The Lore of Headless Chaos: Interview with Matthew Chaim

The origins of Chaos—web3’s first headless band.

When one songwriter’s desire to rescue writing camp demos from the hard drive graveyard collided with the capabilities of web3, a powerful and inexhaustible force was set in motion: Chaos. 77 artists, one headless band harnessing the chaotic energy set forth by large-scale, multi-layered decentralized creative collaboration. 45 songs, 21,000 NFTs, and a blueprint for the future. This is the lore of the headless band known as Chaos.

First came Songcamp, “a web3 laboratory experimenting at the edges of music and the new internet,” started via Discord in March of 2021 by Canadian songwriter, artist, and community leader Matthew Chaim. Matthew’s musical journey begins with “Mondays in the Bishi,” a Youtube series where he and his high school friend mixed music and comedy in his Mitsubishi–“a proto carpool karaoke,” he says. Going on to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter with his 2019 debut album The Mathematics of Nature, Matthew points to a pivotal experience at a songwriting camp in Nicaragua in 2017 that planted early seeds for Songcamp. “Over a five day period, we created five songs with five different producers and groups of other writers in the room and saw what was possible when you bring a bunch of creatives together,” says Matthew. “That kind of shattered the ceiling of my own creativity, and also my network within music.” Unfortunately, the camp also gave Matthew first-hand experience with an all-too common reality: the majority of the music from the camp was bottlenecked or worse, shelved for good. “Five years later, only two of the songs have been commercially released, and I thought that was a shame that this beautifully creative, explosive moment was not just released into the world,” says Matthew. “So that kind of nested in the back of my brain until I fell down the web3 rabbit hole in 2020.” Energized by his discovery of music NFTs “and their ability to empower the artist to explore new means of valuing and distributing their work,” Matthew started the Songcamp Discord on a whim hoping to connect with like-minded artists interested in exploring how to utilize the new internet in music. “We started running experiments that took the shape of a songwriting camp like the one I went on five years prior. Instead of ending when the music gets done and then clogged in our hard drives never to see the light of day, we attached a distribution camp to the songwriting camp such that it would all happen in one fell swoop. That’s how things started about a year and a half ago, and that’s what we’ve been doing since,” he says.

Songcamp has since run three camps–Camp Genesis (13 participants), Camp Elektra (42 participants), and Camp Chaos (77 participants)–cohort projects that merged a songwriting camp with a web3 hackathon. Each project spurred the next, eventually incubating Chaos–the headless band.

The concept of a headless brand was first introduced in 2019 by Other Internet as “community-driven brand dynamics of projects which have no centralized managerial body.” And as Twitter lore attests, NOISE member Mat Dryhurst pointed out the “early embers” of this infrastructure being explored by Songcamp in this tweet from April 2021. By the following April, the headless band was born.

Inspired by the Greek Goddess of Chaos named Eris, who is also known as the Goddess Of Discord, Songcamp embarked on a mission to “Become Chaos herself.” In Chaos’ inaugural Mirror post Songcamp announced, “Instead of fighting the chaos, in this camp we are becoming chaos. Instead of valuing ourselves as individuals, in this camp we are valuing ourselves as one whole. In Camp 3, we will become one headless band called Chaos.”

And so it began. A union of human capability and blockchain technology set in motion to challenge and empower artists and unleash collective creativity into the world. “And what a chaotic experience it is—to learn to organize and create value together in these higher fidelity modes that web3 so uniquely allows,” the headless band writes in their Mirror announcement in March 2022.

Co-creating the world of Chaos.

Organized under six execution teams–music, visual, development, economics, operations and lore–Chaos set out to make and distribute 45 songs during an eight week camp. “We refer to everyone within the network as an artist related to their craft, their medium,” says Matthew. “Of those 77 people we have 45 musicians, visual artists, a team of engineers, we have a team that is building Chaos Radio, which is our podcast telling the story of the camp, and then we have all the operation side making sure the camp moves forward, everything gets done, and then also the release and marketing and storytelling of the project. Everything under the sun that we did for Chaos lives within that network of 77.”

During the camp, the 45 musicians were divided into 15 bands of three and given two weeks to create a song from start to finish, collaborating remotely from all corners of the world. With the goal of creating architecture to execute online workflow while cultivating a healthy ecosystem where the beauty and messiness of their humanness could thrive–Chaos conceptualized the idea of Immersive Digital Theatre, the artform of the process. “We see Immersive Digital Theatre as the native artform that these nascent technologies make available to us. Web3 gives us a digital theatre—and we intend to use that stage, and co-create all manner of inspired stories,” stated on Mirror.

Each completed song was given an act and scene in the digital theatre delineating where and by whom it was created (acts noting the time period, while scenes note the band grouping). The play then took place in four acts: Act 1 “Order,” Act 2 “Disorder,” Act 3 “Entropy,” and Act 4 “Rebirth.” At the end of each act, the bands were shuffled into new bands of three. Of the 15 bands, three were called Alchemy teams. “What would be Scene 13, 14, and 15 are actually Alchemy 1, Alchemy 2, and Alchemy 3,” Matthew explains. “The alchemist bands were specially curated–mainly Songcamp alumni and people who have been in our community for a long time. Instead of just creating any sort of song without any prompt of inspiration like the other bands, they would dig into the folders of the other bands and create pseudo remixes of music that was being created by the other bands. They were almost playing alchemy within this chaos. It was our way of bringing more chaotic energy to this Songcamp where 12 bands were creating in a more normal way and then three bands were creating songs of the songs, bringing us closer to being one band of chaotic energy.” Ultimately, creating this way proved liberating. “We are a headless band and that has proved freeing for artists. They feel like they don't have to create within the confines of the brand that they have as an artist, let's say in DSP land or what have you, but really get to stretch into new modes, and create within all these different aesthetics and with different people under the brand Chaos.”

Experimenting with form: gamification, Chaos packs, supercharged NFTs, and the Chaos festival.

When the 45 songs were completed, the band conceptualized the collection and drop mechanisms. “We could have just done 45 1/1 NFTs but we wanted to involve a bigger audience and have more people engage with this project, so we decided to create a bigger collection,” says Matthew. “We did that through the means of the visual art pulling inspo from CryptoPunks. The background of the cover art, the font, the Chaos logo, the paint color … we used those as our traits and that allowed us to create a huge collection of 20,000 NFTs with the 45 songs. These songs were pressed into multiple editions, some are more common, some are more rare, songs could be anywhere from 50 editions to like 700 within that wider collection of NFTs.” Rather than sell those 20,000 NFTs individually, Chaos then decided to wrap the NFTs in packs of four–an idea brought forward by Songcamp member Will Juergens. “We ended up falling in love with that idea because of how big this project is. There’s so much music, so much visual art … it’s hard to take the whole project in,” says Matthew.

Their ideation theory went a little something like this: “What if you could create a more intimate experience for collectors where they mint a pack of four songs and can open their pack to discover the songs much like buying a pack of Pokémon cards. It’s almost like they’re each getting their own personal EP of this wider project: four of the 45 songs plus completely unique cover artwork for all four of your NFTs. Maybe then you have a deeper relationship with those four songs?” Matthew recounts.

The concept of minting the NFTs in packs proliferated a subsequent idea to gamify both the digital theatre concept and the pack opening mechanism to further engage the audience with the goal of collecting a “full set.” “We created something called the Chaos library on the website, which is kind of like your inventory. You want to fill in all the blocks such that you collect all the songs. Some are rarer than others, so people, including NOISE DAO, have been kind of playing that game. No one has a full set yet, but some people are getting super close,” says Matthew.

The Chaos collection creates an immersive experience where the audience can engage how they like–in a sense, acting out their own role in the play. Mint a pack. Open the pack and burn the pack NFT to access the four songs. Mint a pack and leave it closed. Try to collect the set. Or collect with the goal of finding the three hidden songs–the only 1 of 1s in the collection. Choose your adventure.

Regardless the route, all mechanisms boast their own allure. And as a unified and synergistic entity–the Chaos collection is quite remarkable. A novel feat presenting endless avenues of intrigue and audience discovery, Chaos succeeds with flying colors in its scope, creativity, quality, and artistic fervor. The music, artwork and brand is rich, layered and intoxicating in both its experimental and experiential experience.

To celebrate and promote the drop, Chaos hosted the Chaos Festival on June 03 deploying the Chaos site and all 5,000 pack contracts live. Within minutes, 1500 packs minted. Since then they’ve sold 2180 of the 5000 packs, generating 436 ETH from primary pack sales so far. Though still malleable as they experiment in new terrain–the current infrastructure allots 80 percent of primary sales to the 77 artists and 20 percent to the Songcamp treasury. Of the 20 percent, a portion will be invested in future camps while a portion has been put into a Chaos-specific common pool. “It isn't a perfect system as any sort of radical financial system might not be that we are learning from,” says Matthew as Chaos continues to workshop their financial model.

For secondary sales, Chaos used liquid splits creating an additional 1,000 supercharged NFTs, allotted to band members based on points they were given throughout camp. “Supercharged NFTs, we can think of them as master rights on-chain. They’re actually NFTs within the collection, and they have an automatic claim on the secondary royalty splits from sales from the packs or on the songs on secondary,” says Matthew.  “At base it’s like the way I have the right to the royalties that Spotify sends me for my song. It’s the same as that, except it exists as a NFT itself; and therefore, I have more liquidity around it. I can trade it easily, and I can sort of value my future earnings in a more interesting way.” Before camp started every member received 0.3 ETH as UBI (Universal Basic Income) to compensate their time and provide gas money to claim their split at the end of camp. Splits were then determined using Coordinape to create a value flow system that allowed members to self select and give each other points throughout the camp.

Though camp is over and the collection complete, Chaos forges ahead towards its next endeavors and growth as any band might. Having recently announced their debut live performance taking place in Los Angeles on December 10, their new gallery on Superrare, and murmurs of a merch collection to come–Chaos is on the move. The band may even venture to DSPs–a route they’re still exploring.

The story evolves.

Chaos and Songcamp plan to “open the model up to other communities to run their own camps, creating a soft protocol with a lot of human layers,” says Matthew. And having already spurred a mini camp CC0 labs–an emerging project in the Songcamp ecosystem where a group from Chaos came together to make an open source mixtape–Chaos proves quite capable of creating a launch pad for others. “CC0 labs speaks to the creative energy birthed from Chaos, and the trust built to embark together on radical experiments,” says Matthew.

As its lore continues to unfold, the rule of the universe remains–Chaos’ force will shatter the ceilings.


By Wallace Morgan for “High Frequency,” NOISE’s weekly newsletter. Subscribe for more.

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