kZm, a rapper of the new generation, held a limited series of virtual liveshows called “Virtual Distortion” from July 31st to August 2nd. This event could also be regarded as a release party for his sophomore project, “Distortion,” which was released back in April. This event was made possible thanks to Virtual Park System (VARP), an entertainment platform that allows people to have shared experiences in a virtual space. kZm also collaborated with “PARTY,” a creative collective. More specifically, once an individual downloaded the “kZm LIVE VARP” app, made exclusively for the occasion, they were then able to view the shows from their mobile device. On top of that, people could purchase official merchandise from graphic designer VERDY and YouthQuake, Tokyo’s next-generation crew, within the app. In regards to the global music scene during this pandemic, Travis Scott hosted a virtual show on “Fortnite” at the end of April and this had a positive reception. It can be said that virtual spaces are becoming an integral part of our lives. We spoke to kZm about what he wanted to show to everyone with his Japan-born virtual event, which was the first one in the world to use an app made exclusively for such an event.
The Best Way to Reach an Audience Today
――Your virtual liveshow event, “Virtual Distortion,” used an app made specifically for the shows, and anyone in the world could access the virtual space if they installed it. How did this world-first event come to be?
kZm: I released my second album, “Distortion” in April and I was planning on having my first ever solo show, but that was no longer an option because of coronavirus. I knew having a physical show was impossible before the album even dropped but there was a part of me that just couldn’t come to terms with having a streamed show. When I was looking for an alternative, PARTY was in the first stages of trying to create a new space. A person from the agency I’m signed to had personal connections with one of the PARTY staff and that’s when we began to talk about creating a liveshow by using VARP. I couldn’t really imagine what the product was going to look like at first, but as we started to outline the project and discuss specific details, I realized that it would actually match the way I work. We aimed to manifest the project in a more serious way after that. I think it began to head in that direction around the beginning of June. I saw the visuals of the prototype around July 20th, right before the actual event, and thought “whoa, this is so cool!” I was genuinely surprised.
――What do you mean by the virtual event matching the way you work?
kZm: When I make songs, I first establish the intent behind the instrumentals and narrative in a solid way. I express my thoughts or feelings after I sit and think about the meaning of a personal incident or experience I’ve been through. I have a very clear mental picture of the universe that my music exists in. With a virtual liveshow, you can create any image you want and so it’s easy to visually communicate the things in your head. I feel like translating a part of any given song into a visual depiction is something that works well for me. Aside from giving a real liveshow, I think this is the best way to grab the audience’s heart. This method is made possible due to the times we live in right now.
――I was surprised to see that you released your album in April, as that was when the emergency announcement regarding coronavirus was made. Was extending the release date ever an option for you?
kZm: During that time, “Stay Home” was the slogan and everyone had way too much time on their hands because there was nothing fun to do. At its core, music brings joy. Thinking about whether or not to release something is a business issue, and so, to selfishly cancel the release of something that brings joy, is to not deliver music in its purest form. I thought delaying the drop would change the music. There’s a reason why this record was complete during that time.
――There was a lot of praise for “Distortion” when it was released, and it got the number one spot on Apple Music’s album charts.
kZm: True. But it wasn’t like I made the album in hopes of getting hits. I just wanted to do what I liked in a cool way so I didn’t think people were going to react positively. I was just so happy that so many different types of people listened to it.
――You portrayed the universe of your record, “Distortion” in “Virtual Distortion” but could you tell us what the experience was like? What’re your actual thoughts?
kZm: I couldn’t predict how it was going to pan out, so there was that shocking feeling of “even I could do something that’s this cool.” I was also moved. Because there’s so much freedom within a virtual space, you run the risk of creating something that’s just so infinitely uncool. I had that worry but I had faith in the team’s eye to detail and aesthetics. In hindsight, we were able to progress at such a smooth pace because of that. I was really blessed to have such an amazing team.
In Truth, It Also Felt Like Going to a Real Show
――What was something interesting that could only be experienced through the virtual liveshow?
kZm: I actually watched “Virtual Distortion” with a friend of mine and a lot of people said that it felt like going to an actual show. I spoke to another friend about it at a later date and they were moved by it too. All of us were in fact sharing an experience. Even if we weren’t in the same physical space, we were able to share the liveshow experience together and I think this is why it felt more real than a livestreamed show. Also, I was away from my hometown, Tokyo recently in order to make music. When I came back after a while, I went through the Shibuya overpass in a car and thought “wow, this spot is from that scene [from the virtual event]!” I’ve been around Shibuya for a long time but this was the first time I ever felt that way. I feel like “Virtual Distortion” really impacted me as a significant event.
――There was VERDY and YouthQuake merchandise being sold within the virtual liveset too.
kZm: VERDY is the face of the modern-day Harajuku fashion scene and he’s always been an amazing person. I asked him to be a part of this as someone I look up to and respect. Plus, it’s hard to have pop-up stores right now so I wanted him to have fun with it too. We made it so that a car with his merchandise would arrive at the liveset unannounced, and whoever noticed it first would be able to buy something. YouthQuake is a crew that represents Tokyo in a big way and I’ve been close with the guys for a long time so it was only natural for them to partake in this project. Their merchandise was sold according to who had ordered it beforehand.
――Do you want to work on more virtual liveshows while we live in the era of coronavirus?
kZm: It was fun and interesting but I feel like it’s not something I would do over and over again. I also aired out all of the songs off my newest album on “Virtual Distortion.” If I were to do something like this again, it would be after the release of my next album. Also, having a good balance is important to me, so I would like to try doing something more analogue, like a physical liveshow, after having done this high-tech project. We were able to provide something special to thousands of people with cutting edge technology so it would be nice to deliver something more real to a small crowd.
Progress Isn’t the Only Answer for the Future
――Have you been working on any projects? Could you also talk about how your next record is coming along?
kZm: I don’t have a proper schedule or time frame in regards to making music, but I am working on songwriting. I’m not the type of person to stay inside the studio all day every day. I start working on a song after I go somewhere or meet someone and form what I want to say; it’s always been like that. But I’ve had some changes too. I used to make songs in Tokyo, where I grew up, but now I find myself working on music in a studio space surrounded by nature like the mountains or by the sea. Doing something like this is a first for me and I live each day searching for something fun to do depending on the situation. Up until now, I used to only go to the studio at night but now I wake up early, drink coffee with everyone, and make music with sounds of nature while being in a slightly sleepy state. It’s been a new discovery for me. I even surprise myself with all the different flows and lyrics that come out of my mouth now.
――It seems like you could come up with an album with a different vibe from before due to this new discovery you’ve made.
kZm: Yeah. I think it’s going to have a new flavor to it. I reckon my duty is to hone in on the skills I’ve built up while incorporating new flavors.
――What do you think the future of music and live performances is going to be like with coronavirus?
kZm: Due to the progress of technology, I think the ways in which we communicate has changed enough already. I mean, we’re going to have big changes, such as the normalization of 5G and that’s going to lead to the inevitability of a more convenient future. With that being said, I think it’s better to look inwards rather than outwards. Progress isn’t necessarily always a good thing. But if things must change, then linking up and working with artists from different scenes a la “Virtual Distortion” might be one sliver of the future.
――Lastly, what did you learn or gain from “Virtual Distortion”?
kZm: First off, so many different kinds of people watched me virtually. Next, instead of being pessimistic about not being able to perform live, I was able to use the situation to my advantage and try something new. Isn’t it better to create something fun with the tools you have at your disposal, rather than not doing anything because of the pandemic? Maybe I was able to manifest this project thanks to timing and luck, but at the very least, I think I was able to show myself to the world.