We co-hosted aTumblr IRL in LA earlier this week. Our co-founder Tyler was there to take it all in.
Standing in the lobby of the Village Studios, it’s easy to feel out of place. The wall is a map of semi-modern American music history, starting back with Steely Dan, Dylan, and Fleetwood Mac and stretching, effortlessly it seems, forward to Dr. Dre, Usher, John Mayer, and Taylor Swift. The studios here, which I later learn take up much of the three floors of the converted Masonic temple, have witnessed the making of music history on so many occasions that it starts to seem like the place carries a sense of destiny with it. Like it was meant for this. Maybe I'm caught up in the momentary giddiness that comes with genuinely losing your shit over this sort of thing. Maybe the previous proprietor the Maharishi left a charm behind. It's hard to say. What's easy to say, though, is that from a musical perspective, I'm easily the least important person to be here in quite some time.
For those of you who are either over the age of 35 or don't spend too much time on the Internet, Tumblr IRL (In Real Life) shows were created with the intention of immersing fans in the world of their favorite artists. Like all great things, they're plotted and planned within an inch of their lives and leave attendees aglow for weeks afterwards if all goes well (it always does). They've had quite a lineup in the past, with artists like Courtney Barnett, Flying Lotus, and Travi$ Scott all agreeing to be conjured and imagined by a changing group of artists and event maestros who would make your head spin. Producing one of these things is not for the faint of heart from either a logistical or a creative perspective, and no one seems to rest until the over-the-topness of the whole thing has been shaped in a way that feels comfortable and natural for the average attendee (i.e. me).
Take this one for example. How To Be A Human Being is comprised of 10 songs each exploring the deeper questions of life through the lenses of different characters and personalities the band either created or encountered over the last couple of years. Naturally then, each of those characters were, with the help of Whoopi (the lead art guy for this one), brought to literal life via a small gaggle of LA actors who are at the event in full feathers. The girl whom Dave says loves to get blazed and while eating mayonnaise on the couch is playing N64 on a vintage couch and wearing something Stephanie Tanner would wear to class. The kid from the album cover is riding a big wheel around the room amidst the pre-concert bustle. The lady in pink is using her walker to go back and forth from her palm reading duties to refill her drink. Etc etc. The Space Invader kiosk is also in full swing with a mixture of genuine interest and photo-posing and you can't help but smile. This might be the most popular way in human history to be seen playing the game, and the whole environment is delivering several metric tons of unironic, throwback fun for all in attendance. In other words, this thing fucking rules.
The crowd itself is what you would imagine for one of the biggest shows happening in the city tonight. Mostly mid to late twenties kids who are all dressed to the regional nines: designer tank tops, backwards hats, jean shorts, circle glasses, side-shaved heads, and the kind of bright eyed malaise that comes not just with West Coast Big City Life but the cultivated appreciation of it. The LA scene, in all of its washed out glory, seems to be the first thing these folks have ever genuinely loved for who and what it is. The bar is slammed and showing no signs of slowing. The complementary strawberry pop tarts are gone 15 minutes in and I’m pissed about it. A group nearby is talking about new ways to use Shazam while another is basking in the glories of recreational pharmaceuticals use. The room is alive, in almost every imaginable way.
The show itself begins with a shout from the back, and then a wave of semi-nervous, semi-awed side stepping that comes with seeing a Big New Band walk by you within arms reach. The four guys are all smiles as they make their Moses-ey way to the front through a sea of flesh and blood fans. This may be the Internet Age, but in the moment you can't help but feel that nothing about any of us has ever really changed. We still love to see things with our own eyes. We’re still caught somewhere between wanting to soak up the moment and already crafting the stories we're going to tell about it. We all still need to feel the noise for ourselves. The band blasts its way through 45 minutes of infectious and hungry jungle rock that turns the room into a sauna. The young Hakeem Olajuwon character has had 7 drinks at least during that same time and, as the last song begins, he climbs on stage and starts to dance and snapchat himself, much to the delight of the crowd. The blazed Stephanie Tanner, the Cosmonaut, and a guy in a Speedo (presumably another character) join him and soon the full ensemble is making the most of their fifteen thousand seconds of fame. I’ll admit, it would be weird to come in to the show at this point. You kind of needed to see the whole thing build. But, as the band plays the last song and we head down to hand out gift bags for the guests as they leave, it’s hard to shake the impression that something significant just happened, though I’m not entirely sure what it is.
I’m still thinking about it the next morning at 4:30am when a Lyft driver picks me up to take me to the airport. We trade the traditional pleasantries and I notice his accent. I ask where he’s from and he starts to tell me about his decision to leave Iran a few years ago and move here with his young family. He’s a film composer, and he’s planning a move to New York City in the next few years because he likes the vibe there more. Soon, he’s playing me his album from a few years ago and some new stuff he’s been working on for a children’s film. It’s good, and I tell him as much and get his information. Who knows? Maybe VMP will feature an Iranian film composer someday. But maybe 10 minutes out from the airport it hits me. This guy could have been up on stage last night. He could have been one of the people on the cover of the album. And later as I shuffle along with the rest of the bleary eyed sardines wondering why the hell we’re awake right now, I realize that the real weight of this record comes in its ability to wake you up to the wonder the awaits you in the drudgery of our day to day lives. In the way it reminds us of the strange gifts that exist in the form of the people we know and the stories they have to tell. In the humility it has to direct our attention to the questions rather than to the answers.
And that’s what made this event so cool. For a few hours, a few hundred of us were crammed into one of the most iconic studios in LA to learn, whether we were conscious of it or not, a little bit more about what it means to be a human being in real life. It wasn’t preachy, it wasn’t pretentious, and it wasn’t aloof. It was just us, together, celebrating the litany of things that still deserve it.