We hear a lot about virtual concerts, with artists and bands performing using various tools (Twitch, Instagram, YouTube, and so on). These tools were (at least) tangentially created for these uses. Twitch is perhaps the most appropriated, initially intended as a video gaming platform, and now hosting all manner of live experiences.
Zoom is now being led far astray from its original purpose. It’s a business conferencing platform transformed into an engine for the likes of happy hour meet-ups, birthday celebrations, and family check-ins. Despite its immediate growing pains and merited controversies, Zoom is leading the isolation zeitgeist, inspiring memes, and brilliant #stayathome music videos:
Bands are successfully adapting their performances and experiences to the livestreaming space, but what about the nightclubs? That leads to another unexpected role for the Zoom platform: the virtual VIP club. As this article in Bloomberg reveals, “Just as a choose-your-own-adventure book hacks the static nature of a novel, these parties are hacking corporate technology for new purposes.” Here’s more:
In some senses, if you’ve been to one Zoom club, you’ve been to them all. The platform’s layout is always the same: A featured musician performs a set underneath a carousel of small windows with voyeuristic views into people dancing or lounging in their homes. Channeling the true spirit of nightlife, it’s up to the crowd to create the party’s vibe via active participation—turning down the lights, throwing on a costume, talking to each other in the group chat. These social interactions can feel new and awkward, but we’re hungry for it.
These ‘clubs’ are more elaborate than you might think. Zoom’s technology allows for multiple rooms, including ‘secret’ rooms that require a password. Each room can have a theme, or a DJ, or a dress code. There are sponsors — according to the article, Red Bull and Paper Magazine are in on the act — as well as bouncers and mingling celebrities. And ideas for monetization are materializing.
The biggest Zoom nightclubs — and some of them are quite big — were dreamed up by desperate promoters no longer able to throw parties in the meatspace. And, as happens with these things, finding ways around one set of limitations reveals new possibilities. As one promoter says in the piece, “We now have access to people who can’t attend clubs because they have children, social anxiety, disabilities, or live in places that don’t have clubs.”
The requirement is that we all agree a space — virtual or otherwise — is a nightclub. This idea reminds me of the time I was invited to an exclusive day time event on the beach in Miami. When I arrived, I found an impromptu nightclub, created by a large circle of folding chairs connected with rope. Inside the circle, there were about 50 people, a bunch of coolers serving as the bar, and a DJ priming the sandy dance floor. There was a cover charge — though you could hear the music just as well outside of the ring of chairs, you weren’t inside the circle (literally and metaphorically), so, incredibly, people were paying for the privilege. I knew the promoter and he motioned me in, like lifting some invisible velvet rope. I followed him into the ‘club’ and discovered there was an additional half-circle at the far end of the circle of chairs — a lip in the larger ring that served as the VIP room. Remember — this was all happening on an open public beach, an exclusive nightclub invented by some rope, a lot of folding chairs, and the participants agreeing on the idea.
It seems these spaces for creating community alongside a sense of exclusivity can exist anywhere. I admit, my first thought was a dismissive one upon hearing about the Zoom nightclubs, which is why I thought about Miami Beach. But now I see these virtual clubs as an inventive way for some promoters to adapt to the Strange Times and for stuck-at-home party people to recapture the clubbing experience. As with a lot of the recently concocted ad hoc solutions for maintaining a hint of normalcy, the concept will likely outlast COVID-19 and spawn new platforms. I’ll see you on the dance floor.
Update: I expanded on this post in the latest issue of my weekly newsletter. Check it out here.