It’s not outrageous to say that electronic music has always been at the technological forefront of the music industry. From the first electronic keyboard made in 1759 France, to Pioneer DJ’s never-ending cascade of DJ equipment, electronic music has always found itself on the cutting edge.
But what’s the next step? The answer probably lies somewhere within virtual reality. Though today’s offerings may feel underdeveloped at times, individuals everywhere are embracing this technological evolution more and more. VR’s growing pains aside, here’s a list of ways that the electronic music industry has crossed over into virtual reality.
1. Marshmello’s Fortnite Event
In early 2019, DJ superstar Marshmello made history with the world’s first ever Fortnite virtual concert. Playing for only ten minutes, Marshmello’s online appearance garnered 10.7 million players (excluding third-party streaming like Twitch). This mind-blowing number is not only the most concurrent players Fornite has ever seen, but it smashes Rod Stewart’s previous record of 3.5 million attendees for largest concert in history.
2. Minecraft Music Festivals
Long before Fortnite was the industry juggernaut it is today, Minecraft ruled the hearts of gamers everywhere. And just like Fortnite, Minecraft itself has had its own crossover with the EDM sphere - several, in fact. Presently, Minecraft’s servers have seen Open Pit’s Coalchella, Fire Festival, and Minegala, as well as Chandler Riggs’ Pixel Festival. Artists who have played at these virtual events include big names like What So Not, Flosstradamus, STS9, Virtual Riot, and Droeloe.
3. Wave VR Platform
Wave is one of several companies behind the burgeoning virtual reality music industry, and one of their large focuses is EDM. Using Steam or Oculus, Wave brings both curated experiences and live events to those with a VR headset. They have partnered with artists like The Glitch Mob, TOKiMONSTA, and Imogen Heap to create fully immersive virtual music environments, while also creating VR live events with performers like Rezz, Kill The Noise and Jauz. Their most recent event was the live virtual concert for Church of Galantis.
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4. “absolut deadmau5” VR game
In 2016, deadmau5 (real name Joel Zimmerman) partnered with Absolut to create Absolute deadmau5, a Google Cardboard VR video game. Playing as the ever-acerbic Canadian DJ, fans start the game in deadmau5' recording studio before being tasked with getting to a venue across the virtual town to play a mysterious set. Those who accomplished the goal were rewarded with the exclusive premiere of “Saved.” The small game was created in just six weeks with Zimmerman fully involved in its development cycle.
5. Ableton in virtual reality
Ableton is without a doubt the premier music sequencer software for the modern DJ, and being that it's virtually the embodiment of the cutting edge of sound, developers have created tools to interface with the software directly in VR. In 2015, developer Mystfit released Pensato, and in 2017 AliveIn Tech released AliveInVR. Both software act as virtual MIDI controllers for Ableton.
6. Grand Theft Auto Virtual Clubs
Grand Theft Auto, one of the most successful gaming franchises of all time, is certainly no stranger to virtual music. Tracing its ancestry back, it’s no surprise to learn that many of Rockstar Games’ top execs worked for Sony Music. After all, one of GTA’s hallmark features is the plethora of virtual radio stations to listen to on the drive from heist to heist.
In 2018, Rockstar teamed up with Solomun, Dixon, Tale of Us, and The Black Madonna to create the After Hours update for Grand Theft Auto V Online. Using motion-capture technology, Rockstar recorded the DJs and hired ravers doing their thing, then reproduced them in-game. Players who own nightclubs can hire these DJs to perform for up to 29 other players. Speaking to the effects of being featured in the game, The Black Madonna (real name Marea Stamper) has expressed surprise, saying, “I [knew] that it would change things but I wasn’t prepared for how much […] the fans for this have been by far the best.”
Brian Baker is a writer, photographer, and designer based out of St. Louis. You can find his portfolio here.