Virtual Self. When you bring up the name to most music fans, it just brings up more questions than answers. Most won’t know that it’s Porter Robinson’s trance alter ego, and if they’re not into EDM, they might not even know who Porter is, as it has been around two years since he’s released anything under his actual name. So, you wouldn’t be wrong if you thought Porter Robinson, under an alter-ego name (Virtual Self), would be an ambitious undertaking, to say the least. How do you drum up hype for something that is rather unknown to the general public?
There were so many questions that needed to be answered. Would Porter play any of his old hits, which include the mega-hit “Shelter” with Madeon and the lead single “Sad Machine” from his 2014 album Worlds? Would Porter open as himself and then switch over to being Virtual Self (what I wanted)? What material would be in the show, considering the Virtual Self library is still quite small? What is the full Virtual Self set, billed as a set that only large venues could hold?
There was a lot to think about as I entered the Armory, but the mystery alone was enough to keep my interest, and Porter Robinson has always been known as an excellent DJ. I entered during Mat Zo, who played an excellent set that kept the crowd lively and ready for the Virtual Self set. After nearly an hour of music, the venue was suddenly quiet for a few fleeting moments.
Anime & 90s Inspired
Then came the enigmatic Virtual Self, who hosted the show on a grid of lights. Imagine a grid of squares, around 10 x 10 with each square being home to its own laser projector. On top of that, the set was adorned with a gigantic screen and four pillars that lined the corners of the grid. The screen was able to display live video and the pillars could almost form a cage of light around the DJ table.
In terms of EDM stage setups, this was rather simplistic when you compare it sets like Galantis or deadmau5’s cube. However, when in action, the display shined, literally. Lasers shot across every inch of the armory, and with the fog emitting from the center of the venue, it only made the displays that much brighter and the building feel that much bigger. At times the fog got thick enough that it felt like an outdoor venue. You could only see the ceiling when was hit by a laser.
As for the show itself, a great way I can describe it is through references. The vibe of the show was what the 90’s thought the far future was going to be like. And I mean that in the most praiseworthy way possible because I unabashedly love that cyberpunk dystopian vibe. If you watched Ghost In The Shell (the anime version) and played final fantasy growing up, the vibes were very real here. Think Neo-Tokyo or Neo-Minneapolis, if you will.
Flashes of anime appeared on the screen, “Simple & Clean” from Kingdom Hearts was remixed into trance version of itself. “Castles in the Sky” also got a feature in the set, which was a techno hit from the early 2000s. The entire Virtual Self discography was featured, bookended by “Ghost Voices” and it’s much harsher remix “Angel Voices” as the encore. I was a bit bummed old Porter music did not make an appearance, but I understand. It just would not fit into the Virtual Self theme.
Dystopian Retro-Futurism Is The New Black
Overall, I had a good time and, admittedly, I had no idea how to dance to music over 160 beats per minute, but it was fun pretending that I could. It was a fun journey through the absurd cyberpunk/anime/retro visions of the future, and it was intense. A fun little footnote, it was probably one of the hardest shows I’ve photographed, up there with Flying Lotus. Flashing lights and fog wreak havoc on the autofocus of a camera, so a lot of the shots I took here were done manually and leaning on railing or wall.
However, as you can see with the show photos, the results of having to take more care into what I was shooting were spectacular. It was amazing what could be done with what could be considered a rather simplistic lighting set up and it will be interesting to see where Porter Robinson takes his Virtual Self moniker in the future. The new brand is in its infancy but is already bringing a unique musical and visual experiences to the concert world.