When U2inSL, a group of role-playing users of the online virtual world Second Life “performed” a free “live concert” as blocky, low-res avatar representations of Irish mega-rockers U2 in 2006, I don’t think anyone thought they were witnessing the future of live music.
Of course, to be totally fair, I wasn’t actually “there” on that fateful online day. I mostly remember seeing the footage of those glitchy polygonal visages of Bono, The Edge, and, uh, those other two guys in U2 pop up on YouTube the following year, overdubbed with a silly, tuneless cover of what I presumed to be very enthusiastic J-pop, posted as The Linuxbyrds – live @ CYBERSPACE. And, like most of my friends who saw that video at the time, I thought this was all pretty amusing.
However, as everyone continues to look for solutions to the shortage of live music in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, I suppose it was inevitable that the conversation would turn to the question of virtual reality. And who knows? We might all be joining the likes of U2inSL, The Linuxbyrds and Duran Duran (who, unlike the real U2, actually had an official, sanctioned presence in the aforementioned Second Life) in the near future.
On Aug. 25, the London-based, virtual reality live music platform MelodyVR announced their acquisition of Napster’s parent company Rhapsody International, signaling that a marriage of music streaming and VR live performance is probably imminent.
“For music fans today, live and recorded music are intrinsically linked,” says MelodyVR CEO Anthony Matchett, per the announcement on MelodyVR’s website. “We are as keen to see our favourite artists perform live as we are to listen to their albums. Our purchase of Napster, one of the music industry’s original disruptors, is born out of our wish to deliver the world’s foremost music experience, available seamlessly across audio and visual media and in turn presenting a truly next-generation music service.”
You probably remember Napster from the early peer-to-peer file-sharing days between 1999 and 2001, before, as popular history would have it, everyone’s fun was singlehandedly ended by Metallica. However, as the years progressed and Lars Ulrich swapped out his snare drum for an empty baked beans can, the Napster name re-emerged as a paid online music store and subscription streaming service.
This attempt to merge subscription streaming — the primary medium through which many people consume music — and a simulacra of live performance doesn’t come as a surprise. One supposes the main elements of mystery will be what form this new service takes and how subtly (or fantastically) the elements of VR/augmented reality will be integrated into the new “live performance” experience. During the pandemic, MelodyVR has hosted shows from the likes of John Legend, Cypress Hill, Kesha and others.
As for me, I’ll be skeptical until the Linuxbyrds return and truly validate whatever inevitable cyberspace entertainment experience we all plug our brainstems into.
In the meantime, however, Boulder roots rock standouts Gasoline Lollipops are taking a more traditional approach to live performance — two shows at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Monday, Sept. 14, at 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Due to, of course, precautionary social distancing measures, only a limited number of tickets for each set are on sale.
Gasoline Lollipops were recently named No. 3 among the best Colorado artists of all time by listeners of Greeley’s Colorado Sound 105.5 FM, and the group is set to release a new LP, All the Misery Money Can Buy, on Sept. 11 through Soundly Music. To get in the mood, you can check out three singles from the upcoming LP: Hear the group indulging in some soulful, gospel-inspired excursions on the title track and “Get Up!” as well as cranking up the volume for an intense take on Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman.”