At 3 PM in Los Angeles, the EDM artist Rezz began performing her EP, which would be released on streaming services later that night.
She played live, under a vast starry sky, as a massive skull floated over her head.
Meanwhile, at 6 PM at the VR Space in Koreatown, New York, I slipped on the Oculus and entered that starlit venue, which was simultaneously out of this world and accessible from anywhere if you happened to have access to a headset. It took me a while to figure out how to use the set, and some kinks were definitely still being worked out with the app—but soon enough, I was standing inside an alien landscape, staring up at streams of code floating in the sky. I'd entered an alternate dimension without taking a single step.
That's the power of the virtual reality concert, which Rezz used to premier her EP, Beyond the Senses. Using the app TheWaveVR, which has helped other artists such as Imogen Heap perform shows in the virtual realm, Rezz effectively played a show in multiple places at once. Her show also featured the platform Twitch, actually allowing fans to influence the visuals in real time as the performance unfolded.
REZZ - "Beyond The Senses" LIVE world premiere listening party www.youtube.com
The performance began with the song "Dark Age," which places minor-key guitar riffs over a slow-moving beat to create a dark, mystical haze. It was the perfect initiation to the strange, holographic, industrial world that audience members were transported into.
"Is it enough that I feel like I'm falling / is it enough that I can't stop?" sings Underoath on the EP's second track, "Falling." Like the first track, it blends elements of emo rock with EDM beats. Its lyrics might as well be talking about the rapidly advancing pace of technology, which has changed the DNA of the music industry, altering everything about how music is created and consumed.
The third track Rezz performed, "Kiss of Death," plants industrial beats against floaty, hyper-processed vocals, to create a psychedelic soundscape. The EP's final track, "Lonely (feat. the Rigs)," is one of its best, using a sultry beat to pull audiences in, then breaking down into a sparse, echoey drop in the second half.
Overall, Rezz's EP is a tightly wound, high-stakes collection of furious rhythms and alternatively harsh and dreamlike soundscapes. Certainly, if any genre is to be matched with VR, it would be this kind of disorienting, intensely transportive emo-EDM fusion. VR and EDM blend together perfectly, both using synthetic sounds and super-advanced processing techniques to create otherworldly dimensions that test the limits of space and sound, all through the mediums of MIDI and code.
In a virtual reality concert, you lose some of the vividness and impact of real shows—for example, you don't get the pounding, booming grind of a live bass or the smoke and sweat of a real venue (depending on your headphones and surroundings, of course). But in the technosphere, things that could never have happened in the real world become possible. Red lightning flared out of Rezz's hands as soldiers, gigantic hands, and disembodied objects careened like UFOs through the space. Sinewy tendrils floated across the domed sky, reflecting the soundwaves. Huge trees grew towards the stars, then split into smoke. Other concertgoers looked like floating Pillsbury Doughboys with screen names glowing above their heads.
VR concerts have not become quite as popular as people thought they might when the Oculus debuted, maybe because of the cumbersome nature of the headset, the likelihood of glitches, or the still-holographic appearance of the simulated performers. Still, acts like Rezz's prove that there's still a very promising future for VR, which has the potential to revolutionize the touring industry. She's not alone in taking advantage of the medium. Recently, the startup MelodyVR signed deals with 600 artists, including Jay-Z, and festivals such as Coachella and Global Citizen have both incorporated VR into their concert-going experiences.
Many have raised the concern that VR concerts might not be the best thing for music. After all, touring is one of the most profitable parts of modern musicians' careers, and if audience members start choosing to stream shows through VR instead of paying for a live experience, this could threaten the lucrative stadium circuit.
It's hard to deny the amazing spectrum of possibilities that VR presents for music, though. Audience members could immerse themselves in music videos or communicate directly with each other and the performers, or they could see shows they were previously unable to access or afford. In addition, VR audiences can't use cell phones (yet), so they have to focus solely on the music.
Image via thissongissick.com
And just imagine if musicians never had to board a plane to perform, and if you never had to miss a concert again—if all you had to do was slip on a headset in order to enter an alternate dimension of your favorite musician's design?
VR could very well determine the future of music. Before that happens, though, there's still work to be done. I was able to see Rezz's broadcast, but the whole time I was gaping at the beauty of the simulated landscape and testing out my new virtual body, I couldn't hear any music. Staff members were running around, trying to fix the glitch and promising that it wasn't caused by their software; by the time they got it working, the show had finished.
The experience revealed that although VR concerts have huge potential, for now, there's still nothing to rival good old-fashioned live music.