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Upload to the Queer Music Metaverse With GRiZ

GRiZ

The gay EDM star is conquering the digital concert space and making it LGBTQ-inclusive.

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"I'm just blown away by the type of shit that humans create out of their own inspiration."

Wearing a black Lockwood51 shirt that reads "Homosexual Tendencies," GRiZ absentmindedly rubs a quartz crystal between his palms during this interview. What does it symbolize? "I don't know," he smiles before picking up various crystals off his studio desk. "I collect them."

A Google search reveals the quartz he's holding is a healing stone that increases inspiration and creativity, which seems apropos for the gay electronic music producer known for favoring the saxophone and funk. "The majority of the time I'm holding on to them, it's a reminder to be with that intentionality," he says. "Then I believe it because I think it and I create it into my reality -- and then it is real, you know?"

Crafting a reality is name of the game with EDM, a dance genre where the point is escapism. GRiZ describes his sound as Kenny G meets Earth, Wind & Fire mixed with Skrillex. And he is making a name in experimenting with digital platforms. Last summer, he shared with his fans his innovative Rainbow Brain -- a funky concert filmed in Denver -- as a way to connect while live shows were on hold. Now, with the help of Soundscape, he's found a new way to reach audiences.

With a feature called Magic Mirror, Soundscape has created a virtual reality experience that aims to be "the future of music" and "provides a platform for content creators that brings the entire universe of 2D content into virtual reality, from music videos, concert footage, visualizers, to live streams and more," as a statement from Soundscape puts it. One can download the Soundscape app on Steam and the VR brand Oculus, where GRiZ's experience lives alongside bands like Evanescence and Memo Rex. Music lovers enter the "digital drive-in" space and escape into the vast Soundscape Universe that "allows users to creatively participate in the show," according to the company.

"They have these different environments in which to interact with," GRiZ says, where users "take the limits of the physical universe off of it so we can fly around through things, we can interact with stuff in a way that is otherworldly. You throw the goggles on and you would find yourself in the middle of a space station floating outside of Earth where you can view the 2D experience" of his show.

It's an understatement to say he was up to the challenge of presenting his show to "viewers in a way that they wouldn't ever be able to experience by just showing up." His team shot Rainbow Brain using "different angles and these different ways that take the experience outside of things that you could see with the naked eye," he says. "We were shooting lasers at a frame rate that the eyes can't see so that you can see that in a way that is superhuman. I'm really interested in seeing how we can use the VR element to be able to create another layer, like an Inception layer. It's like the dream-within-a-dream kind of shit.... It's really fucking mind-blowing."

GRiZ

"It takes you out of reality into surreality, in a way that if you were ever looking to take tiny hits of acid but not actually experience that you could put on this headset and hallucinate," he says. This bucking and reshaping of conventions of what a show can look like thrills GRiZ.

"It's sort of getting ourselves interested and excited about something that is new, that challenges convention," he says. "I mean, we're speaking to Out magazine right now. I think that queer culture challenges convention just by definition, by existing. That's something that's tapping into that and understanding that."

As an out musician, GRiZ knows the EDM genre has a way to go in terms of representation. It's mainly dominated by straight white men and doesn't always feel the most inclusive. During every show, GRiZ displays a safe-space graphic that lets concertgoers know "we value your sexual orientation, your race, your creed, your gender identity, and anything less won't be tolerated."

If he's a leader in the community, "I better fucking act like one and start bringing up queer-identifying artists better, you know? It's time," he says. "If you want the world to change, you got to change your own world.... I'm going to do that, and I've been doing that, and I want that to feel like a more inclusive space."

The peace that inclusion can bring is important in his life, and he wants his fans, straight or LGBTQ+, to feel it too. "I want to feel like my spirit is safe. At every GRiZ show your spirit is safe with us. We're fucking here, you're good here," he says. "I think about How would the Black trans women before me deal with that? What would they have to say about what I'm doing? Which is really important because...I wouldn't be doing this if not for them."

Once upon a time, GRiZ's identity was something he downplayed. Now he now feels like it's a superpower. "It's actually low-key like a Spider-Man kind of thing -- with great power comes great responsibility. People look up to you; you've got to fucking let them know so that other people can feel more comfortable about their shit. Not everyone is as lucky as me."

Existing outside of the box of heteronormativity is a superpower. It's given LGBTQ+ people the opportunity to actively shape the world around them, creating something boundary-pushing and spaces that can only be imagined by people who have spent a lifetime being othered, who have been forced to think alternatively. Queer culture is already taking over this reality -- maybe it's time for VR.

Photography Jason Siegel/Soundscape VR

This article is part of Out's March/April 2022 issue, appearing on newsstands April 5. Support queer media and subscribe -- or download the issue through Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.

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