The cornerstone of being an indie rock fan is having your taste in music constantly snarked on. The speed with which information is disseminated on the Internet has amplified indie snobbery and taken it one step further by giving everyone with an opinion a stage on which to express it. People go to music blogs, from Stereogum to Brooklyn Vegan, expressly to comment on bands selling-outs and to inform bloggers that their taste in music sucks. The newest, coolest thing changes literally from minute to minute. And the entire time that Mediafire and Last.fm have been growing in popularity with people who want to share their taste in music with friends, another internet indie cult has also been growing: a secret community of indie rock fans in Second Life.
This little known and rarely seen indie community got its first brand name endorsement when Vice UK agreed to allow Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life (SL), to use their name for an indie music and art island or, as they’re referred to in SL parlance, a “sim.” The place was built by avatar building team Kasabian Beck and Charlotte Bartlett. Bartlett initiated the partnership with Vice UK on behalf of Linden Labs and Beck imported his pre-existing virtual indie club Mixtape, its accompanying toilet karaoke room, and the Poperation art gallery to start the Viceland sim. He’s added a Manchester-reminiscent industrial waterfront, a series of hidden pirate radio rooms, and the Antigone theater, the latter aimed at hosting live bands like the Spanish shoegaze duo [engrama], who played a set there on June 3 as well as broadcasting VBS.tv shows like Soft Focus.
This is not the Vice brand’s first foray into virtual worlds. Virtue, the advertising and consulting arm of Vice US, partnered with MTV on their short-lived virtual world replication of New York’s Lower East Side in 2007. [Full disclosure: I worked at MTV and on the vLES project at the time, and that is how I found myself creating a Second Life avatar and devoting time to uncovering what exactly indie rock fans did in virtual worlds.]
It turns out that Second Life and indie rock are a great combination. If you want to be part of the indie community in Second Life, you have to really work for it. There aren’t constantly indie events you can just walk into, as if it were Twitter or a pick-up basketball game. The community is more akin to a series of underground nightclubs that you need to dress and act the part to be acknowledged in, except it’s full of computer nerds in a virtual world who also happen to be music connoisseurs. As an outsider, you not only have to locate these clubs, but keep coming back until you find people and then impress those people enough to be accepted. Things generally go down sometime between 5 and 11PM PST, which is referred to in-world as Second Life Time or SLT.
Musically, there is an ongoing competition amongst Second Life indie DJs to see who can play the newest stuff, or the best stuff, and even the longest stuff. In the fall of 2009, one DJ played for 26 straight hours without repeating a song. It was advertised as a charity fundraiser, but his now permanent hold on the longest straight time DJing in-world was the most discussed aspect of the stunt.
For the most part, the Internet makes it easy to find and market to the trendsetting indie demographic (just ask Mountain Dew and their Green Label, Toyota Scion at SXSW, or any record label who has ever bought an ad on Pitchfork). But in Second Life’s secret indie rock communities, there are no advertisers. The DJs are music lovers with no affiliations to labels or access to publicists. One DJ, whose avatar name is Oliver Wickentower, said, “In my ‘real’ life I’m the music guru to a lot of my friends. It’s cool that I can turn them on to music I like, but they rarely have anything to offer me. Music blogs are cool but the indie scene in Second Life is like an interactive music blog.”
So, now that you know they’re out there, where can you go to find these mavens of Second Life indie? We offer a club-by-club guide to the American indie scene so that you might pop into a place with the correct level of snobbery and eclecticism to suit you.
The Crow’s Foot — RIYL: Wilco, Black Lips, anything lo-fi
The place was opened by a longtime DJ and bearded avatar who looks a little like Jesus named Woodrow Stapleton. About building his club, he says, “I’m a big fan of vintage [so] I kind of went for a cross between a VFW hall and a hunting lodge.” And while he says anyone who wants to can DJ there, most of the regular DJs find the construction of their sets influenced by the Elks Lodge look of the place and gravitate towards dropping Flaming Lips and Girls tracks. It is perhaps the best place to get high and play SL.
The Velvet — RIYL: Big Star, Sleigh Bells, anything remixed by Fred Falke
Going to the Velvet is jumping off the deep end into the land of indie-snob smart asses. The DJs play whatever is brand new or incredibly obscure or both. It is the longest running indie club in SL, dating back to 2006, and the one where you are most likely to get snubbed for not getting the references. It is designed to look like the inside of a Replacements song circa 1983.
Mixtape @ Viceland — RIYL: Four Tet, Belle & Sebastian, JPop
There aren’t many DJs at Mixtape, because you have to be pretty impressive to be invited to take a regular slot. Proprieter Kasabian Beck specifically goes out looking for the weird and new, cramming everything into a small space so it always feels unique and intimate. It is best summed up by Beck himself: “I’ve always hated the idea that people say ‘I come to [Second Life] to get away from RL [real life]’. Well, that’s total bullshit because here, just like in RL, there are assholes you don’t like, conversations you don’t want to hear, and people dressed funny.” If you get dressed up funny late on a Saturday night, you can find indie rock karaoke here.
Bombay (b)Indie — RIYL: Neko Case, Smashing Pumpkins, New Pornographers
They skew a little older and a little more West Coast at Bombay. They want to be nice to you and play you KEXP-approved music, making themselves the Stereogum of SL indie. Everyone wants something different on the Internet, and those who skip reading blog comments because they think the trolls are too mean will enjoy Bombay the most.
Alt7 — RIYL: Coldplay, Oasis, Snow Patrol
Always the “indie” club with the most traffic and the most boring music. They have a ton of DJs playing at all hours, which keeps a lot of people coming through. They also play the most mainstream, uncool music. It is probably not even a cool enough joint for Zach Braff to start his career as an avatar there.
Click through below for a gallery of indie-rock images from Second Life.
An avatar in Second Life created in the image of The Cure's Robert Smith
Barcelona-based rock band engrama playing a live show at the Antigone Theater in the Viceland sim of Second Life
Arial view of the Viceland sim and its builder, Kasabian Beck
Inside the Mixtape indie club on Viceland with avatar Gwendolyn Weston
Muse-esque avatar Paradox Messmer at the Velvet
The author's avatar, Astrud Sands
In the popular hipster shopping strip mall The Starlust Motel with avatar Davey MacIntyre
The Bombay (b)Indie club with an avatar who looks a lot like the drummer of the Black Keys
A message from Second Life