Stefan Pruett is singing to a sea of fans, and though they can see him, they’re not in the same room. Most aren’t in the same town, and some aren’t even in the same country. Yet they’re communicating with the frontman for Arizona indie band Peachcake in real time—telling him which songs to play, what costume to wear and how they feel about the performance as it unfolds before their eyes and ears.
Welcome to DeepRockDrive, a concept described by its co-founder and chief executive officer as “the world’s first interactive online venue.” Oh yeah, and it just happens to be housed in a giant blue warehouse a few blocks from the Las Vegas Strip.
“It’s live entertainment for the next generation, a collaborative effort between fans and artists,” says Danny Socolof, a veteran music promoter who, along with former Xbox executive Jeff Henshaw, launched DeepRockDrive last October. Since then, their crew—which includes some 15 employees here and in Redmond, Washington—has staged more than 70 shows, all beamed out live in high-definition to fans holding “digital tickets.” Participating artists have ranged from local bands to popular national acts such as (hed) PE and Chiodos, with Disturbed (May 29), Motion City Soundtrack (June 11) and O.A.R. (June 16) among those scheduled to appear in the coming weeks.
“It was very underground for a while, and that’s the way we wanted it, but now more and more people are talking about it,” Socolof says. “It’s happening virally. There’s a buzz.”
Thus far, “tickets” to DeepRockDrive events have been available free of charge. Money for the project comes in from investors (including some members of the family that owns Las Vegas Weekly’s Greenspun Media Group) and via advertising from such sponsors as Pepsi. According to Socolof, DRD’s technology allows it to connect to 10,000 users at present, with 100,000 the goal for the end of 2008. Beyond that? Well, the company’s slogan is “A million front row seats.”
“We’re not trying to replace live music or even compete with live music. This is something new, something else,” Socolof says. “People will always want to go out to shows, but what if you live in Little Rock, Arkansas, or in the Philippines, and your favorite band isn’t coming through your town? This is a way to see them and interact with them in a way fans have never been able to before.”
That proves to be a perfect fit for Pruett and the other three members of Peachcake, a synthy outfit with a visually rich live experience that borders on performance art. As giant screens in front of the group broadcast instant messages from fans in Texas, Tennessee, New York and beyond (“Party!!!”; “This is awesome!”; “meh”) and send up mini lighters, devil horns and kissing lips with the click of a mouse, Pruett plays to the five cameras filming his movements. (Fans at home can toggle among multiple angles.) “That was probably one of the most interesting things I’ve done in my life,” he assesses afterward. “It was like fans were in our living room on the Planet Awesome with us.” Agrees keyboardist John O’Keefe, “It felt like we were playing in the future.”
Though DeepRockDrive remains a Vegas-based experience for now, Socolof says the company is making plans to take its shows on the road, with intentions to wire existing live venues for real-time Internet broadcasts. “This is our laboratory, our roots, but this belongs out in the world,” he explains. At the same time, however, he hopes to partner with a Las Vegas casino to keep a permanent “DeepRockLounge” version in town.