On a recent Friday, thousands of partygoers gathered on the rooftop of a popular Brooklyn club to hear a performance by Alice Glass, the former front woman of the Canadian electronic band Crystal Castles.
The diverse group wore dark green camouflage, electric blue jumpsuits and pink hair, while they moshed with abandon before the multitiered stage.
This dance party did not violate New York’s social distancing rules. It was a virtual concert that took place on Minecraft, the sandbox video game in which players create Lego-like worlds — in this case a reimagining of Elsewhere, an indie-music club in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn.
The Minecraft club, which is called Elsewither, was a collaboration among Elsewhere; Open Pit, an engineering group that specialize in virtual events; and Heav3n, a roving L.G.B.T.Q. party based in Los Angeles.
“Gaming is about 10 years ahead of live music in terms of an interactive online experience,” said Jake Rosenthal, 32, a founder of Elsewhere. “Buying a ticket and a virtual ticket might be part of the new paradigm of being a music venue.”
“When Elsewhere reopens, it’s going to be at some kind of limited capacity,” he said. “It’s a way to bring experimentation back to what we do.”
About 2,400 Minecraft users visited Elsewither between 6 p.m. and midnight on May 8 to hear performances by Pussy Riot, the punk political band from Russia; Rina Sawayama, a Japanese R&B pop singer; Pabllo Vittar, a Brazilian drag queen; and 18 others. The audio was also streamed to more than 30,000 listeners over the gaming platform Twitch.
At a time when Zoom party fatigue is real and the initial excitement of being able to see your favorite D.J.s spin from the comfort of your living room has worn off, video games have emerged as another means of hosting a party during the coronavirus shutdown.
In late April, 100 Gecs, the electronic pop absurdist duo, hosted a virtual concert called #Square Garden on Minecraft featuring Charli XCX, Cashmere Cat, Benny Blanco and Kero Kero Bonito. And Travis Scott held a live concert on the video game Fortnite on April 23 and 25, reaching more than 12.3 million players. (The next Elsewither is scheduled for June 6.)
Admission to Elsewither was free, but a $5 donation on Groundswell offered access to a V.I.P. room and to the artists’ conversations on Discord. After every set, the M.C. would command the audience to type slogans like “Down with Capitalism” and “Queer Rights,” and the chat stream would explode with a repeating chorus of all-capitalized phrases.
While thousands logged on, only 20 to 30 avatars seemed to be in the hall at a given time. This was, in part, by design. An earlier attempt at a Minecraft music festival called Block by Blockwest crashed when too many tried to join. (It was successfully rescheduled for May 16 and attracted 5,000 users.)
At Elsewither, no more than 100 people were allowed into any one server at a time, a setup much like having a bouncer at the door. “Technically, it was the smoothest event so far,” said Umru Rothenberg, a graphic designer with Open Pit. “We’ve ironed a lot of issues out.”
For the musical artists, video game concerts lets them reach a wider audience, free of physical constraints. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of Pussy Riot, who does not normally play Minecraft, said she appreciated the party’s emphasis on an anticapitalist, pro-L.G.B.T.Q. agenda.
“For queer kids in Russia, seeing a Russian band performing in this amazing online queer community is encouraging because they feel like they are represented somehow,” she said. “I think if I was able to log onto Minecraft and see a concert with this lineup, it would probably have changed my life in a lot of ways.”