Our Music Festival shoots cryptocurrency at its audience

Stephanie Li/Staff

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Behind closed doors, tastemakers of festival behemoths such as Coachella and Lollapalooza bicker over font sizes to create an extensive lineup of performances for the upcoming musical event. To curate a list that best reflects the omnivorous listening habits of today’s generation would be to include the old and the new, the loud and the quiet, the popular and the experimental. (Back in 1991, including Ice-T among outfits such as Nine-Inch Nails and Jane’s Addiction was considered generous enough.)

That wasn’t the case Saturday at Our Music Festival, or OMF, hosted at the Greek Theatre — an 18-monthlong project in the making by electronic dance DJ Justin Blau. With a small but diverse lineup of five artists and two last-minute additions, Blau (stylized as “3LAU”) and his OMF team gathered performances with a strictly frat-DJ mindset in which the only direction for the mood and sound was up.

But the diminutive schedule was also what was peculiar about the festival: Most of the artists set to perform — save maybe for Zedd — were not exactly vanguards of their genre or doing anything particularly interesting with it at the moment.

Detroit rapper Big Sean’s most recent studio album Double or Nothing, released in December, was panned byPitchfork  for the rapper’s “habit of writing the absolute corniest lyrics imaginable.” Opening acts, Charlotte Lawrence and Kid Quill both felt like standard-issue examples of pop and rap, respectively. Even Zedd has not released a full-length album since 2015’s True Colors — just a string of singles, albeit chart-toppers as we can now expect from the Russian-German producer.

But whether it was the overtly sexual performance by indie-pop duo Matt and Kim — with Kim swinging “18-inch dildos,” flashing the crowd and blowing a sex-doll — or the most-popular-only setlist of Big Sean, the audience’s reactions remained chameleonic and minimally varied as OMF switched gears into different genres. Rap, pop, indie-pop, electronic, even the Pokemon theme song during 3LAU — to Saturday’s audience, it didn’t really matter.

There may be a method to the madness of the ubiquitous multigenre festival, but OMF spun the wheel and created a roster that looked random at its purest. Blau, self-aware as he is, probably knows this. He’s never claimed to try to be the curator or artist of our generation. He is first and foremost a DJ.

“I think there’s a really big misconception of what DJs actually do,” said the 29-year-old in an interview with Forbes. “They’re business owners.” And as any entrepreneur, Blau would make his defining pitch of the night during his own set. “Oh, here we go,” said one audience member, as if expecting that it had to come sooner or later.

Making its appropriate debut in the city of tech-enthusiasts, OMF was, according to its official website, the first festival of its kind to run on blockchain technology and introduce its own form of cryptocurrency — the OMF token, powered by Stellar Lumens. What exactly that means will remain elusive to a large part of the audience and the rest of the world. (Rest assured, even self-proclaimed aficionados are not sure what to make of the technology). But it’s okay, Blau reminded us. All we need to know, for now, is that there’s an app to download that will help keep track of the new digital currency.

On the website, the team promises the future. In a promotional video, Blau looks earnestly into the camera and calls on viewers to “join us, to take the first step in decentralizing the festival business.” Allowing fans to be a part of the decision-making process of lineups and combating ticket-price gouging are some of OMF’s commitments.

It’s a change that will take quite some time, Matt Liu, one of OMF’s blockchain advisors, suggested at one point during the festival.

Toward the end of Blau’s performance, confetti cannons shot out slips of QR codes that can be scanned for free crypto. Squared barcodes wafted in the chilly Berkeley air, reaching the rafters of the stage. The Greek Theatre momentarily felt like a dystopian nightclub with a raving audience illuminated by variously colored stage lights. Shortly after, Blau introduced a new song collaboration with famous Twitch streamer Ninja.

Welcome to the future?

Contact Lloyd Lee at [email protected]. Tweet him at @helloydlee.