Into the Night is a monthly series exploring China’s vibrant nightlife scene and the roster of young people that make parties in the country so damn fun. This month, we introduce the practice of ‘cloud clubbing’ in the metaverse.
Every night between 9 and 10 PM, tens of thousands of Shiba Inu dogs rock the dance floor at one of China’s hottest nightclubs. Some nurse beers and milk tea between their paws, several bounce basketballs with surprising dexterity, and others are glued to games on their mobile phones.
No, you haven’t gone barking mad; the scene before 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 party that’s livestreamed daily. To witness the spectacle, log on to the Chinese video-sharing website Bilibili.
One of many global trends to have risen since Covid cast its shadow around the globe, cloud clubbing is the new alternative to sweaty dance floors and boozy nights out.
Instead of fretting over the perfect outfit and putting on makeup, simply power up your computer, sit back, and relax — and trust your cute Shiba avatar to break out the dance moves.
Most cloud parties are essentially livestreams where DJs spin records for virtual audiences. On video platforms such as Zoom, webcams often depict cloud clubbers sipping their drinks and bobbing their heads to the music.
But Xiugou Nightclub is a whole different animal, involving memes and interactive gaming.
Founded in December 2021, Xiugou Nightclub often tops Bilibili’s ‘hottest livestreaming’ charts. The cloud clubbing event attracts 20,000 to 30,000 attendees on average, with the most successful session scoring a staggering 3 million participants.
A dynamic team of more than 10 young individuals is responsible for the virtual event. Shenzhen-based Nic, who chose not to share his surname, is a game designer by day and the manager of Xiugou Nightclub by night. He tells RADII that the project was inspired by their love of memes and ‘bullet chat games,’ a peculiar form of interactive gaming.
An example of a bullet chat game on Bilibili. Users are presented with and may choose to ‘carry out’ any of the listed actions at the top of the screen. Screengrab via Bilibili
A commenting function that originated in Japan, bullet chats (danmu in Mandarin) enable viewers to send live comments flying across their screens — not unlike hard-hitting ammo. This adds an interactive dimension to otherwise passive streaming experiences.
Compared with other Chinese video platforms, Bilibili has had the most success with danmu. And Xiugou Nightclub takes bullet comments to the next level: Each comment triggers a quick-morphing reaction. For example, typing in ‘create a character’ causes a Cheems-inspired avatar to take to the virtual dance floor.
Although Cheems is the only available avatar at present, customization allows cloud clubbers to assert their individuality. Typing in ‘Coke’ conjures a virtual glass of the world’s most popular soft drink in your Cheems’ paws, while ‘drive little train’ causes your avatar to drift across the dance floor at a reckless pace.
Poster for Xiugou Nightclub’s Valentine’s Day party featuring two avatars modeled on Cheems. Image courtesy of Xiugou Nightclub
Byron Cheng, aged 23, is a freelance designer based in Chengdu and one of Xiugou Nightclub’s cofounders. According to him, bullet comments make the virtual club accessible by eliminating the need for specialized equipment like gaming consoles or Google glasses. This gives Xiugou Nightclub an edge over other virtual reality platforms such as The Sandbox or Decentraland.
Though 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 — such as skipping a song or hopping into the DJ booth — cost extra.
“Although the functions are still pretty basic, our goal is to give players a tool to express themselves and to show their personality to others during livestreams,” says Nic.
More exciting functions are on the way, confides Xiugou Nightclub’s founders to RADII. For example, they’re developing separate rooms with different lineups to overcome the limitations of an overcrowded virtual space.
Xiugou Nightclub’s chaotic dance floor packed with Shiba Inu-inspired avatars. Screengrab via Bilibili
Cheng adds that they’re also designing VIP tables. “We plan to invite KOLs and influencers to join the party so users can buy premium experiences and sit at the same table as them.”
The love affair between gaming and live music can be pinpointed to early 2019, when Fortnite invited American DJ Marshmello to hold a virtual concert within a livestreamed game.
Faced with a lack of performing avenues during Covid, other famous faces spied an opportunity. Ariana Grande and Travis Scott enjoyed their share of the limelight in Fortnite while Lil Nas X ‘grabbed the mic’ in Roblox; all of these shows ranked among ‘the best in-game concerts ever.’
On this note, Xiugou Nightclub is also experimenting with real artist lineups.
Twenty-five-year-old DJ, music production teacher, and digital creator Vesk Green was a headliner at Hyperlinks, a virtual music festival organized by Xiugou Nightclub. Born Lu Zhirong and based in Guangzhou, the artist says, “What I love about performing online is having the freedom to showcase some of my latest creations, whereas, during offline DJ sets, I often have to read the room and play tracks based on the nightclub’s vibe.”
He points out that cloud clubbing benefits anyone with a busy schedule or who cannot travel.
Cloud clubbing in the metaverse also appeals to previously untapped audiences, says Stan, a member of the Xiugou Nightclub team. As the only frequent clubber among the founders, Stan has observed how online and offline clubbers can be lumped into distinct groups.
He believes that many traditional clubgoers are more interested in meeting potential partners than the music per se: “Some Chinese clubs hire female dancers and employees just to attract customers. Just a handful of clubs in the country focus on quality electronic music and have to rely on ticket sales for their revenues.”
One of the stages designed by Cheng for the Hyperlinks virtual music festival. Image courtesy of Xiugou Nightclub
Cloud clubbing benefits genuine music lovers who are after an affordable, chill time.
Hou Chunxiao, a college student based in Shanghai, might be surrounded by countless nightlife options (pre-lockdown, anyway), but still prefers cloud clubbing. According to her, online clubbing doesn’t require emptying one’s pockets or exerting much emotional energy; this makes the metaverse the perfect party venue for introverts.
“To party at Xiugou Nightclub, you don’t need to buy a pretty dress, wear makeup, or waste money on club entry fees. You don’t even need to have that many friends,” she says. “Since everyone looks the same on the virtual dance floor, no one feels inferior, and there is no need to engage in real interactions.”
Though cloud clubbing and metaverse experiences are only in their embryonic stage of development in China, those involved in Xiugou Nightclub feel optimistic about the prospects.
Nic and Cheng plan to work on Xiugou Nightclub full-time soon, while Vesk Green hopes the project will help develop China’s electronic music scene.
“I feel like cloud clubbing already has a lot of recognition in China. I hope it will keep growing and enable all those who don’t have the chance to attend offline events to discover electronic music and its surrounding culture,” states the DJ.
Poster for Xiugou Nightclub’s Hyperlinks. Image courtesy of Xiugou Nightclub
The fast-thinking, fast-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 foreign audiences who aren’t 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 greatest challenge will be maintaining momentum and expanding our user-base, but also retaining our existing users and offering more interesting functions.”
Whether cloud clubbing will keep growing and introduce even the shyest of netizens to EDM and club culture remains to be seen. While we wait for further developments, bouncing to techno beats in a sea of Cheems is still one hell of an experience that no one should miss.
Cover image via Zhuohan Shao
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