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Philly band brings international lineup to live music festival in Minecraft

Virtual music festival

More than 30 bands will perform in the virtual Block by Blockwest music festival, including Pussy Riot and the festival's founding group, Courier Club. (Provided by Courier Club)

“We All Want To Be There” is the first single from Courier Club’s debut EP, “Drive Like Your Kids Live Here.” It just dropped on April 17. The Philadelphia band was ready to go on a 10-city tour, their first, to support it.

In the cruelest of ironies, no one will be there. The high-energy pop-rock dance band had to cancel all the performance dates because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

So they turned to what they know best: video games.

“Video games play a massive role in our ethos as a band,” said singer Tim Waldron. “We take most of our influences from video games, whether [it’s] soundtracks or graphic design, and even fashion.”

Courier Club, a band based in Philadelphia, organized Block by Blockwest, a virtual music festival set in the World of Minecraft. (Provided by Courier Club)

Courier Club created Block by Blockwest inside the online game Minecraft, taking cues from the now-canceled South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas. It’s an imaginary concert venue generated inside a Minecraft server, where real bands perform as their own avatars. Right now, there are more than 35 bands on the bill, headlined by the Russian punk protest art project Pussy Riot.

It goes live on Saturday, all day, inside Minecraft. Those who do not or cannot participate inside the game can stream it on YouTube or Twitch.

There are at least two stages, plus a VIP lounge, a merchandise tent, a chat room with band members, and games to explore. The band tapped a relative – bassist Michael Silverglade’s brother Steven, a game designer – to plan the virtual world.

“We wanted it to be something where you could spend all day, like a real festival,” he said. “Make it a fully immersive experience.”

Minecraft is a sprawling, amorphous landscape of block-pixelated characters who can build their own worlds. There is no established goal to the game, other than what you can do by stacking blocks and interacting with other people online. The game reinvents itself according to the players.

The concept of a virtual music festival on Minecraft predates the pandemic. In September 2018, almost 40 bands played Coalchella, a pixelated mimicry of the Coachella festival in California. It featured a stage based on the Red Rocks mountain venue in Colorado, renamed Red Blocks (get it?).

Since the coronavirus shut down live music, some venues in Brooklyn have recreated digital versions of themselves to host virtual concerts in Minecraft.

The venue also features an art gallery and mini games. (Provided by Courier Club) an art gallery and mini games. (Provided by Courier Club)

The Block by Blockwest venue is not based on anything existing in the real world. The band let their fantasies run away with them: The stages are inside a medieval castle, which is inside a hollowed-out mountain.

“It started out as, ‘Let’s make a festival stage.’ As time went on and we started adding things, we thought, ‘Let’s make a stage inside a mountain, and it looks like it a castle,’” said Michael Silverglade. “It’s totally crazy.”

“Once we realized there are no limitations for structural integrity, let’s make whatever we want,” added Waldron.

Block by Blockwest is a multi-venue music festival set in a mountain castle in the virtual World of Minecraft. (Provided by Courier Club)

The scene may be fake, but the music will be real. All the bands will stream pre-recorded live music that has never been released before; many of them have made new “live” recordings specifically for this festival.

Courier Club started small by reaching out to friends who are in bands, and bands that they liked. Those bands then reached out to their friends, and so on and so on. The lineup includes the acts Hunny, Grandson, and Nothing, Nowhere.

Those musicians who are Minecraft-savvy will be manipulating their avatars on stage in real time; those less adept at video games are letting Courier Club do the puppetry.

Each band will iuse a custom backdrop and will nteract with the crowd during the show using customized avatars. (Provided by Courier Club)

Of course, many musicians right now are live-streaming themselves  — their real selves, not avatars — over the internet for fans during the global shutdown. Waldron said Minecraft does something that cannot be done IRL (in real life): bring people together.

“There’s a huge value in having a community at shows,” he said. “You don’t go just to see the artist. You go to be around other people who like the artist and are similar to you.”

If all goes well, Courier Club may finally live up to the title of that first track on their EP.

“Holy crap! I’m in a room with people from around the world and they are into the same things, and we’re all compressed down to this block form,” said Waldron. “It’s a really cool feeling.”

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