VR: The Future Of Clubbing?

What do you usually do when you arrive at a gig? Grab yourself a drink? Check out the merch? Prop yourself up on the barrier? Applaud half-heartedly through the local support act?

It won’t come as a surprise to his fans and admirers that the typically restless Scratcha DVA has something entirely different in mind to precede his brand new live show at The Pickle Factory on November 17th, in support of his evocative and cerebral new album released on Hyperdub under his DVA [Hi:Emotions] moniker, NOTU_URONLINEU. Prior to DVA’s performance, which promises to be an intense experience in itself, attendees will don a pair of VR goggles in order to be thrust into a powerful digital realm courtesy of cult artist, øøøø, otherwise known as Matteo Zamagni.

‘Nature Abstraction’ first premiered at London’s Barbican in September 2015, and having toured on an international scale, the presentation recently won the ‘Mixed Reality’ award at the prestigious Lumen awards. Shifting between three unique landscapes - Birth, Communion and Aether - it’s an all encompassing but meditative journey, one that ‘explores the arcane forms of fractals, mathematical visual representation of natural and biological forms.’ In short, it’s a real trip, but one which has roots removed from the world of visual arts.

“I worked in a software called ‘Fractal’, generated the shapes in 3D, rendered them out in 3K resolution, and the next process was the Deepdream process”, explains Zamagni. “It’s actually a debug tool Google uses for their networks, but it’s quite interesting, the shapes it comes out with are almost like psychedelics trips. And they’re all computer made. I like the analogy between the man made, the real and the abstract.”

As we approach a festive season in which VR headsets will suddenly become common fare among gamers, Zamagni has been keen to take advantage of a climate in which public interest in the technology could pave the way to offer innovative, provocative talking points. The technology has already begun to permeate into alternative music culture, with Boiler Room having recently announced an upcoming “world’s first VR music venue.” Meanwhile, in a different context entirely, Thorpe Park and Derren Brown have been attempting to terrify visitors with the a VR Ghost Train, and few will forget Black Mirror's recent, lingering vision of VR turned all too real.

“VR technology is becoming mainstream, but it's just one technology alongside many others”, stresses Zamagni. “So, augmented reality, or immersive simulation will be another one. All these technologies will immerse us in whatever environments humans create. So for what purpose is it built? Are you trying to make someone aware of something? Or are you trying to entertain a group of people? In this case, that would be the mainstream output of these new immersive technologies. On one side, it’s a bit scary, but as people evolve, I’m sure the awareness of such technologies will raise together with it. And hopefully people will be using it in the right way, for education, exploration and creativity.”

Reflecting Scratcha’s contemplative new record, Zamagni’s approach to tech is nuanced but altogether positive, adding in regard to his personal relationship with innovation, that “there’s never a completely good or bad side.”

“A lot of importance goes to how you use these tools you have around” he stress. “And they’ve been used by corporations, for profit, and for capitalistic outcomes, let’s say. But as an artist, I feel like exploring this is a way to make artwork more immersive. They’re dragged to it, and they can play with it, make it feel a bit more personal and not exclusive.”

For Scratcha himself, who will follow with a bracing live show accompanied by visuals from video mapping experimental artist, Filip Roca, the performance makes cohesive sense in regards to NOTU_URONLINEU’s open minded exploration of contemporary, digital identity.

“The album project is about showing the difference between you and your online self, but later down the line, there's gonna be no difference”, elaborates DVA. “Everything's going to be online. You're going to be online. I also feel the same about reality, virtual reality and mixed reality. It's just going to end up there. So for people to experience virtual reality before I play my shows is exactly what I want.”

Reflecting on the development of the record, predominantly recorded isolated in a very dark room, DVA is similarly keen to stress that he has not painted a dystopian portrait of tech gone awry, but rather a darkly tinted reflection simply of who we are, and where we’re at.

“I'm hearing that the album’s about the confusion and anger of being online everyday, but it's not that”, DVA clarifies. “I'm all for it you know? When I was a kid and I wanted to be on some radio show, I'd have to make a tape and then go to Bow, or whatever the station was, then I'd drop it in the record shop. Whereas now you can have it in the next five minutes. I'm definitely for this shit, I'm not angry about it at all.”

Music aside, the boyhood addiction to the likes of the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World, now quaint in its reverence of the ‘compact disc’ and ‘touch screen’, stirred a curiosity in Scratcha’s that’s been retained, charm intact, to the present day.

“VR, the more it develops, the more it will become like, mixed reality”, explains DVA. “At the end of the day, I'm for augmented reality. It might not really be there, but I guess if you can touch it, see it and smell it, then it's there, innit? And that's moving forward.”

Any electronic music fan who has charted DVA’s respectably fluid trip this past decade through the realms of grime, garage, UK funky and ambient (remember, this is a producer who once dropped 50 free tracks as if he was just changing his Twitter bio), won’t be surprised that both the record and live show refuse to offer easy answers. Nonetheless, expect a timely and uncompromising evening of electronic music.

  • John Thorp, @mrjohnloveless