Exploring the VR Music Landscape

**Note: this is a piece I originally published for acidVR's blog, available here**

It’s only been a little over a year since Facebook and YouTube started supporting 360-degree videos, but that’s enough to have caused one of the most dramatic and exciting shifts of music video creation and consumption in recent history. And with VR devices like Google Cardboard,Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift entering more and more households, music videos in this new format are becoming rich immersive experiences that can completely transform a music fan’s emotional connection to an artist or song.

Rather than music videos serving as passive experiences for viewers, this new technology puts the fan in the center of the action. Still, it’s a relatively unexplored landscape in the grand scheme of music videos available online.

If you do a simple YouTube search for “music video”, with the 360-degree filter selected, there are only around 31,000 results (as opposed to 292 million results without that filter). The most-viewed VR music video is Avicii’s “Waiting For Love”, with nearly 17.5 million views — a seemingly impressive number until you compare it to the most-viewed music video of all-time, PSY’s “Gangnam Style”, which boasts over 2.6 billion views.

                                                    “Oppa Gangnam Style!”

                                                 “Oppa Gangnam Style!”

While VR music videos haven’t quite hit the tipping point of mainstream status just yet, here are 5 examples of early-adopter musicians and music video directors who are setting the bar high for creative and engaging experiences.

1. The Donnies The Amys “Runaround” (2016)

Created by Spectacular Theory, what’s unique about this music video for Echo Park indie pop group The Donnies The Amys is that it takes us through an apartment party in just one single shot (as opposed to having multiple cuts). As you explore, you can see different band members playing behind various doors, ultimately ending in the main room where partygoers are dancing and tossing inflatable balls.

2. Björk “Stonemilker” (2015)

It’s not surprising that the trailblazing Icelandic artist is one of the first few to embrace this medium. The video, her first foray into VR, is actually relatively simple. It features Björk on a stunning and completely empty beach in Iceland (Grótta, where she wrote the song with a 30 piece orchestra), singing and gesturing straight to the camera. The viewer has the option to follow her as she runs and twirls around the beach, her canary yellow dress billowing in the breeze, or to look around and take in the breath-taking landscape.

3. D’Cinnamons “Sweet Memories” (2015)

Hailing from Indonesia, D’Cinnamons are an acoustic indie pop group whose 360-degree video for “Sweet Memories” shows that VR can be engaging even without bombastic production values. This video is set inside of a cafe, and allows the viewer to switch between watching the band perform and people-watching. For those who look in unexpected places, there are a few Easter eggs that make the video even more whimsical (example: if you look down at the floor in one particular part of the song, a message appears saying “Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.”)

4. Foals “Mountain At My Gates” (2015)

This is one of the most-viewed 360-degree music videos on YouTube (over 9.3m views), a result of a) killer track + b) high production values. It was shot entirely on a spherical GoPro Hero camera at London’s Alexandra Road Estate, set against a fictional backdrop of an imposing mountain range. As the song climaxes, lighting flashes in the cloudy sky while swarms of black crows fly erratically, ultimately leading to the mountains crumbling away.

5. Hello play! presents “The Future of Music” (2016)

While not technically a music video in the traditional sense (though it does feature the song “Searching” by Belgian producer Polar Youth), it’s still worth highlighting this music video project as an innovative example of VR. The viewer is immersed in a candy-colored surrealist universe where its laws of physics make about as much sense as its cast of bizarre characters. Depending on where you look, you could be watching a person in a black and white checkered bodysuit sit on a ball until confetti explodes out of it, a man wrapping himself in rolls of toilet paper hanging on the wall, or a woman flying through a vortex of paint.

The Future of VR + Music Videos

“Music and art and culture is escapism, and escapism sometimes is healthy for people to get away from reality.” — Chuck D

Music by its very nature, even without a VR video, has the power to completely whisk us away and evoke every imaginable emotion. As VR technology becomes more advanced, and more accessible to both creators and consumers, music videos will perhaps become one of the most powerful forms of escapism.

Though we’re already seeing some innovative examples of VR and music, it’s exciting to think of what awaits us further down the line of this convergence of music and technology.

Trailer: California’s Cannabis Culture

Yes, I know it's a bit backwards to post the trailer after posting the full-length documentary... [vimeo 13407033]

California’s Cannabis Culture

It's been a couple of months in the making, but my final MA dissertation/final project documentary, "California's Cannabis Culture" is officially done! And it can be viewed here:

[vimeo 13381803]

It's a journey into California's marijuana scene, which could take a pivotal turn in November, when Californians vote on whether or not to legalize marijuana.

Please watch, comment, share, and enjoy!

Interview With Craig Monk: From The Voom Blooms to the Defector's Weld

Two years ago, I interviewed a British band called The Voom Blooms for our music/culture show, "Visionz", on USFtv. I recently caught up with Craig, former guitarist/keyboardist, as part of an interview for my Arts and Entertainment Reporting class, to discuss what he's been up to since the band split up last year. Check out our episode of "Visionz" below, and the interview with Craig! [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yuGpOtIqtHw&hl=en_US&fs=1&color1=0x402061&color2=0x9461ca]

With his tight black shirt, even tighter black trousers, and a shaggy mop of dark brown hair, 27-year old Craig Monk looks ready to strap on his guitar and step out onstage to a mass of adoring fans.

But it’s not the stage of the Royal Albert Hall he’s stepping onto, and there are no swarms of fans screaming his name. It’s the Defector’s Weld pub in Shepherd’s Bush, a pub he’s been managing since his former band, The Voom Blooms, split up nearly one year ago.

It’s a quiet afternoon at the Weld, with just a few people scattered around the heavy wooden tables, enjoying pints of lager and seeking shelter from the drizzly London weather. Mellow jazz music permeates through the air, blending together with the murmurings of deep conversations.

As he sits down with a fresh pint of Guinness in hand, Monk seems relaxed, despite this being his first interview in almost one year. Since 2005, he played guitar and keyboards for The Voom Blooms, a Loughborough-based indie rock band.

But after four years of living the rock star lifestyle, the band decided to split. “We were like a unit, a family, but it got to a point where we had enough and were tired of being poor,” explains Monk. “But I still have great memories from being in the band,” he recalls with a nostalgic grin.

Blooming Blossoms The Voom Blooms started gaining momentum in the summer of 2006, after getting over 12,000 fans on Myspace in just a couple of months. After recording their first single, ‘Politics & Cigarettes’, they spent many late nights adding friends on Myspace. “But that was back when Myspace counted for something,” explains Monk.

Their persistence paid off, though, garnering the attention of BBC Radio 1’s Steve Lamacq, who played their single on his show. A week later, after receiving a phone call from Babyshamble’s manager—who had heard their single on Lamacq’s show—The Voom Blooms went on their first tour and signed a one single deal with Fiction Records, a subsidiary of Universal Music Group.

However, industry politics proved to be difficult for the band. “When our second single ‘Anna’ was released, our former manager decided that we needed a hook in order to get press. He came up with this story about me and George [lead singer] being secretly gay, and missing a gig in London because we were arrested in Paris after getting too drunk. We basically said, ‘Fuck off’, and so we didn’t get a story,” he recalls with a sense of disdain.

“Pressure comes from the top down. The record labels want a certain image, one that will sell. They try to tell you what to do and if you say no, they drop you,” he continues. “It got to a point where it stopped being fun.”

A New Label Eventually the band moved to an independent label, managed by Brandy Provenzano. Under new management, they were received better in the U.S. than they were in the U.K.—even gaining a residency at Hollywood’s infamous Viper Room.

“I think the U.S. is more open to different genres of music, and the people are friendlier,” explains Monk. “I remember playing one gig at Neumo’s [in Seattle], and I didn’t have the right converter for my plug. The bouncer drove all the way to his house to pick one up for me!” he reminisces in amazement.

“You don’t get that in the U.K.” Despite finding success—and friendliness--in the U.S, the combination of exhaustion and outside obligations led to The Voom Bloom’s split (“But we’re all still good friends”).

Although he didn’t pick up a guitar for six months after the band split up, music is still an integral part of Monk’s life. All of his staff members are in bands (“We have seven drummers, and we even have a drum kit in our basement!”), and The Defector’s Weld often hosts after-parties for his friend’s bands. So will he ever get back into playing music?

Finishing off his pint of Guinness, he replies, “Music is like a drug; of course I’d like to get back into it. But if I do, I’d just like to quietly release something, and not have to market it.” You can take away the tour buses, sound checks, and recording sessions, but Monk’s passion for music remains as strong as ever—band or no band.

Passing Clouds documentary

Friends, Family, and other readers of 'The London Scene': you may have noticed that I still haven't posted anything in ages, but there are two very distinct reasons why: 1. Since my laptop broke, I've barely been online. My replacement laptop came in about a week ago, but it's painfully slow, making me avoid computer usage unless absolutely essential. Instead, my nights have consisted of intense "Lost" and "Queer As Folk" marathons. 2. We've been working really hard over the past 6 weeks on our documentary for one of my courses here at Westminster University. Many hours spent filming, scripting, and editing. Far too many. But, it's been worth it because we're finally done!

The documentary is called "Passing Clouds", and it's about an alternative arts club--hidden in a back alley in East London--with the same name. In a nutshell:

"Fed up with present-day commercialism, a group of people from different countries gather to build what they believe is a better way of living. They created a place called Passing Clouds, in London, to introduce a more communal and responsible lifestyle."

And you can watch the documentary here:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wp35ZCoYwMo&hl=en_US&fs=1&color1=0xe1600f&color2=0xfebd01]

In terms of production, there were three of us working on it. I initially found out about this place from a blurb on Time Out. After making contact with the organizers, we filmed over a period of three days.

I did a lot of the camera work, as well as editing (though we all took turns with different tasks, and worked together closely to produce this final version).

This was the first documentary I've worked on since the Nicaragua one ("Mano Por Mano") that I produced for USF in 2008. I forgot how much work goes into such a little amount of time, but I love doing it.

So what are your thoughts on the documentary? Would you visit a place like Passing Clouds? Do you agree with their way of life? Do you think it's better to live a more communal, rather than individually-minded, lifestyle?

Leave comments with your thoughts!