By now, many electronic music fans are probably aware of Porter Robinson’s latest project, Virtual Self. After shattering the foundation of EDM with the ‘Worlds’ tour, Porter Robinson is taking us further into his digital imaginings with his Virtual Self ‘Utopia’ tour. Virtual Self is a nostalgia-filled take on early 2000’s rave and Dance Dance Revolution music. He released a self-titled EP for Virtual Self at the end of November 2017. Porter Robinson continues with Japanese-style themes and animation that featured so prominently in ‘Worlds’.
When I first saw that Porter Robinson was performing live under the Virtual Self alias in early January aboard the Holy Ship festival, I was kinda surprised. It didn’t seem as if he had enough material since only 5 songs had been released by November 2017. I also thought it was hasty considering the Virtual Self project was only announced shortly before that. After Holy Ship, Porter Robinson performed a couple more lowkey shows. Every once in a while I would peep a small clip on social media just to see what the live show was all about. I’ll admit, I wasn’t very impressed. The songs I would hear in those videos seemed randomly chosen as filler for an entire 1 hour or so set. It wasn’t until Porter Robinson announced the official ‘Utopia’ tour that I became a little excited to see it live. My excitement elevated even more when I discovered that Virtual Self would be rolling through the WaMu theater in Seattle, a venue very close to me. And to top it off, I knew I wouldn’t be working that day. I bought the tickets soon after.
By this time I had listened to the Virtual Self EP countless times, and I became pretty familiar with the whole Virtual Self mythos. The main thing you need to know about the Virtual Self mythos is that it involves two artificial intelligences that are actually the masterminds behind the project’s music production. They go by the names Pathselector and Technic Angel. Majority of the mythos was revealed when Porter Robinson released the music video for ‘Ghost Voices’ which is easily the most popular track on the EP. With the release of this video, it is also revealed exactly which tracks each A.I. produced. I thought this was pretty cool and decided to do a write-up of the video release. In my opinion, before one goes into the live show they should at least be familiar with this aspect of the mythos and should watch the video for ‘Ghost Voices’.
Having all of this in mind, it was finally time for the live show. On Thursday, September 13th I set out for Seattle to catch this highly anticipated show. The openers were Raito and Eprom. I had never heard of Raito until a few days prior to the show. I discovered that he did a song with Rezz called ‘Alien’. Anybody who Rezz thinks is cool is definitely worth checking out. Eprom, on the other hand, I was already familiar with. I discovered him years ago and learned that he was from Portland, which is where I live. I had seen him perform at least 3 times in the past, so I knew what I was in for. Needless to say, I was very excited to see Eprom for the 4th time. After Raito and Eprom opened, there was about a twenty-minute wait as they set up Porter Robinson’s stage. And then, show time.
As I mentioned before, the glimpse I had of the Virtual Self live show involved brief clips posted on social media of random moments during the set, and I wasn’t that impressed. I had low expectations for the theatrics of the Virtual Self set, but knew I was mostly there to hear my favorite songs off of the EP.
My expectations were way off.
As soon as the show started I knew it was something special. Within minutes I went from somewhat fatigued, to alive and awake. The lights, the screen visuals, the track sequence, it was all perfectly attuned to create a very specific vibe. The popular track ‘Ghost Voices’ played early on in the set. I was immediately struck by the realization of what Porter Robinson is trying to convey with Virtual Self. Almost everyone had their phones out during ‘Ghost Voices’. Usually, seeing so many people staring at the show through their phone recordings is frowned upon, but this time, it almost seemed part of the show. Seeing the phone screens juxtaposed with the beautiful neon purple and blue lights and the contemporary electronic melody of the track itself gave me a sudden and profound sense of future shock. I suddenly felt like I was witnessing the future that so many before us have only dreamed about through fiction. And it didn’t stop there. One of the coolest aspects of the show was that it was actually a back-to-back set between the aforementioned A.I.’s Pathselector and Technic Angel. Pathselector’s set was first, and it played all of the more melodic and trance-like songs. About an hour later, it was Technic Angel’s turn, and it played all of the insane high tempo glitch tracks. The transitions between the two sets were something to behold. At some points, I forgot that the two A.I.’s are fictional and that Porter Robinson is the true human mastermind behind all of this. All the while, my heart exploded over the way this set resonated perfectly with me. Everything from the video game and anime songs and samples, to the futuristic visuals synced with the lights and music, spoke to me on a spiritual level. I felt that this set was made for me, and I know that many others felt the same way. The communal feeling was real. I felt like I was at church, which is what I seek when going to live shows.
Despite my preconceptions, the Virtual Self set was a fully-realized, sonic exploration of our relationship with the digital. It was a natural extension to the ‘Worlds’ tour, but at the same time very different in its energy. Instead of the dream-like story that ‘Worlds’ presented us with, Pathselector and Technic Angel give us more of a high-octane cyberpunk ride through the virtual landscape. It is something that needs to be experienced in its entirety, however. The reason I have not posted any video clips in this write-up is that I think it would take away from the full sequence of events. I also think it’d be harder to get the full experience while attending this at a festival. The Virtual Self set requires attention that I think would be diluted by the chaos of music festivals, and by the fact that Porter Robinson wouldn’t have full control of the performance set up. Porter Robinson has officially solidified himself as one of the greatest electronic artists alive today. I look forward to hopefully seeing a Virtual Self set again sometime.