If there’s one thing that lockdown made me yearn for more than anything else, it was the unique rush of being in a crowded venue listening to live music. I’ve already written about how hard the collapse of gigging was for bands, yet for many artists, there were still some stages waiting for them – and as a result, we’ve seen some of the best in-game concerts of all time happen over the past 18 months.
From Fortnite to Minecraft, some of the world’s biggest virtual spaces hosted gatherings of thousands of music fans. With venues doors locked shut, many turned to virtual worlds in order to log on and experience the collective joy of live music. From arty audiovisual installations to more traditional gig recreations, here’s a list of some of the most weird and wonderful attempts at transforming a gaming space into a bona fide music venue.
1. Ariana Grande (Fortnite)
After generating headlines and wowing fans with their last concert, the question Fortnite developer Epic Games found itself asking is, how do you top Travis Scott? The answer was simple – book Ariana Grande. Kicking off the pre-show with a celestial skateboarding section that saw Ariana riding a colourful highway SSX-style before falling into a furry field, this bonkers vibrant virtual adventure was an explosion of colour from start to finish.
Doing away with the usual Fortnite map, this new world felt less like a concert squeezed into Fortnite, and more like being transported directly into Ariana’s imagination. Giving an artist and their team creative control like this really helps launch these experiences from something vaguely interesting to, instead, become one the best in-game concert of all time.
From its theme-park-esque, mini-game-packed intro to a trippy, celestial rendition of ‘7 Rings’, Fortnite once again absolutely nailed it with this. Once again, this ethereal fusion of art and music came together to create something entirely unique. Where many Roblox concerts feel fairly similar, Ariana Grande X Fortnite shows just how versatile a platform Fortnite’s ‘metaverse’ really is.
Leaning further on mini-games and interactive elements, this sugar-sweet endorphin ride felt infinitely more interactive than Travis Scott’s performance too, putting the player directly into the experience. The result? Something that didn’t feel quite like a game or an arena show, but something entirely unique.
2. Block by Blockwest (Minecraft)
While there have been some admirable attempts at recreating the concert-going experience at home, nothing had come close to capturing the vibe of a festival. Hopping between stages, that thrill of discovering new music and the unexpected joy that comes from dipping in and out of various acts and genres, for me, is the true joy of live music.
It turns out organisers The Courier Club seem to agree, as they attempted to recreate the seminal Texas music festival – South By Southwest – in Minecraft. Fittingly named Block By Blockwest, this livestreamed Minecraft event saw fans hop between different servers to check out a wealth of incredible bands. Featuring everyone from Nothing Nowhere to Fever 333, Citizen, IDLES, and Pussy Riot, there was a genuinely great line-up.
While some bands stuck with the classic studio track set, the real winners here were the performances that spliced in pre-existing audio of live performances with some specifically recorded new show chat. From the joyous alt-rock of Against the Current that got the blocky masses onto their low poly feet to the riotous energy of Fever 333, these performances came the closest yet to capturing the rush of live music in a virtual space.
3. Travis Scott’s Astronomical (Fortnite)
Let’s face it, no one puts on a better virtual show than the Fortnite team. Transforming Travis Scott’s latest album into a jaw-dropping audiovisual experience, the game’s sprawling battle royale map turns into the biggest party you’ve ever seen. Once again sporting a Godzilla-size Travis Scott, a brilliantly animated model of Travis sees him dancing around the centre of the map, straddling the beach and stomping around a slew of islands like some kind of bar-spewing demigod.
Like most other shows on this list, there’s nothing live about this musical performance. From the pre-recorded but DJ-set-like flow of the set to the squeaky-clean studio vocals, attending ‘Astronomical’ felt less like a gig and more like becoming extra in an incredibly cool music video.
While these incredible artistic events will never really feel like witnessing a concert, what Fortnite pulled off here made the entire world pay attention. As a piece of audiovisual art, this is a resounding success – and with Travis’ nine-minute set flowing expertly between verses of his biggest hits and ending with the rapper straddling the moon – it proves that there really ain’t no party like a Fortnite party, and it helped Epic Games really set itself up as a forward-thinking host when it comes to making the best in-game concerts.
4. Royal Blood (Roblox)
Appearing halfway through Roblox’s annual award ceremony, The Blocky’s, Brighton’s groove-driven duo brought some no thrills, dirty rock’n’roll to Roblox. While it may lack the pomp and ceremony of some of the slicker fully animated virtual showcases, this is one of the few genuinely live performances to grace a video game. That, alone, would qualify the game to rank highly in this best in-game concerts list.
With most bands getting game developers to animate their avatars to their studio versions of their track (see almost every other performance on this list), this riffy duo brought a slick, faultless live rock performance to a video game. The best part? They not only killed it, but also introduced a whole new generation to live guitar music in the process. Win-win, right?
5. Lil Nas X (Roblox)
With Roblox attracting a jaw-dropping 33 million daily users, it was only ever a matter of time until the kid’s creation platform started hosting some bonafide megastars. The most famous of them all? Lil Nas X.
For the viral rapper’s first video game performance, Lil Nas X and Roblox pulled out all the stops. In a literally larger-than-life performance, a gigantic motion-captured Lil Nas X towered above legions of his adoring fans, while an intricately rendered fantasy world warped to match the themes of each song he performed. With the average age of a Roblox player being about 10, unsurprisingly, there wasn’t a sweat and latex-filled recreation of the sex-laden ‘Montero (Call Me By Your Name)’.
Still, despite being a toned-down and markedly more kid-friendly affair than the Lil Nas X we’re used to, his gaming debut was an enormous success. Thanks to the delight of his younger fans, his Saturday performance did so well that the hip-hop sensation delivered the same set encore on Sunday, too, letting fans enjoy one of the best in-game concerts again if they missed it the first time.
Thanks to its brilliant animations, fun-filled setlist, and some impressive visual variety, Lil Nas X’s Roblox residency was an utter blast. Other artists, take note – this is how it’s done.
6. Hospitality In The Void/ On the Grid (Minecraft)
Back in the before times, one of my favourite things to do was blow off some steam at a DNB night: filled with stellar light shows, pounding bass and more than a few googly-eyed Garys, drum and bass nights represent some of the best aspects of clubbing culture. With Hospital Records holding the crown for hosting the biggest and best DNB events in the UK, during lockdown they decided to bring the bass to the block.
I am, of course, talking about Minecraft. Hosting not one but two retro-looking raves, these Minecraft mess fests let ravers enjoy some subwoofer-bothering sets from the likes of S.P.Y and London Elektricity.
Watching hundreds of players swarm around a giant blocky rave venue was utterly bizarre, but surprisingly heart-warming. Thanks to some great commentary from Tony (otherwise known as Hospital Records’ owner, London Elektricity himself) and a lobby that oozed a generally joyous and friendly vibe, it was the closest to a good night out this side of lockdown.
While we can’t wait to experience some gurning faces and bowel-shaking bass back in the club, there’s definitely something to be said about raving without some bloke gobbing on your shoe in the smoking area.
7. KoRn (Adventure Quest 3D)
When noughties nu-metal kings KoRn hopped on the virtual gig bandwagon in 2019, they chose a suitably weird and murky-looking virtual venue – Adventure Quest 3D. While this niche and blocky-looking MMO lacks the visual flair or grandiosity of Fortnite, KoRn’s Adventure Quest performance cleverly transformed a sticky mosh pit into an MMO dungeon.
As Jonathon Davis’ scat-loving quintet mimed along to pre-recorded versions of classics like ‘Freak On A Leash’, thousands of players emoting in the medieval mosh pit found themselves dispatching some very literal freaks which text prompts revealed were ‘off their leash’.
OK, it may not have been the height of musical or gaming sophistication, but this is KoRn we’re talking about after all. With each of the band’s proceeding songs inspiring another loosely themed boss fight, this dungeon-based approach offered a truly unique interactive twist on the gamer gig, even if it’s not up to the standards of today’s best in-game concerts.
Sure, the lack of live recordings from a ‘proper’ band was a bit of a shame, but the whole dungeon-meets-concert concept was enjoyably silly and entirely interactive. Not having a health-draining enemy battering you to ‘Got the Life?’, though? Unforgivable.