Digital Club Traveler

      You stand in the back of a small metal room, live electronic beats pound your ears. You scan the sea of anime girls, furries, and god knows what else. To your left is a girl with blue hair and robot limbs chatting it up with a shockingly normal looking man. To your right is a small army of multi colored otters all dancing their tiny hearts out. In front is a busty rat girl, a monochrome cat girl, and a green skinned plant girl, locked in a heated debate about Gundam. All around you is people laughing, dancing, drinking, expressing themselves the best way they know how.

      As I write this I am struggling to find accounts of the vrchat club scene from people who are actually truly a part of it. Sure there's plenty out there from outsiders trying to dissect the scene, or articles written by people masquerading as part of the "in-crowd" as it were. I find these to be frustrating as they aren't from someone who truly "gets it". I mean I guess its a bit haughty for me to stick my nose up and proclaim that *I'M* 'with it' and 'oh-so hip'. But someone who is a part of this should post something somewhere on what this tiny yet unique, loud, and vibrant culture is like.

      But who am I to claim *I* can open a window to this culture. Well I've been deep in this for well over a year and a half, which isn't bad considering the scene has only existed properly for about less than 5. I know and hang with a lot of "popular crowd". I am staff for Shelter, one of the larger clubs. But most of all I understand that none of what I said means a damn thing. Yeah sure it means I've been around, but truthfully in this scene "clout" or "status" or whatever means utterly nothing.

      Sure, being a cool DJ or VJ or club runner will get you noticed. But what really gets you noticed is just showing up. If you show up in an avatar that says something about you, it will be a matter of time before people start noticing you. You don't even have to dance. Just be there, and be YOU. The right group will find you and take you in before long. Next thing you know you aren't just going to these bigger events, but you're being taken to small pop-up events playing really out there music.

      And thats what its about. Its the music and the expression. I've heard everything from your standard untzuntz techno, to jungle, to atonal harsh noise. There is a glut of unique and incredible soundscapes to explore in this scene, you just need to know where to look and have a bit of luck. However sometimes the different finds you. As I write this I just got finished hosting an overflow instance for a Shelter event. Shelter is a popular club that often plays the typical genres you'd expect from an edm club. However, tonight we were graced with an hour of what I can only describe as "harsh electronic high effort shitpost clown music". It was incredible.

      I've been to sets that have truly stuck with me. Ones I'd class as high art. One in particular was a set by my friend HexAlice. It was a set that explored the feelings of loss and dealing with death of a loved one. It was haunting, mesmerizing, and above all; moving. It wasn't just an auditory experience either, a live dancer (SoftlySteph) with full body tracking was recorded and projected onto a huge screen behind the dj booth. A VJ (sadly whose name I cannot find or recall) applied live visual effects to this feed, creating a trippy and kaleidoscopic effect dripping with color and emotion. Mere words do not do it justice, and even if I could provide a recording that wouldn't help either. Being there in vr, fully immersed in this experience, seeing everyone else transfixed along with me, is an experience that mere words can't describe.

      And some events cross the boundary between vr and real life. Several larger clubs host events with portals, cameras with simultaneous live streams that bridge vr and the real world, that let you interact with people in a real life equivalent of the virtual club you stand in. These events feature either live streamed performances, or simultaneous vr/irl performances. Its such a unique and special experience you can't have anywhere else. Getting to see some of your vrfriends through the portal as their fleshy selves is strange though. I can't get used to knowing someone as an anime girl, or furry, or some abstract strange creature, and then having the illusion shattered.

      Thats the thing though, its not just about the music an the events, but the people who inhabit them. Seeing a clubgoer in their custom avatar is so much more *real* that going to an in-person rave and seeing the vestiges of the club-kid movement. Sure in a real venue there are those who dress to express, thats always been an important part of rave culture. However in vr you don't just dress yourself, but you inhabit a whole new body. A body you have found or made that says more about who you are as a person than any garment could.

      Most vr club goers have custom avatars that say so much about themselves. I've seen DJs use their avatar to cover with logos of clubs they've played as if they are trophies. I've seen trans people or otherkin use their avatars to feel closer to who they feel they are. I've seen people just plainly be shamelessly horny and walk around everywhere wearing basically nothing. I've seen someone who is a plant with like leaves and stuff. Regardless of what it is, it all makes a statement, and often a strong one.

      Most avatars make use of audiolink. A system that allows parts of them to pulse and flash to the beat of the music. Some people find ways to get creative with this, creating psychedelic patterns up and down their avatars. Audiolink ensures that the crown becomes part of the audio/visual spectical vr clubs offer, as the crowd itself strobe in sync with the music, much as the visuals and world itself does.

      Now, everywhere in vrchat people are inhabiting avatars, but the club scene has more custom tailor made ones than near anywhere else. In a space where self expression is almost a requirement, you really get to know some intimate details about a person from just a glance. Being unique helps loads in making connections and friends. Having a memorible avatar goes a long way into finding your way into those fleeting spaces away from the "mainstream" clubs. I'm the only fish I know of in the scene, and I guarantee these gills and fins and scales played no small part in getting to where I am.

      So how do you get involved in all this? Well having a decent computer and a vr headset is a big plus, but not a requirment, theres plenty of respected folks in the scene who are desktop flatscreen users. Really the best place to start is the Vrchat Party Hub. They collect most every event happening in a given day and post flyers and times. Find something that sounds interesting to you and go for it. Smaller events average 10-30 people, sizable events are around 60 people, and some events are huge affairs with multiple instances housing a total of hundreds of people with more waiting in a queue. Find a crowd size thats comfortable, and start showing up.

      Before you know it you'll find your venue with your favorite crowd. You'll wind up in strange instances playing genres you've never considered listening to before. You'll be chatting with a spartan from Halo about the the best way to brew tea as hyperpop is blasting in the background, and you won't question a second of it.

      I will admit I am struggling to properly put into words how unique and special this scene is. There's so much to cover, and all of it is based on nebulous things such as *feeling* and *ambiance*. There's no way to do justice to the experience of being inside vr and being in these spaces. There's such a unique blend of audio and visual artists all collaborating for free, purely out of passion and love. I live and die by the words of Gene Ween "You didn't pay a cent so don't fucking complain." All of this is free, and so much effort is poured into every facet of every corner of this scene. I find myself awestruck by the talent on display every night. The music, the avatars, the visuals, the very world its in. All of it made from pure raw passion. Its beautiful and something I am so greatful I get to be a part of.

       I don't know if I've done a good job conveying how this scene *is*. But I hope I've inspired somebody reading this to go check out a club or two in vrchat. You won't regret it.