if it will compare to VRChat events when it comes to interacting with other people in the world.”
While Donelan doesn’t think Loner’s online parties will replace the real thing, he encourages everyone to give it a try.
Head toward Solitaire website to know more.