Here’s what you missed (or didn’t miss) on Saturday!

After a canceled 2020 show, Bacchanal made its grand return to Columbia student life this weekend, featuring Brooklyn-based house artist Yaeji, 21-year-old viral sensation Flo Milli, and headlining rapper A$AP Ferg. The concert was hosted on two virtual platforms: an avatar-based platform called Virbela and a Youtube Live stream. Bwogger Bannon documented her second Bacchanal experience and felt very old doing it. 

Bacchanal 2021 was certainly a Bacchanal like no other! In an accidentally-millennial move, I immediately set myself up for strange vibes by logging onto Virbela with a lavender aromatherapy candle burning next to a glass of red. Unwittingly, I was leaning into the business casual theme which Virbela continued by offering a tragic selection of outfits, the least conservative of which was a mid-calf pencil skirt and a round-neck tee. I was disappointed again when I discovered that every “face” option looked like the villain of Spy Kids (2001). I digress—the point of the day was not the avatar design but queens Yaeji and Flo Milli (and headliner A$AP Ferg). 

When I landed in the virtual world, I was informed that the concert would not start until after 5 pm, so I walked as far as I could into the digital ocean while listening to the sweet sounds of my computer’s overworked cooling fan. While wading, I was informed by a fellow Bwogger that the Zoom session for the concert was confusingly blank and lacking in information. After a few minutes of chaos, a new link to a Youtube Live was sent out and all was well as everyone waited for the festivities to begin. 

Before I knew it, there was a notice on my screen that the concert would be starting momentarily, so I raced back to the beach stage where Yaeji was starting to play. Like many an absent-minded professor, she started her set on mute, but it was quickly fixed and the pixelated crowd of Columbians was serenaded with beautiful bilingual house tunes. The public Virbela chat sang Yaeji’s praises during the set, which felt akin to an NPR tiny desk-concert in production style. The chat was especially active during her top hit on Spotify, “Raingurl.” Her soft, resonant vocals mixed fluidly with trap beats, daring anyone not to bop along in their bedrooms. Her quietly confident set was a hit with the virtual audience, which dissonantly “clapped” as she signed off with a smile. 

After Yaeji’s chill opening act, there was a brief pause, during which I managed to lock myself out of my Virbela account, reset my password, and lock myself out again. Luckily I was not alone and managed to rejoin on a different computer for Flo Milli’s energetic second act. Although pre-recorded, Flo Milli’s set was fun and engaging. Her gilded background and glittery flapper outfit were delightfully Gatsby-esque and it was unreasonably exciting just to hear her say the words “Columbia University.” Even without a live crowd, she was impressively high-energy, performing top hits like “May I” and “In the Party” to rave reviews from the virtual crowd. 

New York Native A$AP Ferg was up next, accompanied by DJ Megan Ryte. The dynamic between the two performers and the active (though one-sided) dialogue between Ferg and the audience made this performance feel the most “live,” despite not technically being interactive. Between songs, Ferg lamented about the pandemic, hyped up the East Coast, reminded us all of the importance of hydration, and maintained a lighthearted back-and-forth with Ryte. His two final songs, “New Level,” and “Plain Jane” were crowd favorites, earning all-caps praise from dozens of students in the chat. There were even some attempted sing(type?)-alongs before the evening closed with virtual fireworks on the beach.

Overall, the experience was hard to compare to an in-person Bacchanal performance. The virtual platform made it difficult to differentiate the concert from an evening of watching Youtube, though the artists’ efforts to engage with the crowd were very appreciated. Every act was well-executed and student reactions to the performers were overwhelmingly positive. Virbela itself left something to be desired but, given the circumstances, it was a worthy attempt to make what had to be socially-distant a little more intimate. On the plus side, Virbela was something new that allowed the event to stand out from the monotony of Zoom classes and typical live streamed events. There was entertainment value in creating an avatar, attempting to navigate the virtual world, and trying to find friends, but the entertainment was short-lived. The platform was limited in creativity and came with a few annoyances like random clapping noises, the resurrection of the Gangnam style dance, and shockingly demanding processing power. Also, the fact that the performances were pre-recorded took the energy down a few notches. Even though we couldn’t physically cheer for the artists and dance in front of them, it might have been nice to know that they could see our live reactions in some capacity. Then again, a fully live performance would certainly increase the risk of technical difficulties that might have disrupted the experience. Public-health-willing, next year’s Bacchanal committee can take the stellar curatorial skills they displayed this year and host the kind of festival we all love and miss.

Yaeji’s performance via Virbela screenshot by Bannon