Despite these bleak prospects, more than 500 people recently took to the campus of Idyllwild Arts Academy, a private arts boarding school in Idyllwild, California, for a festival weekend that local media considered the “Woodstock crypto”.
The event was called FWB Fest, and the artists, writers, musicians, software engineers, startup founders, and creatives who came together were all united through their memberships in Friends With Benefits, an online social club based on the crypto you need to buy a token attach.
At FWB Fest, the crypto downturn was well received. “I don’t think this festival would have worked six months ago,” said Alex Zhang, 26, a Friends With Benefits leader and event organizer.
The folks at FWB Fest weren’t the typical crypto conference attendees who traveled between Miami and San Francisco. Many were working artists or creative professionals. They were there because they believe that blockchain, the underlying technology of cryptography, can be used to build a better world through community and decentralization.
“What’s happening on a higher level,” Yancey Strickler, the former co-founder and CEO of Kickstarter, told a room of other attendees during a session titled “Beyond Crypto,” “is that we’ve had several decades of extreme and increasing individualism as a core value, where each of us is supposed to fend for ourselves…but now we recognize the emptiness of that, and the loneliness of that and the grind.
“I think we all have sea legs after decades of neoliberal market brain individualism,” said Austin Robeymember of Friends With Benefits and co-founder, with Strickler, of Metalabel, a platform that offers tools for online collectives.
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While the public image of the crypto world has been largely defined by a brand of hypercapitalist libertarian individualism, FWB participants have sought to leverage the crash to usher in a different, more inclusive, community-centric techno utopia. and creativity.
“Crypto is obviously divisive, and there’s a lot of language and tools that we’re comfortable using that don’t translate to the mainstream,” one participant said. “But we’re going to have a bigger positive impact on the material lives of more people by building tools on public ledgers that aren’t hyper-financialized.”
A $100 million group chat
In 2020, entrepreneur and artist Trevor McFedries began exploring how to bring a bigger audience to crypto. He had long been on the cutting edge of art and technology, having started a company that created the first virtual influencer, but after the pandemic he began to delve into the world of Web3, the broad term and something. sluggish that serves as shorthand for a new kind of internet built on decentralized blockchains. While Web 2.0, the current iteration of the Web, is defined by a handful of large tech companies that own and control user content and data, Web3 proponents believe its decentralized systems lead to more egalitarian ownership.
In a single weekend, McFedries created a specialized cryptocurrency token and sent it to his friends in the worlds of music, art, design and technology as well as a few Twitter followers. .
The “FWB” token gave them access to a Discord community called Friends With Benefits. The community functions as a DAO, or “Decentralized Autonomous Organization”, which is essentially a blockchain-based cooperative where each token holder holds a stake in the organization.
Over the next two years, Friends With Benefits took off. Buoyed by the crypto boom, the group chat has become an online social club in its own right, garnering media attention and attracting thousands of high-profile members, including celebrities and musical artists like Erykah Badu and Azalia Banks.
As the organization grew, the price of buying a token to become a member also increased, at one point reaching $175 for a single token. Last year, Friends With Benefits raised $10 million from investors, including venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, in a funding round that valued it at $100 million.
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The group used the funding, in part, to expand offline. He hosted events and parties in Los Angeles, Miami, and New York, furthering his cultural footprint. At one point, the group discussed a futuristic dream of one day taking over a former liberal arts college and hosting a festival. When it was discovered that a friend of a friend worked in admissions at the arts academy, after some negotiation with the school and local town officials, FWB organizers landed on the venue and the FWB Fest was born.
Crypto utopia in the woods
Throughout the weekend, Idyllwild Arts Academy transformed into a utopian summer camp where discussion groups and daytime lectures on topics like “Social Justice and the Web3” and “Where Do NFT from here?” gave way to nightly performances by musicians including Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of anarchist feminist group Pussy Riot, experimental electronic music producer Oneohtrix Point Never and rapper JPEGMAFIA. James Blake played a piano set.
There was a natural wine garden, ambient sound baths where attendees could sip mushroom tea, stargaze late into the night, and a pool party. Andrea Hernandez, founder of the newsletter Snaxshotwho has become an oracle in the food and beverage world for her ability to spot promising products before they hit the grocery store shelves, hosted a custom snack stand and the NFT OpenSea Marketplace collaborated at a digital art gallery.
Throughout the weekend, directors Adam Faze and Ari Cagan chased attendees for interviews for an upcoming reality show backed by Mad Realities, a web3-oriented production company based on the festival.
Outside of the talks, however, the topic of crypto seemed secondary, if mentioned at all.
Greg Bresnitz, city and event programming manager for FWB, said it was intentional. FWB, he said, was really about “using Web3 as a coordination mechanism for the culture.” ” For two years [crypto] was at the forefront,” he added, “and now, with the crash, it is falling back into the background.
Other participants agreed. “There are a lot of people here who are relatively new to web3, but are really into the culture and that’s their entry point into FWB,” said Cherie Hu, founder and editor of Water & Music, a independent newsletter and music-focused DAO research. and technology. “I haven’t even heard a lot of buzzwords or people talking about crypto around here,” said Patrick McDermott, an artist in Los Angeles.
Due to the serendipitous nature of its founding, Friends With Benefits never started with a mission statement or a business plan. “It started as a scene,” Zhang said. “Most people who are part of a scene can’t recite a scene’s mission statement.” During a session on the second day of the festival, members reflected on how to expand FWB into new initiatives, be it product launches or another festival.
Everything about FWB Fest was organized in collaboration with FWB Discord members. “The community is full of people who work in a variety of industries, so when we host events we try to hire from within the community,” McFedries said.
Zhang said he views Friends With Benefits as a city. “New York City, for example, has festivals,” he said. “There are also restaurants, museums, parks, etc. FWB feels less like a business and at this point, and more like a small town that has a vibe.”
Despite the recent contraction in the crypto market, everyone at FWB Fest remained steadfast in their dedication to using blockchain, the underlying technology of crypto, and said they hope the success of FWB would usher in a new era of web3, built around community and inclusivity.
“We’re trying to build while we can before some awful big corporations come and ruin it for everyone,” said Joshua Eustis, a music artist known as Telefon Tel Aviv. “Capitalism is superimposed on our way of life and our financial system and the fact that web3 is currently largely inadequate to correct this, is not reason enough for us to abdicate our responsibility to shape it into its original state. “
“If we don’t,” he said, “a few motherfuckers will later and we’ll have to use it.”