FWBFest - Vibes on, then off, then on again
The FWBFest entry in the 'Ivy goes to internet people parties' series is a tale of peaks and valleys.
(Disclosure: I was graciously sent a pass to FWBFest by the organizers, base your interpretation of this account accordingly!)
The social DAO known as ‘Friends with Benefits’ had their first in-person festival over this past weekend in Idyllwild, California. As with other entries in the ‘Ivy goes to internet people parties’ series, we’ll start with a practical review and then transition to my personal experiences and thoughts on the event.
Held at the Idyllwild Arts Academy, the overall structure resembles some traditional music festivals like Bass Coast. Programming during the day, and music / party time during the evening.
Parking at the academy itself was limited, with most attendees parking at the Butterfield Amphitheatre lot and taking a shuttle that ran from that location to the academy itself.
The multiple types of programming during FWBFest roughly corresponded to the different areas of the art academy campus. Traditional panel talks took place at the Main Theatre, including a keynote featuring Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot and Hayden Adams of Uniswap fame.
Discussions that attendees were invited to participate in took place at the ‘Reading Room’, a library setting. ‘Water and Music’ was a classroom setting, and the ‘Sound Stage’ hosted collaborative musical creation. Music performances took place in 3 main areas, ‘The Amphitheatre’ which was the largest stage (from my estimation about as big as Slay Bay at Bass Coast), ‘Envelop’ which was more of a cozy area and ‘After Hours’ which resembled a traditional club.
Finally, the ‘Food Hall’ was where food service took place and events such as a nature hike happened. Food / beverage at the event was arranged by Lupe Fiasco and Kat Turner, and happened both at the food hall and at various popup locations. A favourite, according to some of my fellow attendees, was the Thirsty Wine Garden.
The pool parties that occurred on Saturday and Sunday were a big hit with everyone. Complete with a DJ and cold beverages, they were the place to be (although some stormy weather cut Saturday’s pool party short). Also worth mentioning is the gallery, a collaboration between OpenSea and FWB which hosted some NFT art.
Being that this was a recreational weekend for me, I didn’t intend (or attempt) to attend most of the programming. The keynote was interesting, if a retread of a lot of information I was already aware of (as opposed to a really deep dive). The Reading Room session I attended on ‘After Crypto’ was definitely my favourite of the weekend, probably most owing to the group discussion.
The musical performances that I saw were cool, especially the Lady Gaga-esque performance art that marked Pussy Riot’s performance. At one point, Nadya asked the crowd to raise their fists in support of a free Ukraine amidst the Ukrainian national anthem being played.
The Community Jam was an interesting look at a discussion about the future of the DAO itself. There were no explicit Chatham House-ish rules laid down, but out of respect for the candor present in that session I’ll say only that it seems like FWB is grappling with similar issues to other buzzy entities such as Clubhouse.
There’s also an interesting comparison between FWB and Vibecamp in what each one has an abundance of and what it is in search of. These factors are generally opposite for each event so it will be very interesting to see what the future holds for each of them.
Benefits Yes, Though Sometimes Not So Friendly
Thus we conclude the objective part of the review, and you can check out here if that’s all you’ve come for. Now I’ll give my observation as a veteran of Very Online gatherings. In short- I enjoyed 2 out of the 3 days, with the bad day unfortunately being what many considered the night of the weekend, Saturday.
In not actually being in FWB, I lack the social context that some might have been integral for the event to really transcend other gatherings. It might not matter to FWB that an outsider’s experience averaged out to some flavour of okay. Ultimately though, that’s a question of identity for the DAO itself to answer.
I’ve been told that as crypto events go, Fest was among the best as far as execution and social fabric. Far less cliquey than many Ethereum events, and with a welcoming vibe. Despite some of the negative aspects I’m going to outline, I found many to be friendly. It was also my first crypto event, which may have something to do with why it felt so different for me sometimes in negative ways from the other events I’ve been to this year.
I do have a different kind context in abundance, that of event context when it comes to digital communities transitioning to physical events (I refuse to use the phrase ‘url to irl’). Between Hereticon, Vibecamp, Vibegala, and some SXSW experiences I’ve seen many different kinds of communities attempt what FWB executed on during the weekend.
Friday went really well. Check in was a breeze, and on the shuttle to the event I met a long time friend and we chatted for a bit. As we got to the breakfast hall, the initial ‘settling in’ period went by quickly and I met more e-friends and got primed for the day. I did, however, feel ‘no vibes’ at a few points due to catching some stares (this would prove to be an unfortunate recurring theme of the event).
I’m currently recovering from a dislocated knee so I wasn’t as motivated to hop between venues as I was at earlier events, but the distance between venues wasn’t very far. My group caught the ‘Town Hall’, which was more or less a kickoff like Vibecamp’s opening ceremony. The vibes were high.
We caught the ‘After Crypto’ reading room session in which I mentioned a few tidbits like the opportunity for sex workers in the web3 creator economy and other observations. Over the weekend, a few people came up to me to thank me for specific contributions which was appreciated, in retrospect I would have attended more of these collaborative sessions.
I brought my flow gear for the weekend, and had a lot of fun spinning lightning on Friday both near the Amphitheatre and inside a corner of After Hours. The night came together very smoothly, I called it quits at After Hours around 11 PM and went back to my Airbnb retreat to prepare for the next day.
No Vibes Saturday
In fairness to FWB, it isn’t like I haven’t felt a bit stared at during other events. Even at Vibecamp, even by some post-rationalists. Ironically I felt it the least during Hereticon, which is perhaps a testament to thoughtcrime not being all that personal.
Still being somewhat early in transition, on some days I feel like I’m in the ‘can barely dress herself’ category. Despite my reputation to the contrary, I’d class my makeup skills as novice at best. These things have very barely been something that have caused me pause, until this weekend.
My status in FWB waitlist limbo seemed to, at times, carry over to FWBFest. I’ve talked to some friends who attended and they also felt this vibe a bit. Some other friends in FWB who didn’t attend gave me the it is what it is tl;dr in saying that FWB is cliquey. I felt this and a general ‘why is she here?’ vibe so intensely on Saturday that I left at 8 PM (more on that later).
There were a few cases of outright rude behaviour, but mostly it was stares that ratcheted up my social anxiety to an intolerable level. I had a type of euphoria when I settled into Hereticon from a mismatch of expectation: There were no pitched verbal battles with TERF’s, just a lot of general commiseration.
I felt a weird inversion of that mismatch at Fest, the last thing I had expected was the kind of gawking I’ve experienced in the more conservative areas of both the US and Canada. It’s likely if I had gone into the weekend with more of a guarded mindset that Saturday night wouldn’t have lodged such a negative impression in my memory.
You Can’t Sit With Us, Literally
My anxiety monster for the evening hatched during an encounter I had waiting for the shuttle on Saturday evening. I had my rave gear on and noticed someone else waiting as well.
As I made my way to the curb where the shuttle arrives at, my fellow attendee took several steps away from me while shooting what I assume was her best ‘you can’t sit with us’ look. As the weekend progressed I had this gradual feeling of moving from honoured guest to clerical error, and this moment was a really good microcosm of that feeling.
A minor bit of rudeness that shouldn’t have impacted me? To most, probably. Being at a vulnerable time in transition, Fest being my first festival after coming out, and many other things led to it slipping through my defenses. I’m not yet very practiced at handling this kind of negative stimuli post-HRT, and sometimes emotions just spiral a bit.
I’m not going to particularly fault FWB for the sorts of thing that trans people experience elsewhere, except to say that what I’ll describe as ‘FWB Exceptionalism’ isn’t deserved on that front. There’s curation, and then there’s entrenched cis-normativity that clearly permeates communities.
I went to Pussy Riot’s performance (which was really good), tried to quiet my anxiety but a few more stares pushed me over the edge. I had messaged a few friends at the event without response, but was able to DM for a bit with another FWB member who wasn’t there.
As I mentioned above, they basically told me that yes, FWB was cliquey. They gave me reassurance, that they felt sad and angry I was having these experiences, etc. Had I been able to find some of my people, I probably would have been able to regroup and hold it together. Unfortunately for me, flight won out over fight (and the resolution that I would absolutely not be the crying girl at the cool kids crypto party). I made for the trip home around 8 PM.
If I had to do it again; I probably would have found a quiet corner, put on some Kesha and spun some lightning (flow lingo for LED toys) which I had planned to do anyway. I was desperate for something like the tea room at Vibecamp and Vibegala, a chill zone where people could go to if they were feeling overwhelmed. Unfortunately, the only chill zone I knew of was back at my Airbnb.
I made a beeline back for the shuttle drop-off location and one eventually arrived. I fled back to my Airbnb (and calmed down a bit given my rental was a Dodge Charger which was exceptionally fun to drive) , and was able to hold it together all the way into the outdoor hot tub. My DM FWB whisperer recommended I just try to enjoy the elements for the rest of the weekend, which I resolved to do. I disconnected for the night and let the emotions flow as they wanted to.
Flow they did. After a little while, the torrential downpour of emotional expression cleared me out, but I felt like it was too late in the evening to head back and resigned myself to taking an L for Saturday.
The Vibes Return
Sunday was a lot better. I was feeling really reserved and small, and someone in the Reading Room talk I spoke at making conversation as we waited for the shuttle was quite needed. Eventually we found out that there seemed not to be any Sunday shuttles, and some friends decided to drive directly to the venue.
We got brunch, and I attended the mental health session at Water and Music. I then made for the closing notes of the pool party, caught a ride back to the shuttle area with my friends and marked the end of FWBFest by blasting Kesha from my rental with the windows down on the way back to my Airbnb.
After I had decompressed a bit, I went over to a friends Airbnb at around 7 to hang out, recollect, and engage in some insectoid homicide until around 1:30 AM. I hadn’t planned to end the weekend with a quasi slumber party, but it was so needed. Making the windy drive back to Palm Springs at night was a bit nerve wracking, but eventually I made it and dropped off my rental.
I felt a lot less like a clerical error, but couldn’t quite pin down the rest of my feelings as I headed back to Vancouver. Gratified, upset, somber, and a few other things I can’t place. I was luckily so tired that I largely slept on both flights home.
FWBFest : Vibes Or No Vibes?
I’ve found it hard to definitely categorize my experience at FWBFest. On the one hand, I felt very catered to for much of the weekend in terms of being given a pass, having a birthday set DJ’d at the Saturday pool party by one of the founders, etc. It was so great to finally put faces to names.
On the other, I wasn’t expecting to feel so ostracized at certain points. I was really looking forward to Saturday night and getting to know people in depth and haven’t felt as much of an anomaly as I did during the weekend. A lot of that is tied to the fact that I didn’t feel that at the other events I attended this year.
As it finally materialized, Hereticon was invite only. A de-facto community did come together, if an involuntary one. There were certainly inner-circle lines drawn, but I don’t think you really ‘felt’ them at the event itself. It still sticks in my mind that if anyone was the outgroup in Miami that week, it was certainly me, and yet I felt pretty welcomed for the most part.
Fest seemed to be sort of a weird combination of Hereticon and Vibecamp. The Pussy Riot show wasn’t exactly a surprise like Grimes was, but it definitely elevated the event. The setting, I think, motivated authenticity being so close to the raw elements of nature and far away from a setting like Faena Miami Beach.
Strictly speaking, I don’t really consider myself part of the ‘This Part Of Twitter’ or TPOT community. If you’ve seen the history of post-rationalist Twitter meme, I would place myself in the second wave, before the Friendly Ambitious Nerd era and in the same co-hort as Andrea, Meredith, Clarkhat, etc.
If I was the outgroup at all of these other events too, why did I feel it so much more during Fest? Perhaps it’s that a social DAO has far more structure than a loose collection of Twitter people, that Fest had less opportunity for co-creation than Vibecamp did for those external to FWB, or something else entirely.
It’s probably really only fair to compare Fest to Vibecamp, given the other events I’ve been to weren’t intended to be sustainable, repeated events. If lacking FWB social context is the prevailing reason for my less than vibey experiences, perhaps the event worked as intended.
There were certainly collaborative opportunities such as the Reading Room and others at Fest, but there seemed to be less freedom than I saw at Vibecamp. This also might be due that my artsy skills at present are restricted to writing and flow toys, so things like creating music with other attendees felt like it was out of reach.
I also think that Vibecamp programming had a cool, weird, ineffable quality that I didn’t find in what was offered at Fest. Full disclosure though : I’m far more into burn-y content than web3 thought leadership currently so this might just be a statement of personal preference.
A core question communities have to answer for themselves is how much the experience of outsiders matters, perhaps if it even matters at all. An organization like Friends with Benefits has its own unique incentives which are perhaps more in-line with SoHo House than Burning Man. I’ve been questioning what ‘outsider’ means specifically, and am thinking back to an experience I had at SoHo Austin.
During SXSW I asked a web3 / metaverse panel about LGBTQ+ representation. I questioned the practice of (relatively) meager fellowships from organizations with vast access to capital, and proposed that such practices are just a way to (cheaply) purchase social capital without giving effective representation or governance power to underrepresented communities.
I named FWB specifically as an example given I was familiar with their recent fellowship initiative, and got a non-answer in the form of you’re asking the right questions! The reaction to an openly and noticeably trans person at Fest from enough of the attendees I encountered tells me that my instincts during that SoHo panel were fairly accurate. My experience on Saturday has led me to take away that FWB’s walk does not equal its talk on inclusion.
I’ve been thinking about whether I’m jumping to conclusions, but I can say that I was dressed very androgynously at the Reading Room session I got feedback on, and the direct rudeness came when I brought out my femme self (admittedly with a fairly rushed makeup job). I felt safe and comfortable doing that at every other event, and I was maybe just mistaken in assuming the environment at Fest would be the same.
My verdict on FWBFest? Vibes, some of the time. When it was good, it was really good, and the same can be said for the reverse. I’m exceptionally grateful to the organizers for the invite, and for having a chance to peek in on one of the buzziest DAO’s around.
I’ve been thinking about how FWB has been described, and why as a 90’s forums superstar it seemed like I still didn’t have the right qualifications for this weekend. That Hunter S. Thompson quote about being too weird to live comes to mind. I’ll probably still apply again for FWB, but I think my personality pie chart just has too much weird and not enough cool (and perhaps just a bit too much trans as well).
I’ll always be a weird kid of the internet, but some weird kid tables just feel more comfortable to me than others.
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