What do you do when a virus forces you to cancel your silent disco event, but you still want to offer some kind of party for people who need spirits lifted? If you're the Whomp Truck crew, you host a Zoom party for the masses.
"We're a really tight-knit crowd, and a fair handful of us are immunocompromised or chronically ill, so it mattered a lot to everyone that we take any sort of quarantine seriously, but we also knew that we'd all get lonely fast," explains attendee Nici Brown.
"The music was dope; Whomp Truck has so much talent," she adds. "We were able to watch each other dance, chat with others virtually, smile and laugh at each other — all from the comfort and safety of our homes. Sick beats but no sick people, and those guys really threw down. It was a modern solution for an age-old problem, and it definitely lifted everyone's spirits!"
How did this all come about? Westword asked.
How did this idea first manifest?
Fonzie: You said “manifest.” Drink!
Citrus: You've just unlocked the "Manifest" drinking game! Every time someone says "manifest," you must drink.
I dare you to try this at a festival. Arise and Sonic Bloom equals Extreme Mode.
Just Ben: After seeing many events being canceled, we felt people needed a way to stay connected and have fun while being responsible with the current health crisis.
Citrus: It was also partially prompted by the cancellation of the DJ Crew Battle that me and Fonzie were supposed to participate in at Irishfest on March 13. We're looking forward to a possible reschedule down the road, but obviously, that is the last thing on a lot of our minds right now...
When did you decide to actually do it?
Asymptotic: The whole thing was kind of done on a whim. The idea was floated, kind of as a joke, and just took off from there, and it was all planned and coordinated within hours the day before.
That's typically how Whomp Truck has always done things. We start with just a funny joke, or a "would be cool if we did this" and usually we just latch onto it if it's an idea we all like, and we put our collective efforts together to just make it happen.
This was no different. We had the tools, the technical acumen, and the desire.
Just Ben: FRIDAY THE 13TH OOOOH SPOOKY.
What equipment or tools did you use to set everything up?
Asymptotic: Basic webcams, video-conferencing software that was certainly not intended for what we used it for, and our usual equipment at our respective houses. And we just sent the audio and video off to the space tubes.
Fonzie: Took some finagling to get the audio quality up to snuff, but it wasn’t terribly difficult altogether.
Who deejayed? Did you talk at all about how you wanted the music/sets to progress, or were you more winging it?
Fonzie: Just Ben, Citrus, Asymptotic played, and I was supposed to play but unfortunately couldn’t make it. Luckily, Noah Deep was able to fill in. Our guys all jibe really well together musically and are incredibly talented, so we never really have to overthink the sets or lineup.
Asymptotic: We've been doing this for so long that we naturally just fall into a kind of flow with our sets. So largely, just winging it...but like any successful foray into "winging it," it was built upon years and years of experience and familiarity.
What kind of logistical extras did you have to consider with this format of event?
Just Ben: Mostly it just came down to stream quality and managing bandwidth. We did ask everyone to mute and use the chat, which wasn't a problem at all. The only tricky bit really came down to streaming technology, which we'll continue to refine to provide the best experience possible.
Asymptotic: We also had to turn off a lot of camera feeds while our Pagosa Springs resident (that would be Just Ben) was playing so as not to crush his slow mountain Internet.
About halfway through the night, we started using a feature in the software that allowed us to spotlight certain people's webcams if they chose to broadcast. Spotlighting put that video feed as the center focus for everyone attending. This is what really made the whole night come together and feel like a social experience.
People started performing for the camera, hoping to get the spotlight. We had some wholesome moments with people playing with their pets...
Citrus: And a menagerie of Japanese plushie toys, haha!
Asymptotic: ...and some not so wholesome...
Citrus: ...but highly entertaining...
Asymptotic: ...moments featuring someone's in-house personal stripper pole. We had some short burlesque performances, a puppet show, cooking lessons, professional event-quality laser shows, dance-offs, costume contests, jugglers, hoopers and much more.
Citrus: Yeah, it really kind of spontaneously morphed into this insane, crowdsourced variety show, featuring both old, familiar faces and some awesome strangers who caught wind of the event. It was one of the most memorable "event" experiences I've ever had the pleasure to host or participate in.
How was it different from playing a live event or a radio show?
Asymptotic: This was fundamentally different than most sets I've played. I was less concerned with building or keeping a dance floor, and unlike a radio broadcast, there was still an element of "live" to it from my perspective.
I got to get a little more experimental and play some music I don't normally play without fear of scaring off the dance floor, but I also didn't feel comfortable just taking it where I wanted the music to go, like a radio show. It was an odd middle ground and, honestly, was one of the more gratifying experiences I've had in my fifteen-plus years of playing music for people.
Just Ben: It was fairly similar to a live gig, honestly. But replace PA/electrical challenges with Internet.
Citrus: Musically speaking, it didn't really change much in the way I programmed my set, but it was interesting trying to cobble together all the right equipment from years of accumulated gear, some of which has been sitting in my studio gathering dust for a while — my old MacBook that I ditched for a Lenovo, my old Apogee Duet sound card, various cables and adapters.
It was also a challenge to get everything to fit on my desk so I could type and chat with people, interact with the camera, and still have my controller in front of me to play.
In the end, it worked out pretty damn well. People got to watch what I was doing with my controller while playing, which was a new and fun experience for me.
What kind of response have you received from people who attended?
Fonzie: The response seems really positive so far! People are definitely looking for a social outlet while under quarantine.
Just Ben: Very positive — people seemed to be having a ton of fun.
Citrus: Everyone loved it. We've gotten tons of support from people — not just Facebook and Instagram posts, but even emails and private messages. We've also had several other people and crews reach out to us to see if we could help them figure out how to host a similar event themselves, and we've been happy to oblige with tips and advice.
Will you do another one of these? If so, how can people join?
Citrus: Yes! Planning is already under way for another streaming event on Saturday, March 28. People should put a reminder on their calendars for that date and follow our social-media accounts to stay up with the latest news:
Is there anything else you think Westword readers/musicians/DJs/the world in general should know?
Citrus: Yes, a couple things:
We have a festival planned this summer that we are co-hosting with Just Dream, Mother Earth Sound System and Rocky Mountain Resonance. The festival is called Circuitree Festival, and this will be the second installment — it was branded as Full Moon Festival last year. The lineup and production level — lights, decor, art installations, sound quantity and quality, stage design, etc. — will be absolutely top-notch, like something you would expect to see at a world-class festival ten times the size, but in an intimate and gorgeous northern Colorado setting.
Right now Circuitree Festival is slated for July 17 through 20. We are, of course, deeply concerned with the current situation regarding COVID-19, so we will be keeping a close eye on things leading up to the event. Our number-one priority will be preserving the health and safety of our guests, so whether we move forward will depend on recommendations and guidelines for events at that time. As the event is still four months away, we are hoping for the best. You can keep an eye out here:
We want to bring this back around to why we hosted this event in the first place, and what — or more specifically, who — made it possible.
This was for, and by, the community. We have been blessed to get to befriend some of the most generous, creative, kind and beautiful people in the world, and that is through our extended artistic communities in which we are deeply rooted — painters, graphic designers, graffiti artists, muralists, VJs, laser technicians, burlesque and pole performers, writers, poets, photographers, dancers, models, musicians, fashion designers, stylists, DJs, singers, fabricators, sound engineers, venue owners...the list goes on.
We provided a platform, but they really made the show. The world would be a boring fucking place without these people, and right now a lot of them are suffering, facing layoffs or furloughs with no notice — and no relief. The arts and music scene is in total shutdown. Even if art and performance is not their primary income, a lot of them depend on side gigs in the service industry, and as we know, that is also completely frozen at the moment.
We need more people asking not what they can hoard, but what they can give. Please: If you have the means, make it a point to support these people. Buy their art and crafts, offer work, offer tips, offer groceries, whatever you can give.
I also want to take a moment to recognize the people on the front lines: the first responders, EMTs, firefighters, nurses, doctors, caregivers, and all the clinical support staff. My mom has been a nurse for over thirty years. I have many friends currently in nursing.
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As scary as this is for us all, it would be a whole hell of a lot scarier without people like them looking after us. If you know one of these people, perhaps you can appreciate firsthand the sacrifices that they make to take care of us — the long hours, odd hours, the moods and burnout, the empathy drain. Beyond the physical danger they put themselves in every day caring for the sick and injured, there is also a tremendous toll on their mental health. They bear a heavy burden right now, and it's going to get much worse before it gets any better. Thank them. Support them. Let them know they are seen and appreciated. They are carrying a torch for us.
Take care of each other.
Event organizer's note: One of our crew members who played, Noah Deep, provides support services to teachers, medical students and doctors at a Denver-area medical campus, and his wife is a nurse at a Denver-area hospital — they are both dealing directly with the fallout of COVID-19, and thus he was too busy to contribute any commentary.