For the foreseeable future, live music is but a post-pandemic pipe dream. Its replacement, the livestream, is an imperfect substitute. The screen forms an impossible barrier between artist and audience, rendering all interactions as flat as the two dimensional display.
Elsewhere, the three-year-old indie nightclub and music venue in Bushwick, wants to change that by making its events truly interactive. The club aspires to redefine and augment the virtual live music experience for audiences in ways that could possibly even outlive the coronavirus. Enter Twitch, the massively popular live-streaming platform, owned by Amazon: Elsewhere’s “Sound Space,” the club’s new monthly virtual experiment, will debut on Jan. 28 on the venue’s Twitch channel.
“The magic of Twitch is that feeling that you can reach into the screen and poke the talent on the screen and they will respond, in one way or another,” says Sound Space’s Technical Director Noah Norman. “Our effort will be to go deeper and deeper and to make that a two-way street.”
Every month starting next Thursday, host Peter Smith will lead audiences through an interactive variety show consisting of comedy, live music, and artist interviews. New York rapper Princess Nokia headlines January’s show. Sound Space’s variety format and intergalactic theme—“the sci-fi misadventures of a music deity marooned in space, and their curious cultural dispatches back to Earth”—is a riff on the technological foibles that have become integral to pandemic life.
Along with the live performances, the audience will have opportunities to interaction—in theory with more than a comment or emoji. Twitch’s open API allows for experimentation, creativity, and play unlike any other streaming services. Elsewhere’s team developed effects and animation through TouchDesigner and Aximmetry especially for the upcoming shows to provide 2- and (somehow) 3-D video effects. The sound design and augmented reality effects will also attempt to push the performance into a more immersive experience.
Twitch’s graphic chat features allow Sound Space attendees to have an active voice, either by sending messages filled with channel-custom emojis or through “bits,” tiny tips for a channel. Other features Elsewhere is working on involve opportunities for voting, guest call-ins, and even ways for the audience to take control of the camera during a stream.
The potential of Twitch excited Elsewhere’s team as virtual communication became de rigueur. Like the rest of the live music industry, Elsewhere shut its physical doors in March. Since then, they’ve been engaging their community remotely. Last May, Elsewhere rebuilt their massive warehouse space in Minecraft and invited thousands of audience avatars to come party in their digital space.
The partnership between Elsewhere and Twitch seems like a win-win; the venue wanted more audience participation in their live shows, and the streaming site has been expanding beyond its gaming niche. Twitch claims to have 26.5 million monthly active daily visitors and 6 million unique creators making original content on the platform.
“With the software that we’re making, and with what Twitch has enabled as a pipe between the viewers and us, just about anything is possible,” said Norman.
And for when the pandemic ends and a newer new normal begins to set back in, complete with live shows, some things may just stick around post-Covid.
“For a small independent business like ours, which is always looking for new things to do, and emerging culture stuff to play with, this is a really fun door to have opened,” said Jake Rosenthal, one of Elsewhere’s founders. “I’m glad, in a way, that we were forced to do it.”
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