#1206: The District VR Enables Professional DJs to Play Live Social VR Gigs without Mixer Hardware

Another World VR developers Ioulia Isserlis and Max Sacker thought it was a prank when German Hip Hop legend Dennis Lisk (aka Denyo) reached out via email to collaborate on developing a social VR and a completely virtualized live DJ performance toolkit. But it wasn’t a prank, and they’ve been building a real-time audio engine compatible with Unreal Engine in order to meet the live performance standards of professional DJs to mix, sync, and modulate music in real-time. Most DJ sets in social VR either rely upon external hardware where the audio is streamed in, or they just play back a recording of a set. But for Lisk, he wanted to be able to perform live in order to more dynamically respond to the audience without having to split his attention between the physical hardware and any virtual representation of it. The end result is The District VR, which is an ambitious fusion of all of these live DJ mixing tools with aspirational plans to build out social VR clubs and create new monetization opportunities for DJs and musical artists.

I’m personally a bit more skeptical on some of those cryptocurrency-based potentials based upon my previous deep dive into Voxels (aka Cryptovoxels) where I found “22% of Voxels CVPA parcels are owned by the top 1% of holders (excluding unsold plots held by Cryptovoxels), 44% parcels are owned by the top 5%, 56% parcels are owned by the top 10%, 68% parcels are owned by the top 20%. There are similar numbers for Decentraland LAND holders with 20% of virtual land owned by top 1%, 41% owned by top 5%, 52% owned by top 10%, 65% owned by top 20%.” The underlying principle is what’s called “preferential attachment,” which is explored in much more detail in this article titled “The Rich Still Get Richer: Empirical Comparison of Preferential Attachment via Linking Statistics in Bitcoin and Ethereum.” The bottom line is that most cryptocurrency-based projects based upon underlying libertarian principles will demonstrate this type of preferential attachment dynamics. So the challenge for The District VR is to figure out how to bring a different set of what the Peer-to-Peer foundation calls “commons-based values” where the exchange of value creates a broader source of value to the community rather than to a single individual. It’s possible that using cryptocurrency to support DJ artists in live performances could start to create this type of underlying value shift, but it’s not guaranteed as most economies will fall back into a power law dynamic where it works for a handful of folks, but not realistically for most. Other physical-based, entertainment economies fall into this same type of feast or famine type of dynamic, and so I look forward to hearing more from The District VR team in how they plan on cultivating a vibrant economic ecosystem with their future plans. Perhaps a white paper or an experiential proof of concept will open up my mind a bit more than my default crypto skepticism that I laid out back in episode #1117.

I opted to not dive too deep into a crypto debate in this interview as I feel like the experiential component for what they’ve built is so much more compelling than most crypto-based projects that I come across, which tends to put the experiential component at the bottom of the priority list. So I’ll keep an open mind and will be keen to see where they take that part of this project as supporting independent artists and creators is one of the potentials of crypto-based projects. But I’ve also read enough entries in Molly White’s Web3 is Going Just Great blog to have a healthy amount of any crypto-based claims.

Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing what types of new nightclub, rave, or party scenes that The District VR is able to cultivate as they were able to generate a lot of buzz from musicians and DJs at SXSW. And again, this is a project with a strong foundation of experiential design and VR development that’s rooted in a technical foundation that allows them to do things in a live mixing and live DJ context that no other platform has been able to so far, and to include it all within a social VR platform. So looking forward to seeing how they build out their community, and continue to innovate on both the experiential side as well as the monetization side.

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. It's a podcast that looks at the future of spatial computing and the structures and forms of immersive storytelling and immersive entertainment. You can support the podcast at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. So continuing on my 24 episode series of looking at all the variety of different experiences at SXSW, today's episode is featuring District VR, which is in the subsection of the music related experiences that were part of the SXSW immersive experience this year. This is essentially like a DJ platform where you can play live music to social groups and audiences, and it has associated with a legendary German hip-hop artist named Dennis Liske, a.k.a. Dinio, in collaboration with Another World VR, which has had a number of different immersive stories in the film festival circuit over the last number of years. I had a chance to talk to Iulia last year about her father's Holocaust journey with a piece called Komez Aleph O. And yeah, so this piece, it's very similar in some ways to TribeXR, which is a virtual reality training application, but this is a lot different in the sense that it's much more self-contained and has a lot more development to really focus on what it means to do a live DJ performance. A lot of the stuff that happens in these virtual worlds are sometimes pre-recorded or they have to use hardware that is outside of virtual reality and have the output of that be streamed live into an immersive space, which is still able to have some of those elements of the live performative aspect but DJ folks have to constantly channel switch between what is happening in the virtual space for just what's happening in their physical gear right in front of them so yeah this in particular is just trying to take more of a virtual representation of that and Create all the different tools that you need to be able to do a live DJ set performance but also have different elements of the social VR platform underneath it so I They had to do a lot of things on the back end with the audio engine in the context of Unreal Engine to be able to have the latency and the demands of what you would need for a professional DJ to be able to perform in a virtual context. And so, yeah, just working with this German hip-hop legend of Dinyo, aka Dinyo Slisk, they've been able to hash a lot of that out and create a platform that is going to potentially have this new dimensions of the interactive social VR rave scene that has all these different dimensions of gamification, social VR, interactive games, and lifestyle developments that they have planned for their platform. So, that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So, this interview with Yulia, Dennis, and Max happened on Wednesday, March 15th, 2023 at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. So, with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:46.493] Ioulia Isserlis: Hi, I'm Julia Serles and I am the CEO of Another World VR and the CTO of Proof of Taste. And we've been in VR since 2016 and you might know our past works like Cobalt, Pagan Peak, Bystanding and Comets LFO. And this year we're here as Proof of Taste and in the background as developers of Another World VR for the District VR.

[00:03:13.054] Dennis Lisk: Perfect. My name is Dennis Liske, also known as Denyo. I'm a musician with over 30 years of experience from Hamburg, from Germany, and started in the early 90s as a hip-hop kid that had the idea to make hip-hop music with German lyrics. And yes, in the beginning, it was kind of a silly idea, but 20 to 30 years later, it's played out really, really well. And nowadays, there's a huge industry behind German hip-hop. In 2017 I had the desire to give something back to the music industry in form of a kind of metaverse vision that I had together with a friend of mine called Fabian Vogelsteller. He is a VR enthusiast and blockchain specialist. and he introduced me into that world and since then I had this passion and this idea to create a space where musicians would be able to play live but in a gamified environment. So since then we built up the team and in 2020 we founded a company called Proof of Taste. I was lucky enough to meet Julia and Max from another world. They are part of the company. And yeah, we are building the district VR, this gamified virtual entertainment platform that is kind of a social VR mini games and lifestyle driven space located in Berlin, virtually. And yeah, now we're here to present it and are very happy with the product so far and looking forward to the future.

[00:04:45.479] Max Sacker: I'm Max Sacker from Another World VR as the creative director and the art director at Proof of Taste. here to support on the Unreal Engine and art and visual and 3D side of things. So, the District VR is a very exciting project visually as well as from its interactive music content. There's a lot underneath the hood that we're not showing today at South by that if you look into the application deeper kind of shows layers and layers and layers of deep audio and VR understanding and we're really looking forward to showing that to a wider audience.

[00:05:17.820] Kent Bye: Awesome. And maybe you could each give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into working with VR.

[00:05:24.365] Ioulia Isserlis: So for me, it's actually a stupid journey. So I was always a fan of narrative and whatever it is, like it's film or literature. And I am an obsessed consumer of narrative. And I studied film and literature. And then I was just hanging around in 2015, doing my master's, doing that thing in film, this thing in film, and that thing in film. And then I met Max, who said, Yuria, there's something super awesome out there. It's called VR. So he showed me the DK1, and I hated it. But I saw the potential. So basically like we were sitting then in the bar having beer and we decided okay let's start a company and let's go and like really like completely work only in VR because for us the potential that we saw was that you can completely immerse in the narrative and since then since 2016 we've only been working in virtual reality and that was I think the best beer idea of our lives.

[00:06:30.630] Max Sacker: It's not a beer idea. I think what happened was we were, to be fair, frustrated with our careers in filmmaking. We were seeing things kind of like not moving forward in the speed that we wanted to and we suddenly found a new medium where we could express much more what was in our minds at the time. And early on we started to experiment with photogrammetry and game engines, so we were like dedicated to a real-time aesthetic in terms of cinematics and Unreal Engine from the get-go. And I think part of that developed a palette of tools and sort of like a point of view in VR that led us to meet Dennis because, I'll let him jump in there, but I think one of the things about the district is that it's not one of these cartoony metaverses where everything looks a little gamified, but rather it focuses very much on aesthetics and realistic visuals and an authentic depiction of Berlin and party districts that kind of convey the actual culture of the places that they're from. So over to Dennis about that, but in general, that's where we come from as a point of view from VR.

[00:07:38.745] Kent Bye: Yeah, just a bit more of your background and your context in your journey into VR.

[00:07:44.397] Dennis Lisk: Okay, perfect. As I already said, I'm a musician. In 2016 I released my last album and I had a really great time because it was like my 25th anniversary as a musician during that time. And I had the feeling that I have achieved enough now and wanted to give something back. So I started to research virtual reality and blockchain because I met Fabian Vogelsteller, as I already said. and he introduced me into that world. So one day I tested an application called Vinyl Reality and this in my opinion is the first DJ application that was out there in virtual reality. So I was in that club and I was completely mind blown. Because, okay, the graphics weren't that good and not everything worked out perfectly there, but I saw the potential and it blew my mind. The idea that I'm not just DJing for myself, I'm a single player, but that there would be like a real audience. That I would have the opportunity to play live in front of a real audience here in this gamified environment. And this just blew my mind. So since then, I had this vision to work with it. Also, I'm a huge fan of crypto and blockchain because I see the potential, not in a speculative way, but in terms of micropayments, peer-to-peer opportunities, no middleman, and all those advantages that musicians especially, but users generally have here, so that you can control your own IDs, that you have total control over your digital assets and all that stuff. So, yeah, it took me like one or two years to really grasp the idea. Yeah, and since then this vision was there to create a world, a virtual entertainment world that is completely photorealistic and real with great event spaces and virtual instruments that look, function and behave in the same way as their real-world counterparts, where musicians, artists, influencers, also brands can host own events and can engage with interactive and immersive audiences, and artists have the opportunity to play live, share their content, and even make money here. And this is what the District VR is all about.

[00:09:59.485] Kent Bye: Awesome. Yeah, and maybe you could go back to, like, the origins of how District VR started. What was the catalyst?

[00:10:07.469] Dennis Lisk: Yes, so many people think the catalyst was Corona and the lockdown, but this is not really true. It was just a coincidence that in a way helped us also a little bit since the lockdowns and Corona, the genie is out of the bottle. Everybody has an idea of virtual entertainment and home entertainment. and is a little bit more open to new technology and new opportunities here. But at the same time, it was also a very disappointing time because the technology wasn't good enough to provide good virtual entertainment. Because virtual entertainment, in my opinion, doesn't work with two-dimensional flat-screen devices. You need VR headsets and you need this immersiveness and this spatial and this three-dimensional layer. But at the same time, technology wasn't good enough, multiplayer didn't really work that good, so virtual entertainment was more like disappointing. Because when you go to a concert, it's not only about the artist or the performance, it's mostly about the sense of presence and this feeling of being together with like-minded people. And if you visit a virtual concert with your smartphone, you're completely distracted. You're not together. You're an outsider. So we need virtual reality, but yeah, we also know that it takes a little bit more time, that those devices get better and smaller and cheaper and more easy to use. But since then, as I already said, the genie's out of the bottle. We know that there's a huge potential. So since then, in 2020, during that time, we founded the company and knew, OK, there's a huge potential here. And it will take time, but we will figure that out.

[00:11:54.476] Kent Bye: And then how did you all meet up then?

[00:11:57.006] Ioulia Isserlis: That's my favorite story. So the background here is that Dennis is always very humble about it but he is basically a German hip-hop legend and I came to Germany in 98 and basically one of the mediums that I learned the German language was through him and his band Absolute Beginner. So I was back in the day I was a huge fan and then in 2020 I got an email to Another World that person calling himself Dennis Liske was interested in coming by to Another World and like chat with us about maybe a corporation or co-production and just chat with us about VR. So I went to my team and I said, guys, look, the scammer wants to come by. So let's just say do it. And then we just all ran out to the backyard and say, haha, we got you here. So we said, yeah, let's do that. Like you can come by like on Wednesday or whatever. And we were all prepared to really laugh at the scammer. And then we were super Surprised that it was really Dennis. So at the first meeting we were not prepared at all and we're just surprised that it's really Dennis and Since then like really at the first meeting We already understood that we kind of like have the same dev spirit and the same love for the medium so since then we basically work together and and work very closely at district. And yeah, that was the story. I don't know if you have to add anything.

[00:13:37.264] Kent Bye: Well, I want to get your side of the story. What was it like when you walked in? Did they look surprised?

[00:13:44.030] Dennis Lisk: No, I didn't realize that at all, that you weren't prepared or something like that, or thinking of a scam or something like that. You know, and I'm used to not being recognized because I look so young. You know, I look like a 30 year old boy, you know, I'm 46. So it's often that people don't really think that I'm who I am or think I'm the little brother of myself or something like that. No, but seriously, it was fun. I just, you know, I'm a very intuitive guy. So, of course, I'm a rational guy as well, but At the end of the day, it's all about this connection and if you can sense each other, you know. And I think there was a connection from the beginning on a deeper level here. And the most important thing for me was that I felt that those guys are passionate. And this is what it's all about. And this is why I am so confident in terms of the district we are, because I have a passionate team. a team that will face any challenge and will make the work here and achieve their goals, you know, no matter what. This is what I like and this is what I love and this is what drives me and this is what, yeah, I got used to with my band as well. So this was the most important thing here that I saw two experts, a great team with great tools and applications and games that they already made, but also this passion and this trust and this, for now, as already said, works out very good.

[00:15:10.227] Kent Bye: And so, you cold call them, they think you're a scammer, but you come in but you have a certain amount of pitch or vision, what was it that you pitched to them?

[00:15:17.386] Dennis Lisk: Yes, of course. I had this vision. I came there with Fabian, Fabian Vogelsteller. And as I already said, you have to research him. I will tell you a little bit about him. He's a great mind. He's a VR fanatic. And he is a blockchain super expert. So he invented together with Vitalik Guterin. Vitalik Guterin is kind of the Bill Gates of the Ethereum community. Ethereum is the second largest crypto blockchain, smart contract blockchain in the whole world. And he invented one of the most influential and important standards here together with Vitalik Buterin, the ERC20 token standard. So he is a kind of a legendary developer and entrepreneur and thought leader. And so we came together to Ilya and Max and talked about our vision. So we explained to them what we want to achieve here and that we have this vision, we have great ideas, but we need great VR developers. So yeah, so we explained everything to them and they totally got it. And since then, it's like magic, you know, everything, you know, it's like... I can't really put it in words but I think if you have a great idea and if you have a great vision and a good mindset then things play out in a good way and this is exactly what happened here.

[00:16:34.890] Kent Bye: And coming from the narrative space that you'd developed a lot of different immersive, like it's a horror game that I saw at Venice and there was like an immersive documentary about refugee and like surviving the Holocaust. And so like, did you kind of make this pivot into this other product that you could start to build and maybe not as much of a narrative component or was there, you said you're obsessed with narrative and so was there a story dimension? So maybe you could explain like what was interesting about this, what could be seen as like kind of a VR product that was maybe a pivot from what you were already doing.

[00:17:05.012] Ioulia Isserlis: I can start and then Max, you can continue. Actually, as much as you love narrative, you sometimes need a break. So and for us always like we right now also develop two games and it's actually District VR is this fresh awesome app that is just always fun to play and you don't constantly need to think of all the narrative arcs and the climax of the story and obsess with it and Max and me we really tend to obsess a lot and with District it's just like we are creating a world that is open to anybody and is open to anybody's interpretation and we're not enforcing our narrative on anybody and this is also freeing in a way. I don't know if I'm right now like saying something completely loopy but it's very fun and balancing that we just create this kind of open worlds with District.

[00:18:03.242] Max Sacker: One of the things about the metaverse that you hear a lot walking around South by Southwest is people are saying it's my metaverse come to my metaverse or this metaverse that we're building but the truth is it can only work if it's everybody's metaverse and this whole concept of interoperability between different worlds and apps can only work if creators understand to let go of their own control over narrative or how things need to play out and I think when it comes to our previous projects we exercised a lot of control over how we want that story specifically to elapse. One of the things I value about Dennis and Fabian and also think is important to do is to sometimes step out of your comfort zone as a creator and say, OK, I'm going to relinquish the power that I have over control of this narrative to the user and see what they do with it. And what's very cool about District is that it has the user's world in mind. Dennis can talk a little bit more about this long term, but one thing we want to do is make it possible for users to build their own districts and their own clubs and their own music instruments. And so if you're thinking of it from an open-source, community-driven, free world like that, you can't really start to enforce one particular individual narrative. It's not going to work. And it's very exciting because it can then grow to something much larger than the original vision. And I just am very, very excited to see where District goes and what people do with it.

[00:19:32.175] Kent Bye: Yeah, I know that there's a number of other DJ-esque VR applications. You have, like, more of a gamified version of, like, Electronauts, which is more of a, I'd say, quantized version of, like, a pre-selected amount of songs, and you can start to turn different instrumentation off, but it's a lot of presets, but still a lot of fun for complete amateurs to kind of mess around, and it still sounds good, and it gives you the feeling of being a DJ. And then you have TribeXR, which seems to be a little bit more of a training application, where you're learning how to use a deck. I haven't used it in a while, but when I first saw it, it was more of like, hey, you're going to actually have to buy this equipment and then use that to be able to do anything with it. This is more of a training application. And so it seems like with this, though, you're trying to actually do a fully-fledged Controlling of a music DJ set and as a professional DJ yourself I'm wondering if that was part of the intention is to be able to just have a VR software that you're able to have the embodied interactions that you're used to doing as a DJ or where you feel like you're Beginning with this because there's a lot of different markets. There's people who are like professional DJs There's people who are aspiring DJs and there's people who are just complete amateurs who have no aspiration for being a DJ They just want to have the experience that feels like they're a DJ and it still sounds good So yeah I'm just kind of wondering where you're aiming for that like how you start to think about this as a tool like what level you're trying to go for

[00:20:53.167] Dennis Lisk: The Distro VR has various approaches here and various perspectives. So there is this educational purpose, of course, that you as a user are able to engage with virtual instruments or with DJ equipment and music equipment and you can learn how to DJ. in a completely easy and fun way. So this is one thing, but more important is the opportunity, because it's a social VR platform, it's kind of a lifestyle-driven and cultural-driven social VR platform. So you as an artist or as a creator, you have the possibility to play live, really play live in front of real audiences. This is the key difference between all those great other applications like TribeXR. that it's a multiplayer experience and that you can host on events and that you can engage with your community in completely new ways. You can issue tickets. You can also think about hybrid events, meaning events that take place in the real world and the virtual world at the same time. For users it's great, they can play mini-games, they can have fun with each other, they can meet and engage with each other, they can visit events. As a musician, it's also about digital assets like digital skins, merchandise, clothes, things that you can sell and that people really want and love. You can also think about cultural tokens, proof of attendance tokens. VIP passes, we think about new use cases for NFTs that have nothing to do with this speculative kind of hype thing, but think of subscription models. We also think about when it comes to music licensing or something, if you want to distribute as an artist your music, we think about sample packs and loops and production tools that also musicians can sell here. So we think about real market that can evolve over time here. So the district we are, the vision here is that it's kind of driven by user-generated content and at the same time built on an in-game economy that really works. So we really think about business models here for artists and creators and also for brands. So it's a huge vision that combines various perspectives and various opportunities.

[00:23:10.639] Kent Bye: Yeah, and from the software side, you said that you worked on this for two years, and so it sounds like you had to do a lot of deep architecture of how sound is even working within Unreal Engine, and so I'd love to hear a little bit more context as to, like, where Unreal was, where you started, and what you've developed as either, like, your own custom plugins to be able to do that, or if it's something that you're going to make available, or, yeah, just talk a little bit more about the underlying architecture that you had to do in order to actually pull this off.

[00:23:38.118] Ioulia Isserlis: First, we started actually to work only with Unreal Engine. Then we realized that the Unreal Engine is not going to give us the opportunities that we want to have. So then we started to work with 10,000 different plug-ins and software. There is like, and I don't know, like sound software. So like they have really weird names, like Banana or Potato. It's just so weird.

[00:23:58.426] Kent Bye: Is that a doll, or what are those? What are you?

[00:24:00.687] Ioulia Isserlis: It's basically like different audio software. It's just what we were doing was we're trying in Unreal to replicate not only all DJ controller features with sound, but also to build different outputs. The DJ can play together with an artist and then it's in sync. So we have to sync two different sound outputs and Unreal Engine only has one sound output. So that was already a huge challenge because we actually need three. So we started then and this is like all the software to make that happen and then at some point we understood okay we cannot be dependent on plugins and like 10 000 different software applications because it was still it was a lot of latency like in one thing one thing was working and the other one was not for instance effects and how you really work with the music file so then we started to develop everything completely from scratch and we basically built our own sound engine where we replicate what we'd say tractor and we then integrated it into Unreal. So basically we first wrote this app in 2D and then we translated this app yet again in Blueprints. And C++ as well, obviously, Visual Studio and all of that. And that was super, super challenging. So from a programming aspect, our team was also obsessing with it. This is what I have to say, our dev team is obsessed with this app and obsessed with the precision and perfection of it. And right now the next challenge is to port everything to an APK, so yet to another version of our app that we're doing right now. So it was super challenging, but we did it and it works amazing. So like everything, like all features that you can think of. cue points, quantization, loop, and so the loop also function is on beat, right, without any latency. That was Dennis, like, first we had problems of he was telling us that, like, if you set loops or cue points, he was telling us there's latency, and us, like, no, there is no latency, Dennis. So we learned to really listen into latency. So that was super challenging because in music even this millimillisecond can ruin a whole DJ set, right? And now it's all precise, there are 40 different effects that you can apply in real time, you can change the pitch, tempo, you can basically do anything you want in VR and I'm very very proud of of our results and yeah the next steps are right now to recode everything for the APK and we're in the middle of that so it will be available on Quest.

[00:26:46.288] Kent Bye: Yeah, so just to clarify, because, you know, most of these game engines have, like, a physics engine, but you're saying that you're, like, a sound engine. Does that mean that you're generating sound, or that you're, like, what's that mean to create a sound engine?

[00:26:58.151] Max Sacker: So the other thing we're really proud of is that team of developers working on this, and one area where we found a lot of challenges but also, like, surmounted them with pride is that sound engine. A lot of that is written in Juice, which is an outside language for sound coding, and then connected to Unreal Engine via very weird proprietary scripts. It's interesting. Unreal Engine now has something called MetaSounds, which is a new architecture and framework, which we're now going to look at with a fresh set of eyes. But at the time when we were building this, we needed reasons to be working outside of that engine. And so you can imagine it like a desktop app, almost. That's why I think Julia mentioned Tractor, because it kind of feels like that. And then that feeds into the Unreal Engine. But now we've got it in a way that it's packaged inside Unreal entirely. So this was a lot of R&D and a lot of back and forth in terms of how to achieve it. And there are people working on this in Berlin that are extremely passionate about the topic. And I just want to say I'm very proud of them for everything they've done.

[00:28:07.497] Ioulia Isserlis: Just also like to clarify like Unreal it's a games engine but it's not there to create professional music. So this is why we needed to really write down that like it's it's my kind of term sound engine it's basically like a sound software or DJ software how to work with sound with mp3s and revolves. So this is why we had to write it, because obviously Unreal is there for other environments and not their professional software for working with music, but Unreal is specialized in other things, so basically we wrote our own and integrated it.

[00:28:39.817] Kent Bye: Yeah, and so as a musician for, you know, over 25 years of experience and that you've now have a lot of expectations for when you push a physical button, like you have an expectation for how it's going to react. And so I guess that's part of your expertise is to know what the physical experience of doing a DJ set and then trying to recreate the level to your satisfaction, this virtualization of that. So maybe you could just talk about that process and trying to close the gap between the virtual and the physical.

[00:29:07.720] Dennis Lisk: Yeah, absolutely. It's absolutely critical that everything works perfectly here in terms of latency and timing. You know, music is all about timing. So it was at the beginning super difficult to really explain what I mean with that. when I talk about timing, so that there's absolutely no latency needed here as a DJ and as a musician to play live. But yeah, after some time it worked out. And now we developed the first basic DJ set that is not that complicated as Tribe's XR version, for instance, that is a little bit more basic, but has every feature that a DJ would need to play live and to have fun. And also it was very important for us that If you're an artist or a musician and you have never experienced VR before that it takes like at max like 10 minutes to really grasp it so that everything functions in the same way as a real DJ said. This is very important for us. So the first DJ set is now finished and it feels good. We have tested it with various DJs and they're really excited about it. And I really saw it myself. Many DJs just, it took like five minutes and they were able to mix the first songs. So, and this is very important, very critical here because every DJ in the real world has his own individual setup. And we want to onboard all those artists. And it's difficult enough to explain them what virtual reality is and that they put on a VR headset and a gamified environment and making music there, it's difficult enough to onboard them. And then, if you want to achieve this, you have to have equipment that really works perfectly. And this is what it's all about here.

[00:30:53.790] Kent Bye: Yeah, so we're here at South by Southwest, where it's at the XR Experience exhibition, where there's lots of immersive stories. So you are having this district VR, which is, in some ways, what I would see when I would go to VRLA, which I think is the first time I saw Drive XR. We have lots of different types of apps and prototypes and stuff. And so it was, in some ways, out of place in terms of it's not a narrative or a story. It's an application, but at the same time, There's a lot of music type of experiences that are here with people doing virtual music. And I feel like the creation of music could be a key tool that, as people are expanding on what's possible in terms of music and music performance, especially being here at South by Southwest. So I'm curious to hear, as people are coming in and seeing from a music background, what kind of feedback that you're receiving.

[00:31:42.841] Ioulia Isserlis: First of all, for us it was really clear that we would only love to apply when it comes to festivals. We would only love to apply to South by because South by is kind of like the melting pot between narrative, tech and music and film. So we thought it would be a fantastic fit and thanks Blake for taking us. and the feedback was amazing. We had a couple of professional DJs, actually not a couple, like a lot of professional DJs that came in and there was a lot of hearsay actually going on. Like on the last two days people were running up towards us because they heard from somewhere, from somewhere, from someone that this is amazing and we're then in the headsets until we kick them out. But also like for complete amateurs like we had people like really not wanting to leave this world where they can create because like and here because with music you create right the DJ also creates new tracks new remixes like the session like also DJing is an art right so it's not a narrative art but it's an artistic art and for me personally like I've never played real life DJ controller to be honest but I love and I actually like when I test district at home I feel so cool in this environment and then like I kind of feel like I'm also like this cool DJ and I learned like obviously I'm still crap but I learned how to like mix and DJ myself and I also have like my own tracks and sometimes like when I walk around the streets in Berlin and I listen to a new song on Spotify like I catch myself thinking this would be a great song for my set but my But my set is only for me, right? But like it gives you this feeling of creating and I love this feeling and what we've seen here during this four days that most, I think like 95% of the people who tried it had the exact same feeling. So yeah.

[00:33:45.257] Max Sacker: Without naming any names, I saw a very prominent curator from a narrative film festival jamming and finally just relaxing that they didn't have to think so hard and actually just became a kid again and started mixing. And that was nice to see that VR doesn't always have to be a complicated emotional story. It can also be a place where you can just go back to being a kid again and enjoy yourself. And that was very important to do.

[00:34:14.914] Ioulia Isserlis: A cool kid again.

[00:34:18.377] Dennis Lisk: Yeah, I think the District VR has kind of the same energy as South by Southwest because, you know, it consists of exactly the same. We are virtual reality experts, technology experts and musicians and we come together. It's a melting pot and I think this is where the magic happens. you know, when you really come together and with this passion and with this open mind to create something new and something valuable. And this is why we love South by Southwest and this is why we can relate to it so hard. And yeah, this is what the District VR is all about, to combine those worlds to create something valuable for the future.

[00:35:00.263] Kent Bye: Yeah, I know that in the context of VRChat, there's a lot of underground music scene with DJs that are playing music in a social context. But that's all built on Unity. And it's also not necessarily you're able to have your own ways of money exchange and everything. But I'm curious if you had an opportunity to do a survey of some of the different scenes that are happening within VRChat in terms of the music scene.

[00:35:22.737] Ioulia Isserlis: So with VRChat, I tried. But it's not really like you can play around. But I think you could never really learn how to mix professionally. It's rather like something, OK, just play around, goof around a little bit. But the precision is lacking. And the whole back end of the tool that we have that actually you can professionally play in our app is missing there. Dennis made a tour, like you can right now talk a little bit about it, an intense tour. He was going to any DJ app or DJ virtual or digital performance out there. It was not only VR shit. He told me he's gonna talk about it, event names that I've never even heard about. And Dennis and Fabian were actually the ones jumping around of all of these digital events and like kind of like getting a grasp for it. But just like from my opinion, like we're the only ones with a professional back end that can actually support professional DJs. And hopefully we give a platform for aspiring DJs to have a venue to actually become professional virtual DJs.

[00:36:32.375] Dennis Lisk: Absolutely. So there were various applications that we tested out here. Waves, Tribe XR, VRChat of course, Sansa I guess. So there were many, many, many also VR virtual reality parties that we visited. The main problem most of the time was There were no real virtual equipment. It was all like streamed, pre-recorded, or fake in another way. It was not live. It was not real time. And this is what it's all about. It has to be easy to use, it has to be uncomplicated, and it has to be live. And everything what we researched, visited, or experienced, There was a huge production behind it and it was pre-recorded. It was not live, it was not interactive. So most ideas were just like, okay, let's do something here. And it was more about marketing or being, you know, nobody really had this real vision. So what the District VR is all about to provide an opportunity for everybody that is easy, that is fast, that doesn't cost anything or not too much and that works in that moment. And this is what is so compelling. It's like it's a Sunday afternoon and I just put on my VR headset and I want just to play around with my songs and I can host this event and play live in front of people. And this is what it's all about. Or the other way around, as a visitor. It's Sunday afternoon, I can just have fun, put on my VR headset and can visit a concert. Can meet like-minded people, you know. And it's not about competing with real-world events. It's about extending them. It's also a great opportunity for big artists to scale up. It's a great opportunity for small artists to scale up. This is what it's all about. It has to be easy. Easy and live. And this is the key difference here.

[00:38:30.414] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah, I think there's a number of different VRChat DJs that are playing, but they have their physical equipment and it's being streamed in as well. So it's not like they have to buy all the equipment and everything. But I was just shown right before we started recording, Max was showing a video of a performance that you did last night. Maybe you could talk a bit more about that. You were performing in VR set here at South By?

[00:38:52.298] Dennis Lisk: Yes, exactly. It was yesterday at the closing party from Berlin Partners or the Berlin Showcase here at the Wax Myrtles. And yeah, the idea was to give the people a basic and a small glimpse, an impression of a hybrid event. And so that they immediately have an understanding of what we are up to here. So I put on my VR headset and I DJed in VR and at the same time my performance and the whole environment and virtual instruments were mirrored. by screens and there were people dancing to my music that I was DJing and they saw me with the VR headset and at the same time they saw my avatar and the virtual instruments of the District VR and so they totally got it and they saw that it's so easy and that it's so intuitive and that you can really use all those effects and delays and filters and mix music together and that it sounds very good and that it's fun. And so this was kind of a proof and kind of hint of what we are up to here.

[00:39:54.636] Ioulia Isserlis: Just in addition, it's exactly the opposite of what we were talking about with VRChat. So basically, Dennis was yesterday performing in front of real people without any DJ equipment, but only with a Quest, his controllers and our build. And that was awesome. And I was in the audience and I heard a couple of dudes talking, dude, how is he doing that?

[00:40:20.152] Kent Bye: Great. And yeah, I guess a couple of questions to wrap up. One is that a lot of music is being composed in sort of a stereo, or maybe there's moving into Dolby Atmos. But you have the opportunity to be in VR and to think about either the composition or playing of music in more of a spatialized context, especially if you're embedded into a virtual environment. Like to maybe get a really good experience, maybe you have to have headphones to really hear the full dimension of that spatialization. But yeah, I'd love to hear any thoughts about how the system that you've built will be able to explore new dimensions of the spatial quality of the audio. And there's going to be a lot of need for producers of the music to start to understand that, but maybe on some ways that you can start to play with this positionality of music that's going beyond just the stereo mindset.

[00:41:05.748] Max Sacker: Yeah, I mean, right now we're in a phase of replicating reality in VR. So like when you go up to the virtual club, you hear the bass coming through the walls from a certain sound emitting source. And then that makes you realize they're playing in that room. This is level one, just to give an authentic spatialized feeling of the acoustics inside a club. Level two, though, is to take that spatial technology. And that's really easy to do in a game engine and make it creatively new. So creating instruments that don't exist, having an instrument that is a sound emitter in the sky that you can pick up like a snowball and throw across the room and have somebody else hear on the other side and like pick up and touch and move and you know pass to somebody else. These kind of audio tools like fireworks or stage display elements are completely new. We could imagine stage performances that don't even have a stage. We can push a button and turn off gravity and have everybody floating around in a different way around the audio. So the sky is the limit there. I don't actually know how spaced out and trippy we can get with it. It depends very much on the artist and what they want to do with it. instrument or tool. It perhaps applies better for one type of performance than another, but I think when we move towards that part of our development in the District VR, we're going to find ourselves a lot of new things that we're enjoying playing with and we're gonna watch users and create their own. So part of our long-term strategy is to create a sandbox environment where people can build their own clubs, build their own 3D worlds and why not also build your own sound emission sources and put like a plug-and-play system together for whacking some sounds together in a weird way and watching what people do with it will be very exciting.

[00:42:50.215] Kent Bye: Have you had a chance to play with any of like the Dolby Atmos or the Ambisonics or specialization of audio or are you mostly just kind of mixing? I feel like that there's dimensions of like music production that's maybe getting into like how to compose things in that, but I'm not sure if you've explored some of those different specialized audio stuff at all.

[00:43:08.522] Dennis Lisk: No, not really for now. You know, for now, I think in the beginning, we more focus on live presentations, you know, and live production, let's call it that way. And I guess for now, the real production of music doesn't need a virtual reality for now. because it's so complex and it's completely good enough to do it with a two-dimensional screen and use Ableton or use Logic or whatever it is and then, you know, do it in the traditional way. But when it comes to presenting it and creating it, mixing it and performing it, then I guess virtual reality really comes into play for now. But in the long-term future, I guess music production, reproduction with VR headsets and immersive space and with completely new instruments that we can't imagine right now could really make sense. But we will start with live production and maybe at a later point try to figure out if it's also possible to create sequencers and synthesizers. I guess we will start with synthesizers because this is I guess really really fun. A virtual twin of a Moog or something like that should be really fun.

[00:44:23.189] Kent Bye: Awesome. And finally, what do you each think is the ultimate potential of virtual reality and the future of music and live performance, and what that might be able to enable?

[00:44:34.674] Max Sacker: I think looking at virtual reality as part of what people are now calling the metaverse, with regards to the district VR, it is this idea of parallel to my world somewhere. There is always something alive. There's happening. There's a lineup somewhere. I can go there. choose to participate or just watch and it lives on whether or not I turn on my computer or not. And also I am an entity in this world and an entity in a virtual world and I can move around different applications and spaces with a type of digital soul. This is something that Fabian Vogelsteller is working on. It's called the Universal Profile and that's a very important concept for people to wrap their heads around. It's very far-fetched perhaps to say I have a digital soul or a digital identity. But it's essentially, if you think about identity, you have a passport in this world, right? And various documents and Facebook profiles and things that you put out there. Why not have that as something that you can be in an alternate reality? So those are the metaverse connotations in terms of VR as a technological medium. I think that slots into that in one very important aspect, and that's the sense of presence, of being there, of physically interacting with other people in real time. But the potential for me is to be discovered. I want to see what other people do with it. We have a very specific view. We're going to enable others to take that view further. And for me, that's liberating to just be part of that process and watch what happens in the future.

[00:46:05.547] Ioulia Isserlis: First of all, I would call it digital fingerprint. Is it called digital soul? Footprint. Fingerprint. That was very Germanist. Okay, sorry for that. So with Distrikt, what we always like to say is that Distrikt is an addition to live events. It gives the opportunity for artists to have yet another space where they can perform and not always rely on real venues, tours or all of the above. And the other one is, we would love with District also to create a social platform that, what Max also already said, that now I'm gonna say something loopy, that gives birth to new artists in a completely new space, and in this case in a digital space. Yeah.

[00:46:59.786] Dennis Lisk: Absolutely, so it's great for professional artists, they can scale up as already said, they can find new ways to engage with their audiences and it's great for newcomers or smaller artists that face challenges like they don't make enough revenue with those on-demand streaming services paying nothing to them and dependent on playing live but can't afford to play live. They can change that now. So it's great for them as well. It's great for all those people that maybe I met so many talented singers that were, you know, at the end of the day didn't go that professional way to become professional singers. but they can now sing, they can perform, they can, you know, you can create an avatar, you can create a whole new career, you can start a whole new career in this virtual world. So you can be whoever you want to be and this, everything is really interesting. And the core idea, of course, or the core potential here is virtual reality has the potential to really shift virtual entertainment and therefore shift global live entertainment in general. And with the District VR, we can help to achieve that and to scale up the whole global entertainment industry here.

[00:48:15.415] Kent Bye: Awesome. Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?

[00:48:20.217] Max Sacker: Have fun. Get out there and have fun.

[00:48:22.938] Ioulia Isserlis: Or get in there. Get in the headset and have fun.

[00:48:27.380] Dennis Lisk: Absolutely. It's all about fun. So let's just put on the VR headset, have fun, and after that, go outside, have fun.

[00:48:35.662] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thanks so much for joining me to help unpack what you had to do to actually make this happen with this real-time mixing and live DJ at the quality for professional DJs. And yeah, I'm excited to attend some of these events at some point. And it might be night in Berlin and afternoon in the United States and come in and see these world-class DJs come and give these performances. So yeah, excited to see where you all take it. So thanks for joining me here on the podcast. So thank you.

[00:49:00.676] Ioulia Isserlis: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Kat. Thank you. Goodbye. Thank you.

[00:49:04.644] Kent Bye: So that was Ulia Aceres. She's the CEO of Another World VR and CTO of Proof of Taste. Dennis Liske, aka Denyo, who's a German hip hop musician and is one of the founders of Proof of Taste, working on this Metaverse VR music app that's integrating being able to play live music, gamification, social VR, interactive games, and lifestyle application, as well as Max Sacker, who's the creative director at Another World VR, as well as the art director at Proof of Taste. So, I have a number of takeaways about this interview is that first of all, well just to see the combination of this DJ who's a professional DJ and has all these high requirements for what it means to be able to perform and play live and to have this as a design challenge of how would you create a virtual reality interface to match what he would need as a professional to be able to live mix and play a DJ set with not only all the different tools to be able to sync and quantize everything but also all the real-time audio effects They're happening in essentially a real-time engine, but also all the different stuff they had to build as their own dedicated sound engine to be able to do these different types of live audio effects and everything else. So yeah, I think on the surface it looks just like a simple DJ application that seems to work fairly well. And, you know, there's a process of mixing and syncing up stuff. And it's a lot about the library of music that you've been able to curate for your own DJ sets. But, you know, just to have all the different live stuff that's built into the virtual software, you know, a lot of the existing stuff is, you know, relying upon existing hardware solutions that you are integrating with and more of a training solution, or like what's happening within VRChat is maybe got this mixed reality component where you have to have all that hardware and it's being streamed in, or it's all prerecorded and it's not live and dynamic. And I think, having that live performative aspect was also a big part of what Dennis was really demanding because of all these years of performance you need to be able to React to the audience and be more of this live Performative aspect that we're actually reacting to what's happening in the world around you and be able to make decisions based upon what's happening within your context of the dance spaces and in this case what's happening in the immersive and interactive spaces, so yeah trying to take up this live performative element up to the next level but in order to do that they had to do a lot of stuff on the back end in order to even make that work so yeah excited to see where they end up taking this you know for me personally i'm not a huge big fan of the nft and the cryptocurrency dimensions of everything you know there's a big emphasis that there isn't this speculative dimension but you know with cryptocurrencies in general you know there's certain critiques that folks have had with what's called the preferential attachment dimension, which is essentially that the rich get richer. So with all of the different dimensions of these cryptocurrencies, you have the people who get in early have a dispersion amount of money. And so kind of independent of whatever cryptocurrency you have, they still have preferential attachment dynamics that are happening in literally every single cryptocurrency that's out there. I mean, it's happening already the physical reality as well, which is that the richer get richer, it's not like the physical reality has been able to escape this power law dynamic. But And the cryptocurrencies have also got that dynamic. And so looking at how libertarian-based cryptocurrencies are going to be difficult to escape this preferential attachment dynamic, unless you move into more of a commons-based cryptocurrency dimensions. You get this power dynamics effect of, say, like in crypto voxels, which is more of like you buy plots of land with a cryptocurrency where you end up having 22% of the parcels are owned by the top 1%, and then 44% of the parcels are owned by the top 5%. 56% of the parcels owned by the top 10% and 68% of the parcels are owned by the top 20%. So you have over two thirds of all the virtual land owned by 20% of the people. So that's the type of preferential attachment dynamics that happen in cryptocurrency that still have this kind of speculative dimension that I find, unless there's a real answer to that, then I'm just sort of generally skeptical for how that is gonna play out into anything other than this existing preferential attachment dynamics that we've seen out through all these other cryptocurrency dynamics. The idea of trying to have these micropayments, I think, is trying to pay artists. I think you get into something that's more of like Twitch streaming, where you're able to do these different types of micropayments. But I don't think you necessarily need cryptocurrencies to be able to enable that. You can just do micropayments. And when you do do that, then there's all these other fees and everything. So yeah, actually to generate legitimate micro payments, you know, I haven't seen any model yet within these creative spaces that I'm really a fan of. But he's been working with some really high level folks within the cryptocurrency space. So maybe they're able to come up with some other dynamics, or I think part of the challenge I'd say is that a lot of the existing cryptocurrency aspects are around these virtual ownership, which is driven by these libertarian based values. And so if they're trying to create a cultural exhibition that is more around people who have access to these cryptocurrencies to be able to give in more of this gift economy way of creating this kind of commons based values, I think that's the thing that I look to the peer to peer foundation did a whole Accounting for Planetary Survival, where they talk about the differences between libertarian-based value-driven cryptocurrency versus the commons-based values. So if they're going to invoke these different commons-based values of cryptocurrency, then I'm more optimistic, but it's more of a libertarian approach, then I'm more skeptical as how that's gonna play out and not be necessarily any different than what we've seen in crypto-based projects like CryptoVoxels, Decentraland, or CNBOXVR, or any of these other different projects that have land ownership that have these disproportionate preferential attachment dynamics happen. I dig into a lot of these different dimensions in episode 1117, deconstructing voxels, which is formally crypto voxels, talking about virtual land speculation, and the experiential gap of crypto-based metaverse neighborhoods. Yeah, it's kind of really unpacking the limitations for what I've seen so far in the crypto metaverse and the VR projects. So that's a place and all the different references I would point folks to that kind of elaborate into much more details as to some of my different crypto-based critiques when it comes to the intersection for crypto and XR. Anyway, that's a whole big deep dive into the cryptocurrency stuff that I didn't even get into much trying to dig into the nuances of that, because I feel like the experiential component of what they're doing is so, so compelling that I'll give them the benefit of the doubt to see how they're going to do these other integrations with cryptocurrencies, which up to this point, I haven't seen a lot of really compelling integrations with cryptocurrencies. There was a ship enter the metaverse experience, which is another crypto based project that was at South by Southwest. And it was more of a meditative experience, but it's still around this cryptocurrency virtual land ownership dimension. And so that's one of the few cases where I see like a crypto based metaverse project that's actually implementing VR and a really compelling experiential design way. So yeah, a lot of the other stuff I haven't seen as much compelling experiential dimensions, but given that another world VR is starting with the virtual reality and the experiential design. and really putting at the heart of these real-time interactions, then we'll see how they continue to have new economic models. It's essentially at the bottom line. If they're trying to create new ways of value exchange, and maybe they'll be able to figure out something that's a lot different. And as time moves on, and maybe they'll put out a white paper that gives more of a detailed plan for what they're going to be doing with this, then I'd love to dig in more to that. Because I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and to check out more. But anyway, that's a little bit more of my larger crypto skepticism when it comes to some of these things. But I will say the experiential aspect of this is really quite compelling. So look forward to see where they continue to take this in the future. So that's all that I have for today. And I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener supported podcast and I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. You can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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