After a cancelled 2020 festival, the Low Steps were replaced by the virtual world of Virbela for this year’s Bacchanal. Students chatted with each other over Zoom or wandered around as Virbela online personas. Attendees were welcomed by flashing DJ lights and 1920s-themed decor at the coveted Columbia event.
On Saturday afternoon, hundreds of students joined the completely virtual Columbia concert experience which featured performances by A$AP Ferg, Flo Milli, and Yaeji. Students filed into a Zoom call, only to face a blank screen with no information on it when the concert began. Courtesy of the Zoom rename function, students filled the chat with pseudonyms of famous figures, including SZA and Dean Valentini himself. Shortly after, attendees discovered the whiteboard feature, filling it with dozens of markings, including sketches of Among Us impostors, messages including “#womeninSTEM,” and good old tic-tac-toe boards.
While the Zoom livestream attendees sat on the call, a separate group of students began to explore Virbela. Those students who pre-registered for Eventbrite tickets received a link to download the new platform on Friday evening. Through Virbela, students were able to explore a virtual world with customized avatars that could travel from the server’s animated beach to its online soccer field. Later on, non-registered students were able to still enjoy the show when CU Bacchanal’s link to the livestream changed from a Zoom link to a Youtube one.
In the virtual world, students received an opening message to make their way to one of the Virbela stages. They were met with the festival’s opening act: singer, DJ, and producer Yaeji whose DJ equipment and microphone were wired together. She went into her setlist with a mix of deep vocals that blended into her song “In Place 그자리 그대로,” a hauntingly chill blend of hushed vocals and electronic bends with deep bass and subtle synths. She followed with a song from her first full-length release “What We Drew 우리가 그려왔,” which celebrated its one year anniversary a few days earlier.
Yaeji’s gentle vocals and spinbacks eased students into the festival’s new format, preparing them for the rest of the show. She ended her portion of the concert with her eclectic rush “Raingurl.” As the chorus hyped with its refrain, so did students in the Virbela chat, with one student commenting, “MAKE IT RAIN GURL.” Yaeji exited the set by saying, “Thank you Columbia for having me” in her soft tone, leaving students with one last smile and a peace sign.
A neon-red timer then popped up on screen, signaling the upcoming performance from breakout star Flo Milli. After the countdown hit zero, she greeted students with a sweet remark: “What’s up Columbia University? I can’t wait to perform for you. I know we’ve had our ups and downs during the school year, but I’m here to turn up with y’all.”
The camera then moved to a shot of Flo Milli, backlit by beautiful dim light that shone on her 1920s-themed stage. Moving to the front, the scene lit up as she sang her tagline “Flo Milli shit,” marking the performance’s opening with her recent hit single “Roaring 20s.” Her energy and, quite simply, brilliant delivery shined as she performed. In line with the vintage theme of the song, which features a sample from “Fiddler on the Roof,” she wore a gorgeous pink flapper-inspired ensemble accompanied by gloves and, in the background, stylized golden curtains.
Flo Milli’s confidence never faltered throughout her set, energizing the crowd with songs like “May I” and “Like That Bitch” from her 2020 debut album “Ho, why is you here?” She even teased a new untitled song, saying, “Imma give y’all a little taste,” followed by a quick-paced verse as the camera closed in on her. Swaying through an unheard refrain from another artist, the song ended as she picked up her next one.
Flo Milli ended her performance with the same energy as the start, finishing her set with her viral track “In the Party.” The chat, enthusiastic throughout her entire performance, blew up as she ended, leaving her hundreds of messages in support. Before her final bars blared through the speakers of computers across the Columbia campus, she left students with a final, “Thank you Columbia for having me.”
East-coast rapper A$AP Ferg was this year’s Bacchanal headliner, accompanied by spinning DJ Megan Ryte, ending the night with flashing lights. Buzzing with energy, he began his set with the song “Jet Lag.” Ferg’s set quickly changed tone, moving to the slower pace of “Dreams, Fairytales, Fantasies” at Ryte’s request. Shouting out his New York roots, A$AP Ferg reminded the audience that “We from the motherfucking East Coast,” as he hit his 2017 single “East Coast.” He shouted out other East Coast rappers, including Nicki Minaj for her “Move Ya Hips” verse as well as rap legend Nas for his recent grammy.
An astute performer, A$AP Ferg built dialogue between him and the audience, despite his physical distance from the crowd. He tapped into common pandemic frustrations, expressing his eagerness to be out of quarantine, a familiar feeling for students watching a concert series online. This relatability remained a central aspect of Ferg’s performance between tracks, as he requested the camera man to “Keep all this in here. They need to see how hard we’re turning up,” after his performance of “Value” left him needing a quick sip of water.
Closing out his performance, A$AP Ferg demanded, “Columbia, stand up,” as he powered through “Work” and asked, “Y’all ready to go to this new level?” before leading the set to his track “New Level.” His last song was the classic “Plain Jane,” cheered on by the chat’s “PLAIN JANEEEEEE” remarks. Finishing up, Ferg thanked Columbia, Ryte, and New York, and wished the audience good health.
The Virbela performance ended with fireworks on the animated beach, a closing touch that would not have been possible in person. Students lingered as the fireworks continued, enjoying the boat and the voice chat features. Though the Bacchanal Committee will hopefully host next year’s Bacchanal in-person, this year’s virtual concert connected students to music and to each other, whether through Zoom confusion or through the Virbela virtual world.
Staff writer Maryam Rahaman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.