I’d Invite You to this Rave, But You’ll Need to Mine Crypto and Find a New Identity First
The Omsk Social Club is not your grandfather’s watering hole—they stage IRL games around Europe as left wing benders for collective dreaming.
Installation view of Omsk Social Club’s “DEAD AIR” in Berlin from June 22-25, 2018. Photo by Robyn, aka Sylvia Ryback.
Have you ever felt like you were living a dream? Like you experienced something so vivid, yet so surreal that it couldn’t possibly have happened? That kind of dissonance is exactly what the Berlin-based collective Omsk Social Club aims to produce. Borrowing tactics from live action role-playing (LARP) and Real Game Play (RGP)—in both, the rules, conventions, and styles of a fictional world are performed IRL—the three main constituents of Omsk (who prefer to remain anonymous) work together to write characters for participants in their games, including themselves and invited members of their immediate community. This element of artifice becomes necessary in enabling new stories to unfold.
About one month prior to the “CryptoRave#5” that Omsk hosted in May at panke.gallery in Berlin, I received an email invitation to play with them and RSVP’d. Shortly thereafter, Omsk sent me a profile for Bell Lipton, the fictional personality I was to assume for the night. She was an anarcho-primitivist with the mission of meeting the very real British hacker and bitcoin developer Amir Taaki in order to convince him that the world needs a “crypto-earth liberation front.” Similar to the preparation required to attend an actual crypto rave, a rising subculture of parties organized via the blockchain, I had to mine a type of cryptocurrency to unlock both the location of and my entry ticket to Omsk’s rave. The monies were automatically deposited into their collective wallet to fund the event. Similar to other attendees’ experiences, my preparation to understand my character and how to embody her involved extensive research into far-flung topics—an essential aspect of the games which Omsk cherishes.
“The [digital] algorithms of people that prefer to stay in an echo chamber are very, very valuable,” a member of the collective told me when we met in Berlin, before traveling to Zurich for another game. “Omsk gives somebody another character and [in order to understand them] they at some point Google things that break their typical algorithmic character. This is a way in which Omsk shadows real life, but also wants to glitch it.”
The ideological undertones of the identities issued by Omsk flow throughout much of the group’s work, which can be seen as an updated take on the kinds of practices that curator Nicolas Bourriaud coined the term “relational aesthetics” in 1998 to describe. “DEAD AIR,” for example, a nonstop 72-hour game that debuted at the project space gr_und in Berlin in June, took place at an art center called LONGTANG in Zurich this past weekend, and will be staged again in London and Stockholm later this summer. The conceit of the performance is that the event itself is set in the near future where a government has required all humans to consume “Fruit,” a type of drug that eliminates the need for sleep from the body. Given the leftist-inflected spirit of “DEAD AIR,” however, no one, ostensibly, takes the “Fruit” and players are instead supposed to create collective dreams together as part of a lucid exploration of alternative realities, including how to avoid surveillance and live a life without the mandated drug.
Prior to my arrival last Friday midday for the game at LONGTANG, from which I didn’t end up leaving until Monday afternoon, Omsk sent me a character description for my role again: “Raven” was there to spy on “DEAD AIR” in an attempt to steal the event’s unique identity and bring it to “Flux State,” another—albeit more neoliberal—collective dreaming party circuit. Psychological manipulation was said to be one of her strongest traits. Key players had spent months developing their characters (some participants were even instructed to meet up beforehand and form alliances), while other contributors and members of the general public (two lost souls thought they were going to a party and arrived with six packs) could also drop in and out.
On Friday, taking the phrase “rethinking the left,” provided by the moderators of Omsk, as a starting point, our characters engaged in a two-hour discussion on the following: why were we in an enclosed space instead of rising up against capitalism and the ruling regime? Are we part of the left? Has the left, in fact, become centralized? The following day, we were asked to “[rethink] the collective self,” and on Sunday the prompt became “lucidity as direct action.” We discussed our choice to abstain from taking the “Fruit” and join the collective dreaming as forms of resistance. Negotiating “DEAD AIR”’s fictional space quickly bled into my own thinking, pushing me to reconsider my approach to life in the real word.
In his 1998 book Relational Aesthetics, Bourriaud argued that “the role of artworks is no longer to form imaginary and utopian realities, but to actually be ways of living and models of action within the existing real.” Omsk Social Club throws confusion into the mix by glitching the boundary between the imaginary and the real, and playing utopian and dystopian fantasies against each other to directly rethink the now.
The next edition of Omsk Social Club's game “DEAD AIR” will take place in London on August 24-27.