With the recent release of EDM tracks like Flosstradamus and Waka Flocka Flame's collaborative trap anthem "Too Turnt Up," it's entertaining to see that the pop-culture expanding tech sector has found an answer to the question of quantifying exactly what that song title means. Even further, with festival crowds at many events hurtling towards anywhere from 100,000 to 500,000 EDM fanatics at an event in a given weekend,for EDM producer's DJ sets to not devolve into the 21st century's answer to stadium rock concerts, technology must be developed to allow for crowds to be read and for the art of DJing to still be preserved in a larger space. Thus, in conversing with iPad DJ and tech/analysis rising star Rana June of engagement analysis/wearable tech start-up company Lightwave, the answers to these, and so many more pressing questions of EDM discovering a sustainable commercial and cultural future are addressed.
Lightwave started in New Orleans, Louisiana two years ago, but is now based out of Los Angeles, California. Company founder Rana June describes herself as "a technologist for [her] whole career," with a background in analytics and a decade working in the tech sector, Her initial brush with fame came as the author of the book Mobilize, which outlined how the iPhone changed the way people consumed media, focusing on the depth of scope, breath reach and strength of market impact of Apple's app store in it's first 500 days after launching in July 2008.
June's second brush with fame came as (while still working in the tech sector) touring EDM artist Rana June. Sometimes DJing from a tablet-based rig that had a carbon fiber exoskeleton system, she was able to move with relative freedom and have mobile access and interactivity with live audiences. In this second career boom, the seeds were planted for her third, current moment of success.
"I wanted to develop technology that could [help me] understand pockets of excitement," June says. "As a performer, I would create a Microsoft Kinect perimeter [at the venue where I was performing] that would create a low density heat map and heat signature [showing pockets of higher levels of crowd movement].
Noting that this type of technological advancement "would not have been possible" two years ago, June notes that technological advancements like Fitbit, Nike's Fuelband and Jawbone have enabled Lightwave to grow. Collecting and visualizing crowd data, Lightwave operates as a wearable wristband that measures user stimulation (movement, audio levels, visual engagement and temperature). Similar to wearing 3-D glasses at a theater, the bracelets are re-usable and returned after the performance that they are being used to measure.
A year and a half in development, June described Lightwave as "[the] right thing to build." The project's initial roll-out was at this past March's South by Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas where attendees at a Pepsi-sponsored party featuring A-Trak wore the Lightwave technology and were able to engage in a fully engaged digital event (yes, even including a 20 x 60 iMac screen in the middle of downtown Austin that projected crowd engagement data and an leaderboard of the most active partiers that updated every ten minutes) where certain events were unlocked due to high activity levels. "[We] distributed the bands, [but we didn't] hand out an instruction manual, because it takes away from the magic [of what the technology accomplishes]. As a surprise. the most active of partiers (as judged by the Lightwaves technology) were even awarded American Express gift cards.
While touring, June noticed that when she was traveling to play somewhere, was that she would get on a plane and prepare a set that had a specific arc, a rise, ultimate height, and denouement. One of the benefits of Lightwave she notes is that a tech savvy DJ can now accurately see if their arc was planned correctly. "If audience is too hyped up, you can [check Lightwave data to see if that's empirically the case] and chill them out."
If concerned about data mining by corporate entities like early Lightwave adopters Pepsi that could use the data for marketing purposes, June says that users "dont have to give data," or can opt to only give "[a] Twitter handle or age range." Stressing the apps greater desire to gauge interactivity above all else, she denies any "Big Brother" type interests surrounding the app's usage.
Regarding the future of the technology, June warns that Lightwave is a "new instrument," and not meant for "[the DJ] who plays in a small club." Continuing, she says that Lightwave is "designed around large-scale implementation for crowds of anywhere from 20,000 to 100,000 people." She notes that the company "already has the roadmap for [more and larger scale installations]," citing that with "[the] bandwidth [required for implementing the technology now being] cheaper," that [Lightwave installations are] "easier to do." With possibilities including entire Lightwave enabled tours, as well as plug ins for Ableton Live rigs so that DJs can trigger their own unique surprises in every set given Lightwave information, the possibilities for the technological applications of the wearable and fully interactive bands in EDM are limitless.
In June's mind, future Lighwave use will involve the company finding the "right" partners, meaning artists who "see the potential in this new kind of interaction [for EDM]." Jokingly, she says that she envisions EDM evolving into a live performance space where a show not enhanced with Lightwave being "kind of boring."
Overall, the artist also known as DJ Rana June feels that Lightwave "works well for EDM," because "[DJs] are the guys who nail [understanding technology]." Continuing, she says notes that "[those who make] electronic music [were likely] not expecting to sell out Madison Square Garden," giving Lightwave a purpose. Regarding DJs losing a bit of the feel for the crowd, June notes than many of today's larger arena and festival sets have become "structured and rigid" due to a lack of ability to gain a feel for the impact that the music has on massive crowds. Noting that everyone employed by Lightwave is an artist of some sort, she says that "empathy to the creative process" is one of the most important components intrinsic to the company's product development.
"When a pilot flies and his visibility low, he can check his flight instrument panel. Similar to the pilot, as a DJ, if you cant measure it, you cant manage it. [EDM] really is a business, and engagement metrics [are needed]. In a genre created via technology and born digital, digital tools are needed. [Lightwave] provides a digital layer to an analog experience."