EDM artist and multimedia pioneer Rezz released her newest EP last night—in an unconventional format.
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.
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Breaking down the bias of comfort films.
With the constant onslaught of complicated news that 2020 has brought, sometimes you just want to be able to shut off your brain, relax, and feel happy.
Enter comfort films. These are the feel-good movies that feel like a warm hug when you finish them, the ones that allow you to escape for a short while. We often turn to these types of films in times of trouble or extreme stress, and when we're not sure what films of this nature we should watch, we turn to the Internet for options.
Rivera's "Glee" character was not just important, she was groundbreaking.
As a young queer girl growing up in the south, I was lucky that my parents weren't homophobes.
My parents believed that people were sometimes born gay, and while they wouldn't "wish that harder life" on their children, they certainly made me and my sister believe that gay people were just as worthy of love as anyone else. I was lucky.
Still, in my relatively sheltered world of Northern Virginia (a rich suburb near Washington D.C.), homophobia wasn't as blatant as hate crimes or shouted slurs, but it was generally accepted that being straight was, simply, better.
In high school, it wasn't uncommon to use "gay" as an insult or for girls to tease each other about being "lez." While many of us, if asked, would have said we were in support of gay marriage and loved The Ellen Show, being gay remained an undesirable affliction.
Even more insidious, I was instilled with the belief—by my church and my peers—that if gay and lesbian people could be straight, they would. But since they were simply incapable of attraction to the opposite sex or fitting into traditional gender roles, we should accept them as they are as an act of mercy. At the time, this kind of pity seemed progressive and noble. Those in my close circle of family and friends weren't openly dismissive or condemning of gay people, but we saw homosexuality as a clear predisposition with no gray areas.
Specifically: Gay men talked with a lilt, giggled femininely, and were interested in things that weren't traditionally "masculine." Meanwhile, gay women dressed like men, had no interest in makeup or other traditionally female interests, and probably had masculine bodies and features. In my mind, before someone came out as gay, they did everything in their power to "try to be straight" but were eventually forced to confront the difficult reality that they felt no attraction at all to the opposite sex. I viewed homosexuality not as a spectrum, but as a black and white biological predisposition that meant you were thoroughly, completely, and pitiably gay.
As a child, when I began to experience stirrings of attraction for other girls, I would reassure myself that not only had I definitely felt attraction for men in the past, but I also liked being pretty. I was a tomboy as a child, sure, but as I got older I recognized that my value was increased in the eyes of society if I tried to be a pretty girl. As it turned out, I even liked putting on clothes that made me feel good, I liked applying makeup, and I liked some traditionally "feminine" things. In my mind, this meant that I couldn't be gay, because gay women didn't like "girl" stuff.
As a teenager, I began to learn more about the difference between gender and sexuality, and the fluidity of both. I began to let myself feel some of the long-suppressed feelings of queer desire I still harbored.
Still, in the back of my mind, the instilled certainty of sexuality as an extremely rigid thing sometimes kept me up at night. What if I was gay? Would I have to change the way I looked? Would I have to give up some of the things I liked? In my mind, being gay meant your sexuality was your whole identity, and everything else about you disappeared beneath the weight of it.
But then, Santana came out as gay on Glee.
GLEE - The Santana 'Coming Out Scene' www.youtube.com
If you didn't watch Glee, than you might not know the importance of Naya Rivera's character to so many queer young women like myself. Santana was beautiful, she was popular, she had dated boys, she was feminine, she was sexy, and she was gay. There's even evidence that Santana had previously enjoyed relationships with men.
But the character came out anyways, not because she had to or because it was obvious to everyone around her that she was gay, but because her attraction to women was an aspect of her identity she was proud of. It wasn't an unfortunate reality she simply had to make the best of; it was an exciting, beautiful, aspect of her identity worth celebrating.
Before Santana, it had never really come home for me that being gay wasn't an entire identity—that it wasn't an affliction or disorder, but just another part of a person. She also didn't suddenly start wearing flannels or cutting her hair after coming out. She was the same feminine person she had always been. I had never realized that being a gay woman didn't have to look a certain way. Santana and Brittany's gay storyline showed two femme-presenting women in love, and for me, that was a revolution.
If it wasn't for Naya Rivera, we may never have had that important story line.
"It's up to writers, but I would love to represent [the LGBTQ community] because we know that there are tons of people who experience something like that and it's not comical for them in their lives," Rivera told E! News in 2011. "So I hope that maybe we can shed some light on that."
While Rivera herself wasn't gay (the importance of casting gay actors in gay roles is a separate conversation), she understood how important her character was to the queer community. "There are very few ethnic LGBT characters on television, so I am honored to represent them," Rivera told Latina magazine in 2013. "I love supporting this cause, but it's a big responsibility, and sometimes it's a lot of pressure on me."
Rivera wasn't just a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community on screen. In 2017, she wrote a "Love Letter to the LGBTQ Community" for Billboard's Pride Month. In it, she wrote, "We are all put on this earth to be a service to others and I am grateful that for some, my Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays may have given a little light to someone somewhere, who may have needed it. To everyone whose heartfelt stories I have heard, or read I thank you for truly enriching my life."
Now, as we mourn the loss of Naya Rivera, at least we can take comfort in knowing that her legacy will live on—that the light her Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays gave us won't go out any time soon.
Excuse me, I have to go weep-sing-along to Rivera's cover of landslide now.
Glee - Landslide (Full Performance + Scene) 2x15 youtu.be
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