One Fortnite Only: virtual hip hop concerts in video games

1 February 2022, 4.30 PM - 1 February 2022, 5.45 PM

Steven Gamble, University College, Cork

Victoria's Room, Victoria Rooms

In April 2020, the video game platform Fortnite announced a special in-game event called Astronomical. Billed as a ‘virtual concert’ featuring hip hop artist Travis Scott, the event series broke records, reaching a global audience of nearly 28 million people. However, no live music was performed. The artist was hardly there at all. Yet Fortnite developer Epic Games received a Cannes Lions Grand Prix award and a profusion of glowing reviews. What does the success of the event reveal about popular understandings of live music, experiences of virtual media, and hip hop (for which liveness is so important)?

This talk reflects on the liveness of online concerts – one possible musical future for an increasingly unliveable ‘offline’ world – with reference to previous thinking on the concepts of virtuality and liveness. I make distinctions between commercial ventures like Astroworld and DIY-inspired, community-led charity benefit concerts (typically held in Minecraft). I argue that the low barriers to entry at video game concerts align with the accessible and participatory nature of hip-hop, which perhaps explains the popularity of both the Fortnite event and Lil Nas X’s similar venture with Roblox. My discussion addresses the privatisation of the internet and the platformatisation of culture, as commercial and corporate interests encroach on virtual concerts. The talk concludes by examining how to resist such threats to the social connectivity and immediacy of live popular music.

Dr. Steven Gamble is a Marie Curie Research Fellow in Music at University College Cork. His current project is a groundbreaking study of internet-based hip-hop music and culture, funded by the European Commission. Specialising in the study of popular music and digital culture, listening, and communities, he has published work in Popular Music and Society, the Journal on the Art of Record Production, and Metal Music Studies. His monograph How Music Empowers: Listening to Modern Rap and Metal was published by Routledge in 2021. He is a board member and webmaster for the International Society for Metal Music Studies and the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Music Studies network.

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