Burning the Midnight Oil at A2B2's Night of Fire

On November 13, Andy Morin of Death Grips and a small group of Death Grips enthusiasts hosted Night of Fire, a virtual music fest. The event was organized by users of a2b2.org, a small but burgeoning community for those who share a love of niche (mostly electronic) music genres. I spoke with Matt, A2B2's system administrator and MC for Night of Fire, about A2B2 and its users’ vision for the site.

A2B2 logo graphic

Graphic by Zoe Axelrod
Logo courtesy of Andy Morin

a2b2.org began as Morin's personal site where he'd upload his music. In late 2019, he developed it into what it is today: an imageboard where users can post their own content and interact with each other. Matt called it a "social media geared towards the creative community."

Many of the site’s users are musicians. Originally, Night of Fire was going to be a small internal event where users could perform for each other. What was once an open mic for a few interested A2B2 users — Nixtrove, Balbis, and Composition Booklet among them — soon evolved into an 11-hour event with a whopping 37 artists.

It's clear, though, that even among such names as Xiu Xiu, Laura Les, and Dorian Electra, Night of Fire stayed true to its original intention: to highlight smaller artists who are regular users of a2b2.org.

"We tried to mix up the setlist, get some headliners then put some of the lesser-known artists so everyone would get a good amount of viewers,” Matt said. “We wanted our users and the smaller artists to get exposure from this too. That's important to us." The order was somewhat jumbled, and I found that much of the excitement came from guessing who would come on next.

While gaining exposure for smaller artists, the event also served as a fundraiser, with all proceeds going to the Los Angeles Downtown Women's Center. By the end of the night, viewers gave over $8,000 in donations alone, and even more counting money generated from Night of Fire t-shirt sales.

In this retrospective, I've compiled highlights of the night and documented the best of the YouTube stream's chat. So, take a stroll with me down memory lane as we (re)experience Night of Fire in all its fiery glory.

Best B2B: Kill Alters & Balbis

Kill Alters was the first band of the evening to really catch my attention. The New York trio experiments with percussion and noise in their jarring yet strangely hypnotizing compositions. The looping beats and elusive textures in their music are enough to keep your undivided attention, but the visuals in this set added another layer of intrigue. In the first quarter of the set, we see Bonnie Baxter dancing in a car with an iPad while a masked person in a Junji Ito hoodie dances outside in the parking lot of an industrial park. Later, Baxter joins the other person and the two have a little dance party in the lot.

The visuals matched the music well. Everything about the footage gave the impression of restrained chaos. The slow, deliberate movements maintained a sense of unease. Like the music, it was atmospheric, entrancing, and just a bit creepy.

Best moment: Junji Ito

From the chat:
"This music reminds me of my friend Josh"
"Bah"
"Am I still banned"

The transition from Kill Alters to Balbis was seamless. In keeping with the car in the abandoned lot theme, Balbis opened their set with a car spinning donuts to heavy backing guitars. What followed were mundane shots of a drive through the snowy wilderness, a bus, a foot tapping and a sink faucet. It was all very fitting for their slow-burning and subdued acoustic ambiance with sparse vocals and scattered drums. Strong Sun City Girls vibes to this one. I found it a nice, calming come down to the energy of the previous set. There was something very endearing about watching a group of friends hang out, eat fries and try on hats.

Best moment: Sink

From the chat:
"Josh moment"
"This is a certified Josh classic"
"Any Kansans"

Most Painful: 1 800 PAIN

If you were there on the YouTube stream, then you remember how 1800 PAIN hyped the crowd up — possibly more than any other act. The chat read like a transcription of hundreds of synchronized aneurisms — sporadic cries of "HURTHURTHURT" and variations thereof were all anyone was capable of typing in the chat. It was basically one long keyboard mash.

The mysterious Hello Kitty and patent leather-masked duo got right to business with a rendition of "DESTROYUSALL" transitioning into "HURT." "HURT" was a crowd favorite — not just of the set, but the whole night as well.

The visuals were beautiful, with glitched out jump cuts of the two performing in a confined and sparsely decorated space (besides a Hello Kitty crucifix). It's not a stretch to call 1800 PAIN the OST to traumacore. The beats, the breakdowns, the switch-ups... no thoughts, brain empty, just 1800 PAIN.

Best moment: "HURTHURTHURT"

From the chat:
"HURTHURT HURT HURT HURTHURT HURT HURTHURT HURT HURT HURT​HURT HURT HURT HURT HURTYEASSSHURT HURT HURT HURTHurt hurt hurt hirtHURT HURT HURTHURTHHURTHURTHURTHURT HURT HURT HURT HURT HURTHURT HURT HURT HURT HURThurt hurt hurt hurtHURT HUIRT HURT HURT HURTTHIS HUUUUUUUUURTSHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHHURT HURT HURT HURT HURT HURT HURT HUET​HURTHURTHURThurt hurt hHURT HURT HURT HURT HURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURT HURT HURT HURT HURT HURThurt hurt hurt hurt and hurtHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURT HURT HURT HURThurt hurt hurt hurtI WANNA SEE YOU HURT HURT HURT HURT HURT HURT HURT HURT HURT HURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURT HUUUURRRRRRRRRRRTTTTTTTTTTTHURTHURTHURTHUHRTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURT HURT HUUUURRRRTTTTHURT HURT HURT HUR ARF ARF ARF ARFHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURTHURT"

The cursed Hello Kitty of 1 800 PAIN performs “HURT.”

Best Narrative Storytelling: Machine Girl

Machine Girl was one of the night's main attractions, and their performance did not disappoint. Like many throughout the night, Machine Girl's set was entirely out of left field. Usually, Machine Girl performs with little more than a mic, MIDI, and maybe a drummer. This time, Machine Girl treated us to a 15-minute-long performance on bass and vocals, and they were getting a lot of love in the chat for it.

The set was exciting for so many reasons. First, the bass. Second, the visuals. Third, the premiere of all-new songs. Here's to hoping they'll all be on Machine Girl's upcoming album!

I can't stress enough that you have to experience the visuals for yourself. I should clarify: these weren't just visuals. They followed a plotline, complete with recurring characters! I don't quite have the words to describe the video's aesthetic: Tim & Eric meets Cool 3D World meets an Ambien overdose? All you need to know is that it involves weed, daddy issues and copious amounts of horse meat.

Best moment: Machine Girl's luscious hair.

From the chat:
"Eating a nutty bar to this, pure ecstasy"
"Just drank a bottle of NyQuil and broke my sobriety"
"It was the horse meat."

Best Flow (Lyrical and Vinyasa): Lust$ickPuppy

Lust$ickPuppy's performance followed Machine Girl's, and though it wasn't as visually elaborate as the preceding act, it was no less entertaining. Lust$ickPuppy's set was dynamic and fluid in sound and visuals. The set-up was simple — just a camera mounted in a backyard. Color and picture distortion glazed over the scene where Lust$ickPuppy and someone else in juggalo-esque make-up danced, hula-hooped and did yoga. With minimal video effects, Lust$ickPuppy and their guest brought all the energy with their spontaneous movements, up-in-your-face vocals, and pure joy.

The set opened with an instructional soundbite of someone explaining how to diagnose a sick dog using a rectal thermometer, then launched into an explosive performance of "ORIENTATION" mixed with new material. The performance was truly one of a kind. Guaranteed, you won't find anyone else on the stream like Lust$ickPuppy.

Best moment: Lust$ickPuppy pulls out the streamers.

From the chat:
"L$P is gonna destroy us"
"damn this girl really do got bars"
"PRAISE THE SUN"

Lust$ickPuppy stares us down from their trippy backyard.

Cutest: umru

Live from the JFK International Airport, it's umru! I don't have too much to say about this set, other than that umru is cute, and I genuinely had a blast watching him vibe with his laptop on the floor of a mysterious airport hallway. Watching him dance while people walked by, staring and pushing suitcases, was endlessly entertaining. Not to mention the mix was clean, full of depth and more inventive at every turn. The chat was slow to embrace his set, which began with a remix of SEBii's TikTok hit "BONErr," flowing through a stellar remix of ericdoa's "moving like a zombie,” but soon, they grew to love him. The cherry on top was umru's take on Fraxiom's "cishets (i don't want it at all)."

Best moment: One bad gloop and she do what I yoinky

From the chat:
"Catboys for charity"
"Music to cancel a flight to"
"Music to touch the stove to"

Biggest Thembo: Dorian Electra

Dorian was their usual, flamboyant self, and it was glorious. Dorian began their set with a POV video of them opening the hatch to an attic, then climbing in. Cue "Gentleman" as the attic interior comes into full view. We then approached the beloved tiny "Gentleman" Dorian hologram dancing on a chair. Chaos ensued, there was a chair flip, and we cut to a new scene in which Dorian climbed out of a box wearing a maid outfit and holding a Swiffer. Dorian then gave the room a thorough cleaning, wiping the couch, a three-tier keyboard, a copy of The Da Vinci Code, etc., to Umru’s remix of "Edgelord."

Dorian also threw in an unreleased track that, as one user in the chat so aptly worded, "scratched an itch in my brain." During this performance we saw our second unlikely bass appearance of the night.

Next was a cover of The Rolling Stones' “Start Me Up.” In a rare and special moment, Dorian sang without autotune, instead using their natural voice to impersonate Mick Jagger's. Oh, and they also wore a printed out picture of Mick Jagger's face taped to their own while they did a cute little dance. It was awesome.

Before we had time to recover from that little number, Dorian launched into a cover of "Hot N Cold" by Katy Perry, during which watched them take a bath in a full cover green bodysuit. I have nothing to say about this other than that Dorian has an immaculately clean bathroom, and I spent the whole three or so minutes wondering whether the water in the tub was hot or cold.

The cherry on top was the next performance, a music video-quality visualizer for "F The World." You've seen Cat Maid Dorian, Dorian Jagger; you've even seen Greenman Dorian. Now get ready for... PSL Dorian. Seeing Dorian in a sweater, denim booty shorts, and boots sipping on Starbucks (presumably a PSL), twirling in the fall leaves, and engaging in bimbo behavior was by far the most confusing moment of the night. This was the rarest, most disturbing form Dorian has taken, and the cognitive dissonance I experienced was too much to handle.

Overall, this was an entertaining, high effort, kind of cursed set that added a memorable twist to Dorian's most recent releases (and one unreleased track!) as well as the Dorian Electra classics "Start Me Up" and "Hot N Cold."

Best moment: Dorian in denim short shorts.

From the chat:
"GRILLIN AND THRILLIN"
"Wretched music"
"Hey guys, welcome to my cat maid unboxing."

Best Unreleased Material: Laura Les

THE CRAZIEST DJ TO EVER BREAK THE SOUND BARRIER! STEP ON MY FUCKING NECK, IT'S DJ LAURA LES!

Our favorite Monster-pounding, nightcore-loving DJ brought the heat during her set, which featured all-new material and the voice talent of Andrew Goes to Hell in the role of Announcer 1 ("This DJ's breaking necks and cashing checks;" "What the FUCK, who turned the nightcore down?!").

This was one of the most unique sets I've seen Les play this year, possibly ever. In the bulk of Les's sets this year, she's opted to remix old nightcore and pop favorites, deep-frying and filtering them until they are nigh unrecognizable. As much as I love the energy she brings to her remixes, I'm always hoping a new song will pop up in her mixes. Luckily for me, this set was nothing but the pared-down, meticulously nuanced (listen to "Haunted" slowed to see what I mean) production she's known for in her solo work.

"Haunted" is intricately layered with piercing vocals in the chorus and equally piercing lyrics ("Yeah, do you think it's cute that / I'm so fucking stupid / Tell me that it is, 'cause I'm tired of being useless). The song is ominous and imaginative and the melody intoxicating. I was reminded of a time when I could listen to Crystal Castles with a clear conscience. It was nice.

I particularly enjoyed the nightcore type beat of "u x me." I'm obsessed with the first verse ("Can you see me? Do I look creepy? / Can't see my reflection, probably look messy / Is it spooky? Wanna see a movie? / I can walk through walls, you don't have to pay for two seats").

Her visuals were perfect for a spooky set about sleep deprivation, ghost gfs and... guns. It might be biased to say she had the best visuals, but can you really ask for more than 15 minutes of Laura Les dancing, headbanging and just generally being adorable in strobe lighting? The answer's no; no, you can't.

Best moment: Laura sipping her low-carb Monster.

From the chat:
“this music is reminding me that laura's discord pfp is sans on a leash”
“this feels like happiness”
“the top 1% of gecs make more than half the wealth the 99% percent of gecs”

Laura Les thrashes to "Haunted."

Highest in the Echelon: Dromerke

Let me preface this by saying this was one of my favorite... experiences... at Night of Fire.

Dromerke's set was live — an exciting switch up from the predominantly pre-recorded sets throughout the night. It was also yet another strong contender for best narrative storytelling. Without giving too much away, the set tells two stories. One is the story of a young boy whose dream is to go to outer space. The other is a tale of a party with the hottest DJ in all of Belgium.

The set opened with a suited gentleman rapping in French before being informed via their imaginary earpiece that this is an English-speaking audience. They then told us they would be reporting on a couple of recent news events and cued footage of a spaceship about to take off.

Then, our gentlemanly reporter did a quick change into a lemon yellow puffer jacket, a pair of futuristic sunglasses and a pot, which they wore atop their head. In this segment, they narrated the space launch as it happens behind them.

"Homebase, can you read me? We're going up to space. So high. I can see the Earth; I can see the stars; I can see the moon. We so fuckin' high, upper echelon."

At this point, we kinda just vibed with our boy as he reacted to being in the upper echelon.

"We really up here. Are you with me? This is a dream come true, oh my god."

>Quick change and our gentleman reporter reappeared in his gentlemanly tan suit. Next up is a party in southern Belgium, where a camera crew was on-site. We got an exclusive interview with our DJ, who delivered a banger and some hand fireworks. We vibed with this guy some more. The festival crowd was going wild, as was the chat.

In the last segment, Dromerke came back for a weather report. The forecast called for rain, and it was going to be very dangerous. There were also bats. Luckily, we could stay inside and listen to the soothing sound of ethereal rain droplets. I particularly loved this last song and the accompanying visuals. If you weren't in the echelon before, you certainly were now.

After Xiu Xiu and Actuarial Stink's performance we needed serotonin, and Dromerke delivered. It was just nice to see someone have fun. What else can I say? I love ethereal beats, and I love public access TV--what a treat to have both at once. If I could give Dromerke three awards, I would tack on “most inspirational” and “most European.”

Best moment: "Holy moly crowd, that was truly emotional. Seeing a boy's dream come true just like that... If you just keep doing your thing, you'll get there too."

From the chat:
"Europe proud"
"This man's hats are impeccable"
"Andy is gonna walk on screen, announce Death Grips is breaking up, and then will call A2B2 a social experiment that will get shut down after this stream"

Dromerke sends us up into space.

Pawgiest of All Pawgs*: Bort

At this point, we were over 10 hours in, and the crowd was getting antsy for Andy. One viewer lamented that the entire music industry was going to play before they heard him. Others shared what time it was in their time zone and bonded over/bragged about how tired they were like it was the sleep deprivation Olympics. If you were falling asleep coming into Bort's set, they almost certainly fixed that real quick. In my opinion, Bort took the crown for best set of the night.

I don't have too much to say about it because I was too busy soaking it all in other than that this set was, in fact, poggers. And I don't use that word lightly. Visuals? Epic. Mix? Epic (and kind of spooky. Hope you like Martyrs!). The breaks? I pissed myself and astral projected. These were some tasty, tasty ear sounds. Maybe just check out the set for yourself; it needs no qualifiers.

*Alternate award: most seizures induced. From the visuals or the music? You decide.

From the chat:
"This is what it feels like to chew 5 gum"
"Vore asmr"
"Josh stands outside my house and makes these noises"

Most Gripping: Andy Morin

If you made it to the end, congratulations. Here's Andy Morin, finally. You probably stayed up all night and/or day waiting for this moment, and you got it. But some would say it's the journey, not the destination, that's the real prize. And, although the destination was great, it wasn't everything.

Andy did his thing, going nuts on the synths and drops, dancing, and clearly having a great time. Watching Andy perform, eyes rolling back, hair plastered to his forehead was intoxicating. Even more so than he looked — some users suggested he lay off the speed and practice mindfulness, and I couldn't agree more.

We had a Clairo moment, an Animal Collective moment and a pop-punk moment. Andy took us on a journey, then all too soon, that journey ended when Andy flashed a peace sign and ducked out of frame — hopefully to take a long nap and drink some water. We're all very concerned for you, Andy.

Best moment: Andy Morin's smile :,)

From the chat:
"Man r/deathgrips is annoying as hell"
"Andy that's an awfully hot coffee pot ngl"
"Andy 'Microsoft Surface 3' Morin"

After an exhausting, confusing, and, it could be said, fire night, I left with both an appreciation for more than a few artists I'd never heard and a rekindled fondness for the strange new performance format we've all had to become accustomed to this past year. I've "been" to a lot of virtual music events in the last 11 months, but nothing made me feel as excited and involved as Night of Fire did.

During events like this, it's hard not to wonder how much better the experience would be in person. Night of Fire proved that virtual, live-streamed shows can be just as entertaining and blood-pumping as any in-person event. The past 11 and ½ hours proved that virtual events might have their perks — where else besides giant, commercial music festivals could you see 37 artists perform? Where else would you be able to see the artists you've formed connections to in their own environment? Where else would these artists be given the total creative freedom to be as makeshift or elaborate in their performance as they want or experiment with video, skits, and other visual effects?

The best livestream music events are those that find ways to generate hype in the community, and Night of Fire certainly did that. Throughout a very long night, I, and many others, shared community and enthusiasm, two things in relatively low supply right now. At Night of Fire, we lived in the moment; we laughed with our friends; we loved music together. Some among us ingested lots of ketamine.

If you managed to stay awake through all 11 and ½ hours, you probably achieved ego death and had an experience that won't soon be replicated. Savor it, treasure it and hope that a2b2.org will be up to more mischief soon... perhaps a certain fungal-related event?

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