The security on the doors are on the lookout for makeshift rocket launchers rather than surreptitious sausage rolls. Inside, snack stalls and VIP lounges are replaced by space age playzones, and the laws of physics no longer apply. As the gig starts, you’re transported into an office block, watching a gigantic alternative R&B band playing outside; before long you’re inside a fish, hoverboarding around a futuristic cityscape and being flushed down a lavatory.
It’s unlike any experience at The O2 you’ve ever known, and Easy Life’s headline show is set to be a literal game-changer. For one week only, Greenwich’s legendary enormodome is being uploaded into Fortnite, with a number of sci-fi surprises in store, and Leicester’s Easy Life are taking full advantage of the mind-expanding possibilities of the virtual O2 spectacular.
“You can do anything,” says singer Murray Matravers, down a Zoom call from the real-life O2. “The moment we got told we were playing Fortnite, everyone was like ‘Well, surely we’re going to be made into characters in the game, and that’s going to be the end of it’. Us, with our little closed minds, had no idea that the possibilities were so much broader than that. We’re playing within the O2 within Fortnite, real world us versions within a virtual world.”
“From what we’ve seen, it is absolutely bonkers,” says bassist Sam Hewitt. “It’s an entirely reinvented version of the O2 inside. At a live gig the ‘player’ has to stand there and listen and can either dance or not, or sing along or not. But what is the player going to be able to do within a virtual gig? In this case, surf through a cityscape on a hoverboard, get flushed down a toilet, slide down endless sand dunes, it’s crazy.”
Gigs within games have become an increasingly bold and sophisticated way of engaging with millions of forward-thinking music fans, particularly during lockdown, when they became a more adventurous form of livestreaming. IDLES and Charli XCX played festivals in Minecraft, Korn did a show in AdventureQuest 3D and The Offspring risked more potent heckling than usual in World Of Tanks. Easy Life aren’t the first act the play a show in Fortnite either; DJ Marshmello had space mercenaries, catwomen and angelic warriors skydiving around a virtual club arena and trying to smash his decks with Marshmallo hammers at the first show in 2019, and last year a digitised, mile-high Travis Scott crash landed in a purple glowing meteorite covered in fairgrounds to play a set there to 12 million fans.
Each event is out to surpass the last, and Easy Life are the first to appear in real-life form in Fortnite, albeit within six mind-blowing worlds, one for each of the songs from their debut album Life’s A Beach they’ll be playing. “We could do anything,” says Murray. “There was a lot of fish in our album, so we wanted to do something with a fish, so we decided to go inside the fish. We’re in amongst loads of plastic in this poor dying fish, and then it explodes at the end. And then we get flushed down a toilet and end up in this metropolis, and up in the clouds.”
“You can drive through the clouds while we play around you on clouds like cherubs,” says Sam, explaining that there will be enhanced interactivity compared to previous Fortnite gigs. “All of the areas are mostly open spaces apart from a couple, so there’s lots of exploring to do and there’s lots of hidden aspects of us, little references to the album, Easter eggs everywhere. And if you complete a certain amount of the gig then you get collectible tags to put up in the real game and the lobby track, which is part of the game as well. I think you’ve got goldfish you can throw at each other tool, after a certain point.”
“It’ll never replace playing live music but it’s almost like a different art form,” says Murray, “because it combines gaming with live music with this new element of video production, it’s an amalgamation of a lot of things that we enjoy doing so we’re really excited.” Are you worried about getting attacked by the different class of stage invaders? Murray laughs. “We’re immune.”
As the idea of the multiverse takes shape – essentially a virtual alternative to real life – games such as Fortnite and Minecraft hope to become cultural destinations as much as gaming platforms, hosting film premieres and becoming a regular tour stop for bands alongside regular touring schedules. “It’s definitely an environment to be utilised a lot more in the future,” says Sam. “Just from this limited experience here with O2, because of the endless possibilities I think other artists are going to wake up to the idea of being able to realise their ideas behind their music and what has inspired them to do what they’ve done, and then put it in this nonsensical unrestricted world. An artist’s dream is to be able to realise all of their potential.”
Are virtual shows in huge games such as Fortnite reaching a curious captive audience that’s maybe too young to go to many gigs? “Yeah, and it’s a global audience as well,” says Murray. “Loads of players are in Asia and South America and all those territories that we’ve never visited and probably will never get a chance to visit unless we do things like this. So we hopefully get to attract a different type of audience, a totally different demographic.” “We’ve had our music in other games before and that’s how a lot of fans have previously found our music,” Sam adds. “So this is definitely a route through to different aspects of the industry. I’m only now waking up to the fact there’s this whole other side to it. The proportion of people playing games is just growing exponentially. So, I feel like people are gonna latch on to this as an opportunity to experience new media.”
Sam is Easy Life’s premier gamer, new to Fortnite (“I’m Slushy Cluck at the moment, which I’m quite proud of”) but an Epic Games lifer. “My first ever game that I can remember playing was an Epic Games game,” he says. “It was Jazz Jackrabbit. It was this 2D platformer where you played as a rabbit shooting aliens and stuff like that. Epic Games have been with me since the beginning, I remember going into a gaming cafe and playing Unreal Tournament, back when the first multiplayer online stuff was coming out. I’ve been there with them, and now they’ve rewarded me handsomely with being involved in Fortnite.”
Are you a sneaky stealther or a guns-blazing hero? “I’m more of a stay out of harm’s way and pick them off from a distance kind of player,” he says. “I like to be able to take my time. Definitely long range.” And right now the sights of his sniper goldfish are trained on the virtual future…
Fortnite is free to play on just about everything right now. The 02 Arena will be in the game this week, and Easy Life will play their gig on Thursday.