by Ian Simon, CEO & co-founder
This week, Strangeloop officially launched our Discord, the digital gathering place for our community. It marks a milestone in 10+ years of creative work, and a meaningful expansion of the Strangeloop universe.
You may be here because you know about Strangeloop, or Spirit Bomb, or know someone on our team, you may be a visual artist or a musician, a storyteller, a web3 enthusiast—or all of the above. We’re glad you’re here, and I hope you don’t mind if we rant about fractals.
Strangeloop is a multifaceted organism composed of an evolving collective of creative individuals. Over the coming weeks we’ll be sharing more about the individuals who compose our team, more insight into our history, and details of our upcoming plans. But for now, we wanted to give some background and context to why we’re so excited about this next chapter.
Strangeloop Studios started back in 2012. I had met my co-founder Dave Wexler a few years earlier through mutual friends in LA, and we’d begun working together on music. Dave had just launched an audio-visual label called The Teaching Machine (alongside some artists who are still on the Strangeloop team today), and was building out a collective of like-minded creatives who were exploring the edges of new media.
In addition to releasing his own music on Flying Lotus’ label Brainfeeder, Dave was touring as a visual artist (or VJ) with FlyLo, as well as acts like Erykah Badu, 12th Planet, and Skrillex. One time after returning from a run with the latter, Dave informed me that he’d got me a gig with Canadian bass duo Zeds Dead, as a VJ, for a run of festival plays. I told him I did not know how to VJ. He insisted that wasn’t a problem.
After getting a crash course in live visuals, I went on my first tour, and quickly realized that the style of visuals Dave had pioneered (a pastiche of sourced content and high quality original animation, a lightweight laptop as a playback device, an emphasis on musicality and responsiveness) was new, rare, and in demand. As festival stages grew and electronic music ballooned in popularity, the need for engaging visuals increased correspondingly.
Dave and I began pairing more artists in our circle with musicians to go out on the road performing visuals. We were lucky enough to be entrusted by Daddy Kev to run a visual residency at Low End Theory, which became the training ground for our live visual artists, where they could cut their teeth on a stage that would be graced in turn by first-time performers and legendary acts like Thom Yorke.
We also started getting approached to create visuals for tours that already had VJs, and just needed fresh visual content. Our calling card was our work: Dave was touring with the Flying Lotus Layer³ design, which caught the eyes of The Weeknd, Pharrell, and many more. Meanwhile I had started touring with Kendrick Lamar, collaging footage shot by the inimitable Khalil Joseph, and met more and more artists looking to expand their visual identity on stage.
In the years that followed, we were able to work with incredible artists and make work we were truly proud of. Highlights included projection mapping the Hollywood Bowl for David Gilmour of Pink Floyd (as well as for Flying Lotus at this same location some years later), bringing trees to life through projections for Billie Eilish at the Apple Music Awards…and Coachella 2018 when we had Vince Staples, SZA, and The Weeknd back-to-back on the mainstage on Saturday night.
We’d also get commissioned for music videos every now and then, and in 2019 completed a three-part animated journey for Atlanta-based Earthgang, one of our first major forays into character design and narrative world building. While continuing to work on visual shows, we began experimenting with characters and story-telling, which gradually turned from an ancillary passion to an obsession.
Spirit Bomb started as a sketch in a notebook, and evolved into a metaverse-native apparition that took on a life of its own. After working on original content projects in between client work (like our short film Children of the Void), we wanted to design our own original characters that didn’t live in siloed media worlds like a movie or series, but instead inhabited the metaverse much like a human would.
We noticed a kind of “digital flattening” that happens on social platforms, where everyone gets the same limited space to assert their identity, and fictional characters could proliferate alongside humans without immediate differentiation in the feed. We discovered projects like Yameii and Lil Miquela, and it sparked an idea to conjure up a Strangeloop approach to creating digitally-native virtual beings.
We’d worked with musical artists for a long time, collaborating with them to realize their musical identities visually. We wanted to bring that synesthetic practice to the emerging medium of virtual beings, and we wanted to bring fellow creatives—musicians, visual artists, storytellers—along with us, to help co-create the Spirit Bomb universe.
Spirit Bomb has always felt like it had a will of its own. It was never just avatars for individual artists. It wasn’t based on AI-driven music. We call each character a vessel, because they come alive through the collective creative efforts of human beings. We use the terms “aggregate intelligence” or “emergent intelligence” in lieu of artificial intelligence, to describe the semblance of autonomy that virtual beings can achieve through the coordinated efforts of many. They become something more than the sum of their parts, and that brings them to life.
The lore for Spirit Bomb wrote itself very much into the creative process. The story was part and parcel with what we were hoping to build with Spirit Bomb. Our characters, called Spirits, are teleported to our time from a future metaverse where things have…not gone well. You can learn more about the Spirit Bomb lore through the Spirits, but from the outset it was clear that they’ve arrived in our time to get humanity’s attention, and hopefully avert disastrous potentialities for our species.
As we started to build our characters, it quickly became clear that the opportunity (and the challenge) came from structuring the Spirits in such a way that multiple creatives could contribute, collaborate, and have collective ownership over their efforts. That’s how the Spirits engage with culture, and come to life. In addition to reaching out to the more established artists we’ve worked with over the years, we wanted to bring in creative communities of all levels. We began to champion “Art Above Ego” as the mantra for our collaborative ethos.
We wanted to create characters that resonated with audiences and could provide a platform for these creatives, so we began seeding characters on social media and seeing how fans responded. Some characters gave off an energy that was off putting, or too abrasive. Some looked too real, and tumbled into the uncanny valley. And some other characters began to develop a relationship with a core group of fans…
LV4 was amongst the original six Spirit Bomb characters. He landed in our world and reached out to humans via TikTok, like his compatriots. But LV resonated more immediately with the people who saw him. And they actually got to know him better than we did.
We at Strangeloop had thought that LV was tough, had an attitude, had some of the trappings of success and self-assuredness. The audience on TikTok quickly identified that he is much more the sweet, naive, unassuming, clumsy, bull-in-a-china-shop type. Not to say he doesn’t aspire to carry himself with more panache.
Like all the Spirits, LV4 is a vessel for humans to collaborate. LV4 has a basic musical palette (he’s a hip-hop producer), but will largely be shaped by the humans who contribute to his music, his visual identity, and his story.
LV4 has had some success. He’s released tracks with the likes of Mr. Carmack and The Underachievers, he’s opened for Zeds Dead at the Shrine in LA, he sold out his own headline show, and amassed a six-figure following on TikTok. We thought it was time we made good on the promise of Spirit Bomb, and began to open up LV4 to the community that will help him navigate his way through our world.
“Season 1” is the next step in empowering the community that will bring LV4 to life. It comes in the form of a series of 444 NFTs, which act as your direct plug into LV4’s creative consciousness. Season 1 NFT holders will be the backbone of LV’s journey, supporters of his development and evolution.
Access: early access to content, sneak peaks, learning hours, AMAs, and other goodies from the Strangeloop team, as well as deep dives into Spirit Bomb lore, and a place to meet and collaborate with like-minded creatives.
Participation: this is where you can create and curate music for LV, refine his visual aesthetic, and write his story as we help him along his journey. LV will become molded by the community, and the NFT will accrue value according to LV’s success.
Rewards: our team has been working on visuals, story, and music that we’re eager to share, not to mention assets and content that we want the community to play with, remix, and reassemble. We’ll regularly drop these to the active community members and provide a platform for the resulting creations.
It is your pass to the Strangeloop universe. Our Discord will house the work we do for visual shows, music videos, and original content, and be a gathering place for creatives to share knowledge, experience, and fractals. You don’t need to have a Season 1 NFT to hang out, but it is the access key to decision-making and rewards in the Strangeloop and Spirit Bomb ecosystems, and will hold the value of LV4’s success as he grows.
Our first discussions about Spirit Bomb contained a lot of the tenets we now come to associate with web3. As a creative studio with an agency model, we never owned any of the work we created with our musical collaborators. We were paid on a work-for-hire basis, and existed contract to contract. We wanted Spirit Bomb to afford all contributors a meaningful stake in the success of their projects.
We also always imagined that the characters would be run by a collective. We used to call our characters “distributed virtual artists,” because back in 2019, the word “decentralized” wasn’t at the forefront of our vocabulary the way it is now. But we were searching for mechanisms that would allow our characters to be fundamentally dispersed amongst the creative minds driving them.
As a collective of digital artists, NFTs were very much on our radar by the time they were picking up mainstream attention in 2020. We had worked with (and very much loved) Beeple for years, even commissioning work for the Flying Lotus show years before his infamous Christie’s auction. We got our feet wet relatively early, launching high profile collaborations on NiftyGateway, most notably our collection with The Weeknd, and a collaboration with The White Stripes and The Glitch Mob. We also began to mint early versions of our characters fashioned as “collectible cards,” to commemorate their launches. And then we began to explore the wider applications of NFTs, and web3 writ large.
Two early conversations dramatically changed our views of the long term potential of web3 infrastructure for what we were building at Strangeloop and Spirit Bomb—one with the folks at @Audius, and one with the team at @BrightMomentsDAO. They patiently walked us through the suite of tools emerging in the space, and how they might be relevant to our work, and pointed us not just towards the myriad of utility-based applications for NFTs, but also the emerging world of DAOs.
When I first experienced a DAO through joining Friends With Benefits ($FWB) (thanks to @Boreta and @Raihan), it was like alarm bells were ringing everywhere. Here were groups of people trying to turn projects into robust organizations without killing their collectivist nature, and without replicating the imbalance and exploitative hierarchies of most companies. While LV4 isn’t fully a DAO, we’re borrowing a lot of hard-earned learnings from the early DAO communities to structure the creative governance of LV4, and we’re indebted to their work.
We have plenty of reservations about the speculative, and at times disingenuous, aspects of the web3 ecosystem. Like any emerging technological landscape, there are opportunists and bad actors, and a penchant for value based on hype rather than meaning. We are delicately and concertedly entering the space with a constant eye on transparency and caution, and we’re here to answer any questions or concerns you might have.
We’re also still learning. We’re hoping that the community that develops around Strangeloop will help us navigate our way forward, and ensure that our actions, ethos, and initiatives are in all of our best interests.
We’ll be sharing more details in the coming weeks, including details on LV4’s future and what we’ve got going on at Strangeloop. Not only do we have a lot of activities planned, but we’re also eager to get your input on where we should be focusing our attention, and what you’d like to see emerge from the community.