Inside the Earnest Parties at the First NFT Conference
Times Square Margaritaville does not seem to be the typical hangout for hip tech entrepreneurs and young artists. But the shiny, tropical-themed tourist trap was the central hub and gateway to accessing this fall’s first-ever NFT.NYC conference, a sprawling citywide event with dozens of panel discussions and hundreds of official and unofficial parties attended by over 5,000 eager cryptocurrency enthusiasts exploring the strange new world of NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, the blockchain-based assets—often art—that are rapidly growing into a multi-billion dollar industry.
You wouldn’t see 18-yearold star artist FEWOCiOUS in Margaritaville. Victor Langlois, who goes by FEWOCiOUS or Fewo for short, is one of the NFT world’s biggest success stories of the past year: he has sold millions of dollars worth of artworks as NFTs at auction. But on his second-ever visit to New York from his current home of Seattle, Langlois—who prefers paint-splattered clothing and splashes of bright eye makeup with streaks of golden highlighter swiped across his cheekbones—was primarily posted up in industrial Red Hook, Brooklyn, to host painting parties for his friends and collectors.
Staff set up 10-foot tall canvases on high ceilings in a studio near the water. They also used buckets of paint to make crafts tables. Langlois’s invited guests, many who seemed to know each other from chats on Twitter and Discord or previous crypto get-togethers, pulled on white hazmat suits and latex gloves, then scooped handfuls of paint and threw it—satisfyingly, cathartically—against the giant canvases. “I don’t think I’ve done this since I was, like, five years old,” one middle-aged man admitted. Age-wise, he was an outlier in the studio, as most of Langlois’ painting guests were late-20s to mid-30s crypto investors and fellow artists who happened to get in early as collectors of his works. Many people have given up their jobs, or left behind primary occupations to ride the tailwinds created by the NFT/crypto boom. These early adopters seem happy with the new art era.
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Langlois has become a celebrity these days. “When I was like 12, I had a really bad time,” he explains as we walk around the canvases before his guests arrive, eyeing the bright colors and spray-painted symbols. “I wanted to die. My parents didn’t like each other. They went to work and got stuck in the job cycle. They didn’t have hobbies or anything. When they were young, they had hobbies. Then they quit. And I’d look at them and [think] — what’s life?” For Langlois, finding a way to express himself through his art changed everything.
“I had a moment earlier this year where I cried. I cried so much because I was like, I can’t believe I wanted to die.” NFTs were the ticket to something better, offering both financial freedom and a community of supportive peers who believed in his vision. “I like this weird fluorescent light and how it looks on your face. I enjoy the shadows and light on the ceiling. I love cakes. I like coffee. I love, like—imagine if you never tasted chocolate?”
His passion is infectious. He is embraced by his collector friends and art friend, who hug him with a mixture of timidity and joy when he arrives. He mentions the other New York greats—Warhol, Basquiat—as precursors to this moment. This may also have been the beginning of what this diverse group is working on: creating something that combines craft and commerce. Andy Warhol’s Factory scene raised eyebrows at first for its commercialism, too. This version of today’s cultural capital goes one step further, dissolving the distinction between culture and capital entirely. This is like playing.
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The vibe is back in Times SquareIt is more competitive and intense than the free-for-all model. There are a lot of entrepreneurs, bearded engineers and product managers who wear hoodies. At the panels —”NFT Bubble? Use NFT’s 4 Altruism,” “Do You Want to Mint a CryptoNewYorker?,” “Metadata and Your Art”—a healthy buzz of chatter regularly threatened to overshadow the speakers on stage, except for the moments that industry superstars like Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian or Gary Vaynerchuk took up the mics.
The real action took place, according to the tech-savvy artists, at private dinners, and surprise meet-ups that were hosted by well-known companies and groups: Metaversal and Origin Protocol. For entry to some events, you’d need to have collected an NFT token via an online auction platform just to get in. For others, knowing the right person—someone on a groupchat with the founders of the crypto group hosting the event, for instance—would do. It was sometimes about getting to know one of the early-20s millionaires leading this space, many who have invested heavily in digital-native art and NFT collections.
In a world built on the concept of removing barriers to entry and building a more equalized market—for artists and investors alike—the invitation-only exclusivity can feel ironic. However, most of the time the party was open for everyone who found the spot. (Despite the industry’s ample funding, however, the drinks rarely came free.) As this diverse community finally gathered in one place, there was loud music and digital projections at each event. It was all about the party, not the revelry or lack thereof.
On Nov. 5, the conference’s final official evening, dozens of people lined up outside Hammerstein Ballroom in midtown Manhattan for access to a party billed as “Creature World” hosted by OpenSea, the biggest NFT trading platform currently online. They have facilitated more than $10 billion of NFT trading volumes in 2021. Organized chaos was inside: A huge adult bouncy-house dominated the darkened space. Meanwhile, a young DJ blasting music alongside a dance mascot dressed in fuzzy blue, surrounded by digital screens that displayed NFT art.
Men in jeans, branded tshirts, and colorful hats shared conversations about blockchain technology at every turn. “What NFTs are you selling?” one pair asked. “What’s your role in crypto?” One 19-year-old college student from the Midwest, in New York as a representative of his school’s investment club, eagerly introduced himself. He explained that even though he’d recently been the victim of a “rug pull”—in crypto terms, when you invest in a coin and then the creator disappears, tanking the value and taking your investment with them—he was still all-in on the NFT world. He’d had a blast all week, networking and meeting artists. In the background, the DJ played Azealia Banks’s “212” at an eardrum-destroying decibel, and two masked people paraded a giant hot pink fabric worm through a sedate mosh pit near the stage. A nearby founder spoke about his collaboration with the government to connect individual identities, NFTs and blockchain to trace more immigration.
In the NFT world, the usual greeting is “GM,” shorthand for “Good morning.” (There’s nothing more to it than that: just positive vibes, simplified.) To close out the week, then, there had to be a “GN” party, for ”good night.” It was at a former bank, Capitale, now often used as a venue for charity galas or corporate events. Jasti (real name Jaiden Stipp), a 15-year old NFT artist, was waiting outside. His mom and a few others were there to support him. The mother-son couple had just arrived from the Pacific Northwest. His hair was hot pink with a touch of cotton candy.
Inside the venue, displays showed off the work of over 25 different artists—tall digital billboards of cult-favorite CryptoPunks, Sarah Meyohas’s blockchain-native photography “Speculations”—and a DJ named Claude VonStroke reigned over a crowded dance floor. Stipp was almost asleep when he realized it was time to head home. He had a few successful weeks, in which he sold $350,000 of digital art via Nifty Gateway, spent time creating collaborations with FEWOCiOUS, and a diverse group of young NFT artists on this new wave. It was a great feeling to see the faces of people that he had only met online. Everyone was supportive. It was a great idea. It was only the beginning of the party.