It’s only 5 p.m. on a Saturday in Los Angeles, but the Zone—a 16-room virtual club on the videoconferencing app Zoom—is already in full swing.

“You’re late!” admonishes a bouncer with a glowing Celtic symbol on her forehead, peering through a pixelated window at a gaggle of new guests tuning in from their homes, making sure they are properly outfitted, both with drinks and in looks. She clicks them into different “dance floor” chat rooms, where revelers in colorful costumes shimmy to a live-streamed DJ set while two fluffy puppets maneuvered by an invisible hand waltz in each other’s arms. In an additional networked room, a man in a pink wig leads a spirited conversation about sustainable farming. At the end of the night, the party’s host invites everyone to the “hot tub” room—swimming attire required. Shirts are peeled off and snorkels pulled on as guests gamely play along.

“Someone has handed Zoom to us, and we’re just playing around,” observes one guest, dressed in a Santa hat, who claims to be the son of a pig farmer turned crypto-investor. “This is the cutting-edge, and I’m confident it will bloom into something else.”

Welcome to the new era of clubbing under quarantine. Somewhere on the internet, a virtual party is always going down.

As in Asia earlier during the outbreak, livestreaming has emerged as an ad hoc emergency support system for the flailing entertainment industry across Europe and the U.S. Musicians across every genre are broadcasting sets from their bedrooms on platforms such as Instagram Live alongside donation links to their PayPal, Venmo, or Patreon accounts. Such brands as Beatport and Amazon Music have partnered with Twitch to launch marathon sessions featuring prominent DJs like Diplo and A-Trak, with the former raising $180,000 for the AFEM (Association for Electronic Music) and WHO’s Covid-19 funds on March 27 and 28.

The coronavirus crisis has hit the music and nightlife industry hard: With event cancelations stretching through the lucrative summer festival season, an economic model increasingly reliant on touring and live shows has imploded, leaving musicians and event organizers scrambling for alternative financial streams. Even after the lockdowns are lifted, a probable long-term contraction of the live music industry, which was projected to be worth $27.9 billion in 2019, has underscored how badly the current economic model is broken. It is unsustainable for working musicians—many of them gig workers without employer-based safety nets.

Some artists doubt that livestreaming is inherently emancipatory, or even financially viable. “I resent the idea that musicians have to invent an awkward new medium of performance—and busk for tips—when people could just buy their record,” says artist and tech researcher Mat Dryhurst, who coined the term “e-busking” to describe this practice. “The tech isn’t there to make it more engaging than, say, radio,” he continues. “Even in this charitable climate, it isn’t producing impressive financial results.”

Beatport’s fundraising success seems an outlier so far. On the lower end, smaller underground DJs may pull in $50 a stream, while bigger artists such as Erykah Badu, who broadcast a concert March 23 from her home in Dallas, Texas, pulled in around 10,000 people paying $1 each. While far from what a traditional concert would earn, it was enough for her to do a second one, charging $2, to support herself and her band.

Yet simple, one-directional livestreams only scratch the surface of the rapidly expanding virtual-clubbing landscape. As nightlife appropriates technologies built for corporate conferencing and gaming, new party experiences are emerging to encourage interactivity and community, making the audience active participants rather than passive consumers. (Even this year’s just-cancelled Burning Man plans to go virtual.)

In addition to providing moments of social connection, could virtual clubs emerge as a new model for live shows—and be sustained by brand sponsors, advertisers, and paying subscribers?

First « 1 2 3 » Next