In the night is a monthly series exploring China’s vibrant nightlife and the roster of young people who make parties so fun in the country. This month, we’re bringing the practice of “cloud clubbing” to the metaverse.
Every night between 9 and 10 p.m., tens of thousands of Shiba Inu dogs rock the dance floor of one of China’s hippest nightclubs. Some nurse beers and milk tea between their paws, several basketballs bounce with surprising dexterity, and others are glued to games on their cell phones.
No, you haven’t gone completely mad; the scene in front of you is in the metaverse and the furry crowd is made up of avatars.
The nightclub in question, Xiugou Nightclub, is the setting for a virtual reality evening broadcast live daily. To watch the show, log on to the Chinese video-sharing site bilibili.
One of many global trends to have grown since covid casting its shadow around the globe, cloud clubbing is the new alternative to sweaty dance floors and boozy parties.
Instead of worrying about the perfect outfit and makeup, just turn on your computer, sit back and relax – and trust your adorable Shiba avatar to get the dance moves started.
Most cloud parties are basically live streams where DJs spin records for a virtual audience. On video platforms like Zoom, webcams often depict cloud clubbers sipping their drinks and bobbing their heads to the beat of the music.
But Xiugou Nightclub is a whole different animal, involving memes and interactive games.
Gaming meets memes
Founded in December 2021, Xiugou Nightclub often tops Bilibili’s “hottest live stream” charts. The cloud clubbing event attracts an average of 20,000 to 30,000 attendees, with the most successful session having 3 million attendees.
A dynamic team of more than 10 young people is responsible for the virtual event. Shenzhen-based Nic, who chose not to share his last name, is a game designer by day and manager of Xiugou nightclub by night. He tells RADII that the project was inspired by their love of memes and “bullet chat games”, a particular form of interactive game.
A commenting function originating in Japan, bullet chats (danmu in Mandarin) allow viewers to send live feedback to their screens – much like hard-hitting ammo. This adds an interactive dimension to otherwise passive streaming experiences.
Compared to other Chinese video platforms, Bilibili had the the most successful with danmu. And Xiugou Nightclub takes commentary to the next level: every comment triggers a quick morphing reaction. For example, typing “create character” causes a Cheems-inspired avatar to take to the virtual dance floor.
Although Cheems is the only avatar currently available, customization allows cloud clubbers to assert their individuality. Tapping “Coke” conjures a virtual glass of the world’s most popular soft drink in your Cheems’ paws, while “riding the little train” has your avatar drifting around the dance floor at a breakneck pace.
Byron Cheng, 23, is a Chengdu-based freelance designer and one of the co-founders of Xiugou Nightclub. According to him, bulleted comments make the virtual club accessible by eliminating the need for specialized equipment like game consoles or Google Glasses. This gives Xiugou Nightclub an edge over other VR platforms such as The sandbox or Decentralized.
Although not a brick and mortar establishment, the club involves real dough. Virtual gifts cost between 198 and 2,233 RMB (about 31 to 350 USD), and premium interactions – like skipping a song or jumping into the DJ booth – cost extra.
“Although the functions are still quite basic, our goal is to give players a tool to express themselves and show their personality to others during live broadcasts,” explains Nic.
More exciting features are on the way, the founders of Xiugou Nightclub told RADII. For example, they are developing separate rooms with different queues to overcome the limitations of a crowded virtual space.
Cheng adds that they also design VIP tables. “We plan to invite KOLs and influencers to join the party so users can purchase premium experiences and sit at the same table as them.”
A paradise for DJs and introverts
The love affair between video games and live music dates back to early 2019, when fortnite invited the American DJ Marshmello to hold a virtual concert in a game broadcast live.
Faced with the lack of performing avenues during Covid, other famous faces spied an opportunity. Ariana Grande and Travis Scott had their share of fame in fortnite while Lil Nas X “grabbed the mic” in Roblox; all these shows ranked among ‘best in-game gigs of all time.’
On that note, Xiugou Nightclub is also experimenting with real entertainer queues.
Twenty-five-year-old DJ, music production teacher and digital creator, Vesk Green was the headliner of Hyperlinks, a virtual music festival hosted by Xiugou Nightclub. Born Lu Zhirong and based in Guangzhou, the artist says, “What I love about playing online is having the freedom to showcase some of my latest creations, while during sets of Offline DJ, I often have to read the room and play songs based on the nightclub atmosphere.
He points out that cloud clubbing benefits anyone with a busy schedule or who cannot travel.
Cloud clubbing in the metaverse is also attracting previously untapped audiences, says Xiugou Nightclub team member Stan. As the only frequent clubber among the founders, Stan observed how online and offline clubbers can be grouped into distinct groups.
He thinks many traditional club goers are more interested in meeting potential partners than the music itself: “Some Chinese clubs hire dancers and employees just to attract customers. Only a handful of clubs in the country focus on quality electronic music and have to rely on ticket sales for their revenue.
Cloud clubbing benefits true music lovers who are looking for affordable down time.
Shanghai-based student Hou Chunxiao could be surrounded by countless nightlife options (pre-lockdown, anyway), but still prefers cloud clubbing. According to her, online clubbing doesn’t require emptying your pockets or exerting a lot of emotional energy; this makes the Metaverse the perfect party spot for introverts.
“To party at Xiugou Nightclub, you don’t need to buy a pretty dress, wear makeup, or waste money on club entrance fees. You don’t even have to have that many friends,” she says. “Since everyone looks alike on the virtual dance floor, no one feels inferior and there’s no need to engage in real interactions.”
To the Metaverse and Beyond
Although cloud clubbing and metaverse experiences are still in their infancy stage of development in China, those involved with Xiugou Nightclub are optimistic about the prospects.
Nic and Cheng plan to work full-time on Xiugou Nightclub soon, while Vesk Green hopes the project will help grow China’s electronic music scene.
“I feel like cloud clubbing has already got a lot of recognition in China. I hope it will continue to grow and allow everyone who is not lucky enough to attend offline events to experience electronic music and its surrounding culture,” says the DJ.
The quick thinking and acting founders of Xiugou Nightclub are already exploring the possibilities of hosting online events overseas. Their new Twitch Account will be a platform to reproduce events for a foreign audience that is not on Bilibili.
Cheng explains that even though interactive livestreaming was born on Twitch a few years ago, the trend fell flat after the first wave of interest. “I think our biggest challenge will be to maintain the momentum and expand our user base, but also retain our existing users and offer more exciting features.”
Whether cloud clubbing will continue to grow and introduce even the most timid internet users to EDM and club culture remains to be seen. While waiting for new developments, bouncing to techno beats in a sea of Cheems is still one hell of an experience not to be missed.
Cover image via Zhuohan Shao