It’s been a long wait for the release of this limited edition vinyl box set of Awaken, My Love!, but last week Childish Gambino’s album finally arrived, and it’s bloody gorgeous. The biggest selling point of this record, other than the phenomenal music, was the virtual reality content that came with it. The mysterious ‘Vinyl VR’ had everyone’s minds boggled when it was announced, but it turns out that it is simply access to four virtual reality videos via the Pharos app, alongside a well-designed cardboard headset. Whilst the VR elements are still seriously cool stuff, the build-up as to what on (Pharos.)earth this ‘VR Vinyl’ could be ended up a slightly disappointing reveal; people were theorising online that it could be VR footage that you sync up to play with the vinyl, amongst other weird and intriguing ideas, so four 360 degree videos was a tad anti-climactic (more on those later).
However, if you forget about the mysterious hype, the limited edition album combines art, fashion, music, and video through a wonderfully executed concept. For a start, the boxset itself has a magnificent design, the album artwork was cool enough on a screen, but as a vinyl sized box (yes it isn’t just your standard sleeve) it looks sexy; the design is bigger, bluer, and the headdress glows in the dark! There’s meticulous detail in every aspect, the headset has a design that follows the album’s colours and theme, with an illuminati symbol drawn on the side; one criticism of the headset is the lack of a strap to hold it onto your head, so you can’t let go while you explore the world he has created (luckily enough I could watch through Samsung Gear). There’s also a booklet of unique images that are both dark and mesmerising, with a nicely positioned hollow section to slot your VR glasses into for safe-keeping. Another nice touch with the vinyl record is the additional bonus track on Side D, this is a live version of The Night Me and Your Mama Met with vocals and lyrics not featured on the album version, and it is a beautiful piece of music.
The virtual reality footage provided is impressive stuff, bear in mind that VR is still in the early stages, so the quality of the footage is not going to be top-notch HD for a while yet. The videos, created by both Wolf + Rothstein and Microsoft included are good track choices, ‘Me and Your Mama’ is available to anyone who downloads the Pharos app, so technically the vinyl only gives you exclusive access to three. The first exclusive video is ‘Zombies’, which is similar to ‘Me and Your Mama’ due to the intimate positioning next to the stage, the footage of his live gig at Joshua Tree also has some animations overlaid above and around you; there is a guitar solo in ‘Zombies’ that is a standout moment across the board. The other two videos are completely animated, with ‘California’ following a trippy and colourful journey through a jungle, full of skeletons and creatures that are both freaky and funny. In ‘Stand Tall’, my personal favourite, these alien-like creatures dance like backing singers for a Motown act, which is both frightening and ridiculous, but it completely works. This goes from a hologram of Mr. Gambino to a fast flight through space, which is the most enchanting segment by far.
These virtual reality experiences feel futuristic, so you can only imagine how live music and VR will progress and evolve over time. For now, the old games console style graphics are good enough to impress and fascinate as a form of trippy and desolate escapism. Regardless of the technical improvements that will come over time (which is the case for all VR), this is a fresh approach to combining music with visuals; Gambino is both pioneering and embracing this new technology. I can’t help but feel that there are still many great things to come from the creative mind of Donald Glover. Hopefully they will gradually release more footage over the course of the year, because it’s the first time an artist has ever attempted something like this. Glover’s vision for the Gambino persona is both innovative and nostalgic (with this George Clinton inspired phase), and after watching his set through virtual reality, seeing his live performance in the flesh is now firmly placed on my bucket list.