Block by Blockwest was a virtual music festival hosted in Minecraft with livestreams on both YouTube and Twitch.
The festival, which included acts like Grandson, Idles and Sir Sly, was organized by the band Courier Club.
Although the event faced technical setbacks in April, it delivered an immersive, festival-like experience that could help set a precedent for virtual music events.
On Saturday, May 16, I attended my first music festival in months. Instead of buying overpriced beer and jostling against other concertgoers for a good view of the stage, I leisurely logged onto Minecraft at 3 pm EST and entered the virtual world of Block By Blockwest (intended to spoof the South by Southwest name and similarly abbreviated as BXBW), a virtual festival featuring very real music from groups like Grandson, Idles, Pussy Riot, The Wrecks, and Sir Sly.
Of course, this isn't the first concert experience to take place in Minecraft or online during the pandemic. Pitchfork's Cat Zhang reported on concerts from bands like Anamanaguchi or 100 gecs that took place in Minecraft, spearheaded by Open Pit, a volunteer collective of event organizers who have put together Minecraft concert events in the past. Block by Blockwest, however, started as an independent effort by Courier Club, a four-piece indie band that recently released its debut EP, "Drive Like Your Kids Live Here," a week before the original event, which was slated for April 25.
Things on that day didn't go quite as planned, with technical setbacks leading to the cancelation of the original April 25 event, but BXBW came back strong on May 16, drawing in approximately 5,000 Minecraft players and 134,000 livestream viewers on Twitch and YouTube. All proceeds from the event benefited the CDC Foundation's Coronavirus Emergency Response Fund, raising nearly $50,000, according to the event's team page on the CDC Foundation website.
What started as a small event originally slated to fall on the heels of the Courier Club's debut EP, "Drive Like Your Kids Live Here," turned into a festival featuring big name artists performing in an immersive Minecraft world filled with interactive games, special features and easter eggs, and plenty of opportunities for attendees to interact with artists and each other.
Block by Blockwest was an immersive experience built in Minecraft.
The festival took place in a custom Minecraft server featuring three separate stages (i.e. fully fleshed-out settings ranging from a mountain lodge to an underground hangout) as well as a lobby and paintball arena where users could play 50 v. 50 games while still tuning into the music. Attendees tuned into the artists' sets, which were pre-recorded, via livestreams on YouTube and Twitch. In the meantime, they could socialize with people in the BXBW discord server, which also served as the event's central hub for information and updates. Attendees could also get VIP status by making a $15 donation, which earned them perks like virtual artist meet-and-greets on Discord as well as concert emotes in-game.
The idea itself started partially as a joke. "We made a tweet joking around one day being like, 'Oh, if our tour gets canceled, we're going to throw a show with Minecraft,'" Timothy Waldron, Courier Club's lead vocalist, told Insider when we spoke in mid-April. "We thought it was cheeky to say at the time. And then our tour got canceled."
Waldron texted Steve Silverglade, the brother of Courier Club's bassist Michael Silverglade, and someone who "knows what he's doing" when it comes to Minecraft servers, asking if it'd be possible to hold a concert in the game.
From there, interest spiked in the event. Courier Club provided a list of bands that they were fans of to their manager, who began to reach out. Cowgirl Clue was the first artist to sign on, and as other artists joined the lineup, their friends found out and bigger artists started to come aboard as well. "Towards the end, it became people approaching us about it," Waldron said.
Development of the festival was a collaborative effort.
From there, development began as the group began to build the concert world, drawing upon open-source code to create elements like the initial concert stage. On the other hand, the band also started to build up a community for the event as well, directing attendees to sign up for BXBW's Discord server.
The group was worried about technical difficulties, conducting a stress test and pre-party on the festival server on April 22, three days before the initial event date. When I spoke with Waldron and lead guitarist Ryan Conway, April 23, they said that the stress test had helped them iron out the big kinks on the server, with things generally going well.
Then, everything turned out to be much bigger than anyone had prepared for, with unprecedented turnout on April 25 overloading the servers. Rather than trying to push through, the BXBW team made the decision to reschedule the event for May 16 in order to deliver on the immersive experience that they had promised early-on.
BXBW partnered with DigitalOcean, a cloud infrastructure provider, for server hosting, as well as Cloudflare, a web security, for DDOS protection. In the end, the development team was comprised of five international developers from the UK, Germany, and the United States. BXBW also hosted "community build events," where members of the Discord server and players who used the pre-festival Minecraft server came together to help build the worlds that would comprise the experience.
BXBW was able to virtually capture the festival experience.
"Creating an opportunity like this where we're providing that festival experience where you're engaging with people is why we wanted to create that festival dynamic," Ryan Conway, Courier Club's lead guitarist, told Insider. "We wanted it to be an interactive thing where someone can go into it for a day and play the different games and look at the art and check out all the different artists and meet people."
Block by Blockwest delivered on that aspiration, with NME's Ali Shutler calling it "the closest we've yet come to an authentic festival experience. More than just a concert, BXBW was a total experience: there were bars where VIPs could get virtual drinks like a "Starblocks Latte" or a "Blockweiser;" I stumbled across a Shrek complete with a "get out of my swamp" sign. There were virtual representations of art available for purchase in real life; I jammed to alt-rock band The Wrecks' set by making my Minecraft avatar jump around and head bob.
Block by Blockwest/Minecraft
The festival's primary success, however, was building a community that doesn't appear to be going away any time soon. People on the BXBW Discord server are still chatting two days after the event, and there's a second event in the works. Ultimately, Courier Club hopes that the event will help set a bar for events in the future, even post-pandemic.
"One thing I've been saying to people is that we want to lay this out as a blueprint on how to handle things moving forward and maybe handle connectivity and accessibility in the music world," Conway said. "This is something that costs you maybe the cost of Minecraft if you don't have it, and that's it. It's gonna open up a lot of doors."
Read the original article on Insider