Walking into the Peppermint Club in LA on a Wednesday night for Sound Lounge Live, I don’t know what to expect. I’ve spent the past decade following the music and chasing the buzz, and have been to more shows, showcases, and industry events than I can count. But tonight is different. This is my first web3 music event. Months of online interactions and interviews, I’ve yet to be face-to-face with anyone in this room. Countless conversations around the culture of web3 and its community, I’m finally IRL to see for myself. What am I hoping to find? The next wave.
I’ve been looking for it–whether consciously or not–since 2013 when I started my first music blog while studying journalism and music business at the University of Georgia. The movie Almost Famous–set in the early 1970s LA rock scene–was the centerfold of my proverbial vision board anchoring my quest. Heartbroken I’d missed these romanticized golden years of music history, I was determined to find a new pathway to its spirit.
I started by looking in the two places accessible to me at the time: the internet and the local scene. Online I found the residual effect of what would later be known as Bloghouse (documented in Lina Abascal’s book “Never Be Alone Again: How Bloghouse United the Internet and the Dancefloor”). I obsessed over Hype Machine likes, Pitchfork reviews, Youtube videos of Tomorrowland sets and vied for the aux cord at college parties to show my friends my latest bootleg remix discoveries. To sponge up the local scene, I got an unpaid internship at The Georgia Theatre– a venue at the heart of the city’s own music history. Athens, Georgia being the birthplace of R.E.M., the B’52s and PYLON offered no shortage of fuel for my infatuation. I loitered at soundcheck, hung around the green room, and took notes on the crowds coming through each night.
I continued to blog, and wrote for the university magazine, a few indie outlets, and eventually landed a paid internship, and a few bylines, at Rolling Stone Magazine in New York. Home to the city’s 1960s underground heyday underpinned by The Velvet Underground and early 2000s rebirth ushered in by The Strokes (documented in The The Velvet Underground and Meet Me In The Bathroom respectively), I eagerly hit the Lower East Side in hopes I’d find a resurgence worth sinking my teeth into. I started working in the corporate halls of Republic Records, and later ventured out once more to manage indie acts, launching an online publication and throwing parties to promote them. Eventually, I moved to LA and began making and performing my own music. By the time the pandemic arrived, it felt like an insult to injury as far as my quest was concerned. My pilgrimage had been full of adventure, but lacking in sustenance. I started to feel jaded. After taking a break to focus on my own artist development–and to replenish my passion–I returned to an entirely new landscape. And in it, was web3. Now writing HIGH FREQUENCY for NOISE while embarking on my own web3 artist journey having recently sold my first NFT, I find myself here, at Sound Lounge Live. Still in search of the undefinable spirit my soul so desperately wants to believe will never die.
This takes me to Beverly Boulevard, where I’m waiting my turn to be ushered through the red velvet rope. I wonder if I’m underdressed as I walk through the entry hall by coat check, but as I turn the corner I am relieved to see that I’m not. It’s just a nice venue.
The room is packed. The music is loud. And the vibe is palpable. As I approach the bar, a sparkling horseshoe-shape gracing the back half of the lounge, I run into Heno. We’ve only met on Zoom, but I feel myself exhale as we hug. I’m relieved to see a familiar face. He tells me he’s catching a flight to SF later that night but couldn’t miss the event, so swung by before heading to the airport. While I wait for a drink I meet two women who are having a night out, neither are involved in web3, but came out for the music and the party. I venture up towards the stage and run into Cooper Turley, Reo Cragun, and Mija. A piece of paper with Coop Records written in sharpie is on the table. Having interviewed Mija the week prior for an article on So Tuff So Cute, I once again feel a sense of comfort as she offers me a seat.
I sit and watch as The Park, Devin Tracy, and Brandon Banks warm up the stage with impressive performances (with ABJO spinning after each set) before Iman Europe takes the mic. Backed by a 7-piece band, Iman is glowing. The singer-songwriter and Head of Artist Relations at Sound has curated the night while hosting and headlining, and her energy is contagious. Pearls, silver sequins and white feathers drip from her nude jumpsuit as she commands the stage effortlessly. The ease of her stage presence is punctuated by her familial chemistry with her band and her connection to the audience. At one point in the set she leads a call and response chant-singing, “This is web3,” to which the crowd mimics enthusiastically.
A few days later, Iman and I catch up on Zoom after the dust from the party settles. “In addition to being an incredible performance and great entertainment, it gave me, ‘take us to web3 church’ vibes,” I say. “I love that,” she replies. “My intention for the event was to bridge gaps. I wanted to bridge the gap between IRL and URL, bringing people offline and in person–all of these people who talk to each other every day, but never see each other. And to shed light on different music artists, to create and cultivate a space where everyone can commune together. That’s the church vibe that you felt, cause we were just experiencing the human of each other.”
Sponsored by Bonfire, Arpeggi Labs, Coop Records, PTC, Reveel, and Dequency in partnership with Sound, the night encapsulated multiple facets of the web3 community while engaging people outside of web3 at the same time–an intention set by Iman that was successfully realized. “I also wanted to bring the music NFT world to the LA music scene. Because the LA music scene is its own thing. People will come out just because it’s a good show happening, and in coming out to the good show they’ll eventually learn about web3. And my whole purpose is to try to bring more folks to web3. I think what we’re doing here is extremely revolutionary, and it will only grow if we get more folks involved.”
Keeping the focus on the music and the vibe, the bar was open (and flowing) and the live band backdropped the night, playing with every act to create a seamless synergy to the lineup. “I think the live band brings a richness to the music,” says Iman. And I couldn’t agree more.
“Im looking out from the stage, like WOAH this is such a good representation of web3. I'm seeing so many different communities, people with different backgrounds that probably wouldn't be in a room together talking to each other, creating deeper bonds with each other, hugging each other, taking shots together. I'm seeing so many people come together,” says Iman. “I think what I took in is that web3 is a melting pot… In that room I felt like there was a lot of unity in the space and that’s something that I'm super big and bullish on, including everybody. If I can figure out how to get us all in the room and have a good vibe, that’s what I want to do, and I think that’s what we did.”
A refreshingly diverse and artistically vibrant crowd filled the West Hollywood establishment designed to evoke the height of the Hollywood rock scene in the 60s. Infused with notes of gospel, hip hop, and R&B, it was a night to celebrate music NFTs–not so much the NFTs themselves–but rather their ability to build community around a shared pursuit. In the same way that Bloghouse (circa 2006-2012) was less about any one genre but more so the internet culture around it and its brief moment of giving the curatorial power back to the people, web3 seeks to empower the artist and the fans. Carrying these banners, web3 music feels like a cultural inheritor of Bloghouse. Folks like Steve Aoki, glenjamn, Mr Oizo, Jason Stewart, and DJ Skeet Skeet (aka Trevor McFedries) who all played an integral role in Bloghouse have even been foundational, too, in laying groundwork for early web3 culture on the blockchain. In a Wired article adapted from “Never Be Alone Again: How Bloghouse United the Internet and the Dancefloor,” Lina Abascal writes, “For a brief, weird moment in the digital wild west, there were ways for the little guys to sustain themselves off of art on their terms, and for an ecosystem to thrive.”
Iman, like me, found web3 after years of ups and downs in her pursuit of sustaining herself as an artist. “I was giving up last year, I was thinking of pivoting, I was releasing it,” says Iman. “I went to the first NFTNYC. And I met a whole bunch of folks like me that were indie and into music, into art, dressed cool, they’re teaching me things on the spot.” Re-energized by the experience, she minted her first NFT last October and now has 208 collectors on Sound.
“All of the different pit stops that I made on the way to web3 were all important and all of them are helping me,” says Iman. Now, Iman’s using her experience as an independent artist to help co-founder David Greenstein build a platform that is artist-first. “Sound is creating a space for artists to feel and see the value of their art in real time, whether it be the drop parties, everybody in the telegraph supporting you, everybody collecting from you and building community. I think it’s just really beautiful. As an indie artist, it’s what I want and what I strive for.”
The IRL experience at Sound Lounge Live–like the parties that punctuated the Bloghouse LA scene now seemingly passing the baton to web3–captures the spirit of web3. It’s the artists, the collectors, the builders, the excitement to learn and to teach, the music, and the energy. It's 2022, and the power of the internet to birth new cultural movements that crossover IRL continues.
“It was the vibe and the community that came together that really made it the memorable event that it was,” says Iman. “I’m just really proud of the way that it came out. I think that was the best web3 event. Maybe I’m a little bias…”’ Bias or not–it should be time stamped for the canon. Who knows what we’ll all say ten years down the line, but the pursuit to once again carve a space for the people to sustain themselves on their art and their belief in it, is worthwhile. And there’s real buzz to back it.
As we end our conversation, Iman alludes to “Digging for Diamonds,” a widely circulated motivational meme from the mid-2010s. “He was so close to hitting the diamond,” says Iman. “And then he walks away.” Web3 was the diamond she didn’t know she was looking for. She was almost ready to give up on her music, but she kept digging. “I was right there. I want to make music that inspires people to push and keep digging, because you’re right there!”
In looking for the next wave, I stumbled on a real-life community with a fighting spirit. And I think I’ll keep digging too.
By Wallace Morgan for “High Frequency,” NOISE’s weekly newsletter. Subscribe for more.