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FWB Fest in Idyllwild was the Woodstock of cryptocurrencies

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IDYLLWILD, Calif. — The world of cryptocurrencies has had a rough summer. The prices of bitcoin and etherium have plummeted in recent months. The NFT mania has cooled off after the market was flooded with low-quality projects and scams. And regulators have began to crack down on a swamp of crypto companies that have allegedly been involved in questionable behavior and potential fraud.

Despite this gloomy outlook, More than 500 people recently occupied the campus of Idyllwild Arts Academy, a private arts boarding school in Idyllwild, California, for a weekend festival that the local media Billed as the “crypto Woodstock”.

The event was called FWB Fest, and the artists, writers, musicians, software engineers, startup founders, and creatives who gathered came together through their membership in Friends With Benefits, a cryptocurrency-based online social club in the which must buy a token. link.

At FWB Fest, the cryptocurrency downturn was welcomed. “I don’t think this festival would have worked six months ago,” said Alex Zhang, 26, one of the leaders of Friends With Benefits and an organizer of the event.

The people at FWB Fest were not your typical crypto conference attendees flying between Miami and San Francisco. Many were working artists or creative professionals. They were there because they believe that the blockchain, the underlying technology of cryptocurrencies, can be used to build a better world through community and decentralization.

“What’s happening on a larger level,” Yancey Strickler, former Kickstarter co-founder and CEO, told a room of other attendees during a session titled “Beyond Crypto,” “is that we’ve had many decades of extreme and increasing individualism as the core value, where each of us is expected to stand alone…but now we’re acknowledging the emptiness of that, and the loneliness of that and routine.”

“I think we are all recovering after decades of market-brained neoliberal individualism,” he said. austin robeymember of Friends With Benefits and co-founder, with Strickler, of Metalabel, a platform that offers tools for online groups.

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While the public image of the crypto world has largely been defined by a hyper-capitalist brand of libertarian individualism, FWB attendees sought to harness the crash to usher in a different, more inclusive tech utopia centered around community and community. creativity.

“Crypto is obviously divisive, and there’s a lot of language and tools that we’re comfortable with that don’t translate into the mainstream,” one attendee said. “But how we’re going to have a bigger positive impact on the material lives of more people is by creating tools in public ledgers that aren’t over-funded.”

A $100 million group chat

In 2020, entrepreneur and artist Trevor McFedries began exploring how to bring crypto to a more mainstream audience. For a long time he was at the forefront of art and technology, having created a company that created the first virtual influencer, but after the pandemic hit, he began delving into the world of Web3, the broad and somewhat fluid term that serves as short for a new kind of internet that is based on decentralized blockchains. While Web 2.0, the current iteration of the web, is defined by a handful of large tech companies that own and control user content and data, proponents of Web3 see its decentralized systems as leading to more equal ownership. .

In a single weekend, McFedries created a specialized cryptocurrency token and sent it to his friends in the worlds of music, art, design and technology, as well as to some Twitter followers.

The “FWB” token gave them access to a Discord community called Friends With Benefits. The community functions as a DAO, or “decentralized autonomous organization,” which is basically a blockchain-based cooperative in which each token holder owns a stake in the organization.

In the two years since then, Friends With Benefits has taken off. Fueled by the cryptocurrency boom, group chat grew into a full-fledged online social club, generating media attention and attracting thousands of high-profile members, including celebrities and musical artists like Erykah. Badu and Azealia Banks.

As the organization scaled, the price of purchasing a token for membership also grew, at one point reaching $175 for a single token. Last year, Friends With Benefits raised $10 million from investors, including venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, in a funding round that valued it at $100 million.

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The group used the funding, in part, to expand offline. He organized events and parties in Los Angeles, Miami and New York, increasing his cultural footprint. At one point, the group discussed a futuristic dream of one day taking over a defunct liberal arts college and hosting a festival. When it was discovered that a friend of a friend was working in admissions at the arts academy, after some negotiations with the school and local city officials, FWB organizers secured the venue and FWB Fest was born.

Crypto utopia in the forest

Over the weekend, Idyllwild Arts Academy transformed into a utopian summer camp where discussion groups and chats were held during the day on topics such as “Social Justice and web3” and “Where do NFTs go from here?” gave way to late-night performances by musicians like Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of the anarchist feminist group Pussy Riot, experimental electronic music producer Oneohtrix Point Never, and rapper JPEGMAFIA. James Blake played a piano game.

There was a natural wine garden, ambient sound baths where attendees could have mushroom tea, late-night stargazing, and a pool party. Andrea Hernández, founder of the newsletter snapshotwhich has become an oracle in the food and beverage world for its ability to spot promising products before they hit grocery store shelves, selected a custom snack stand and NFT marketplace OpenSea collaborated in a digital art gallery.

Throughout the weekend, directors Adam Faze and Ari Cagan hounded attendees to interview them for an upcoming reality show backed by Mad Realities, a web3-oriented production company, based at the festival.

However, outside of the talks, the topic of cryptocurrencies seemed secondary, if it was mentioned at all.

Greg Bresnitz, the FWB’s lead for cities and events programming, said that was intentional. FWB, he said, was really about “using Web3 as a coordination mechanism for culture.” “For the last two years [crypto] It has been at the forefront,” he added, “and now with the crash it is receding into the background.”

Other attendees agreed. “There are a lot of people here who are relatively new to web3, but really interested in culture and that’s their entry point to FWB,” said Cherie Hu, founder and publisher of Water & Music, an independent newsletter and DAO of music-focused research. and Technology. “I haven’t even heard a lot of buzzwords or people talking about crypto on the corner,” said Patrick McDermott, an artist from Los Angeles.

Due to the serendipitous nature of its founding, Friends With Benefits never began with a mission statement or business plan. “It started as a scene,” Zhang said. “Most of the people who are part of a scene can’t recite a scene’s mission statement.” During a session on the second day of the festival, members brainstormed how to expand FWB into new ventures, be it product launches or another festival.

All About FWB Fest was organized in conjunction with the members of FWB Discord. “The community is full of people who work in various industries, so when we host events we try to recruit from within the community,” McFedries said.

Zhang said that he thinks of Friends With Benefits as a city. “New York City, for example, hosts festivals,” she said. “There are also restaurants, museums, parks, etc. FWB feels less like a company and at this stage, and more like a small town that has a vibe.”

Despite the recent contraction in the cryptocurrency market, everyone at FWB Fest remained steadfast in their dedication to the use of blockchain, the underlying technology of cryptocurrencies, saying that they hope the success of FWB will usher in a new web3 era, built around community and inclusion.

“We’re trying to build while we can before big horrible corporations come in and screw it up for everyone,” said Joshua Eustis, a music artist known as Telefon Tel Aviv. “Capitalism is superimposed on our way of life and our financial system, and the fact that web3 is currently grossly inadequate to correct that is not a reason enough for us to abdicate our responsibility to shape it in its initial state.”

“If we don’t,” he said, “some asshole will do it later and we’ll have to use it.”

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