REVIEW: Amplify Presents Karun

Kenyan artist Karun makes her Bristol & metaverse debut courtesy of tech futurists Amplify

Words: Joe Valek, @joevalek

Images: Joe Valek, @joevalek & Paris Yves, @parisyves

Video: Paris Yves, @parisyves

“It will be a vibe, with a good mix of music and tech people,” is how Sam Loudd, founder of Bristol based Web3 company Amplify, described the event to me in his last minute invitation via Insta DM. He also said that Karun, flying in from Kenya just for this event, would be using the Condense Reality technology and her performance would be broadcast live in the Metaverse.

Karun, in & out of the metaverse. Image: Paris Yves, @parisyves

Condense Reality is a Bristol company who “bring the power of real world live events to virtual spaces” with their 3D video live streams. Web3 has been dubbed the next iteration of the internet, utilising concepts such as AI, blockchain, and token-based economics to give users more ownership and freedom. My interest was piqued, so I gladly accepted the invitation despite not being entirely sure what exactly to expect. 

Our arrival to Lost Horizon was smooth, despite the rain. A very relaxed security guard waved us through with no qualms, stating “it’s a free event, come straight in”. The main room was practically empty of people. However, it was full of sound. Sam Loudd, who before his tech career was a DJ, was pumping some heavy downtempo house beats from the infamous Lost Horizon converted-jet-engine-on-wheels DJ booth.

By the time we’d got a drink, said hello to a few familiar faces from the Bristol music scene, and inspected the television screen where the Metaverse event would be displayed, a final few people arrived. There were around 30 people; very fitting indeed as we’d later find out.

Image: Joe Valek, @joevalek

Suddenly, the tune faded out and the warm sound of a live vocal filled the room. Turning to the stage, we were met with a figure dressed from head to toe in a vibrant red outfit, complimenting the bright blues and pinks of the Lost Horizon stage. Karun had arrived. 

Almost as if it was rehearsed, 30 of us moved as one to form a semi-circle around the stage. Glancing at the TV screen, a number of virtual avatars had appeared, as had Karun, not as an avatar but as a 3D render of the real Karun. Don’t ask me about the science, but I think it involves a lot of cameras and very strict instructions to the performer to not leave the square boldly marked out on the stage floor. Not only was it impressive technology, it was very flipping cool. 

Back in the real world, it became clear very quickly that Karun had real talent. She had a natural confidence when she sang, the kind that makes you wonder how good it must feel to sing so elegantly with such ease. Her backing tracks were PA mixes, with the lead vocals removed to give the space she needed to perform. Her stage presence and smiley attitude made an intimate setting that could have felt awkward, feel calming and precious. The intimacy was in fact what made it so special.

Image: Paris Yves, @parisyves

Karun, a Kenyan born musician based in Nairobi, performed a mix of soulful R&B and rhythmic Afropop with a very clear sonic signature. In one of her between-song chats, she spoke of the inner turmoil she feels between her sun and her moon. The sun her joyful, meditative side; the moon the darker, more brazen aspects of her artistry. She pointed out which tracks were her moon; if that is her dark side, then Karun is a very grounded person. To me, beyond a slightly more saw-toothy bassline, it was still incredibly uplifting and calming. Yes, the vocals were perhaps more personal and self reflective, but the sound remained: soft, soulful and extremely smooth. 

Time moved quickly, and before we knew it, the set was done. She expressed her gratitude for the 30 people in the room with her, and to the 400 real people watching virtually in the Metaverse. A very humble goodbye, and Karun was gone. Soon after, so was everyone else. Without sounding like a prehistoric old man, the thing I loved the most about this event was the fact that there was only one artist. 

No waiting around through mid-tier warm up acts until 2am, when the only person anyone is even there to see turns up to do an uninspired, tired performance. It was so simple and so beautiful: arrive, chat, listen, leave. More events should attempt this, because I think a lot of people would be very grateful.

Catching up with Sam Loudd after the set, he explained why it was so powerful that only around 30 people turned up in person. The current hardware capabilities of the Metaverse equipment means that each “room” can only generate up to 30 people at a time without lagging or crashing. That means that there were 14 rooms of 30 people watching Karun virtually, 15 in total if you count Lost Horizon. 

I felt weirdly connected to these 400 people, most of which I could not see and who could not see us. But I felt connected nonetheless. We all turned up to watch an incredibly talented performer, together. Some standing next to me, some halfway across the world sitting in their living room with a VR headset on. I can’t wait to see how this technology grows over the next few years. 

Big thanks to Sam Loudd from Amplify for the invite, Condense Reality for pioneering the future of live music, and Karun for making the trip from sunny Nairobi to rainy Bristol. Sam was right, it certainly was a vibe.

Subscribe to Joe Valek on YouTube to see a full interview with Karun coming this June.

More about Condense, Amplify & Karun