Most people may not know what I mean when I say “demoscene,” or “demoparty.” In fact, many people at the Dig didn’t know what it was either. @party, a Massachusetts-based demoparty initiative, is looking to change that in a city that seems almost perfect for this unique experience.
According to @party’s website, a demoparty is a place where members of the demoscene (also known as sceners) can get together as a community of electronic artists and fans. People from all fields--from computer programmers, to visual artists, to musicians--are able to gather and create art, pushing the edges of what they are capable of, and what their computers can do. The scene is more popular in European countries like Germany, or Finland, but is starting to gain more of a following in North America.
I don’t really want to think about how much this looks like my nightmares.
Every demoparty varies, but what remains universal is the idea of self-expression, and the ability to create with little limits. The next @party event is this weekend at the Space With A Soul IdeaLounge, and people will be able to participate in a competition with a variety of different categories, from old school to new school. There will also be lectures and presentations on everything from symmetrical shapes to how to build your own arcade machine.
Considering that Boston is a city filled with college students, tech geeks, and a very active and sometimes bizarre music and arts scene, it’s hard to imagine why the demoscene hasn’t taken off here. As a combination of the most creative and boundary-breaking parts of art, music, and technology, it seems like a crime that demoparties aren’t more popular. @party is hoping to correct that.
I was able to talk with Val Grimm, the lead organizer and founder of @party, which held its first event in 2010. She hopes to help expand the demoscene throughout North America, and promote the benefits in various industries.
What inspired the founding of the Boston scene?
Well there are a variety of things that inspired me. I worked on the World Science Fiction convention in Montreal in 2009. I gained a lot of…experience on that, and I had been introduced to the demoscene, and I was like, there really aren’t any demoparties around here. There was one in Cleveland at that time that may continue, but it’s not clear, and I said “Why don’t I just start one here?” And I went to a demoparty actually in Finland called Assembly…And I said “I think I can build one here too.”
It also makes a lot of sense also because we have a lot of colleges and universities around here; a lot of technology, a lot of art and technology…it seemed to make sense.
Did it take off immediately?
It was definitely popular the first year, and the second year, I realized that the location was hurting us (the town of Harvard), so I said let’s move into the city, and the attendance skyrocketed.
How big do these events get?
It varies over time. You have events as big as 1000 people in Germany, that’s the demoscene-only events, but the mixed events could be as many as 4000. The biggest demoparties that I know of in America, actually there were three of them, and they were all hovering around 500 people, that was back in the mid-90s.
So how big do you think the event will be this weekend?
Well we have 61 registered, but that’s not counting the number of people, so I’m thinking something in the 70s…there are people at the parties and people emailing in stuff.
So not everyone who enters shows up to these things?
We’ll have some people on site, we’ll have a sizable number of people who are going to be watching a live stream, watching in IRC… So it’s very much international event, actually it’s an international event including the people who are there. We’ll actually have people there from six countries, but the people attending online, that also it makes it even more international. There’s a lot of folks from the European scene involved, and we might get people in IRC from as far away as Australia.
I thought it was maybe just a local thing.
This is part of an international scene that’s been around since 1987. The demoscene has been around since 1987. Yeah, that’s when they first started having parties that were just parties, not, you know, swapping parties, but just demo parties.
So do you feel that when people come to these events that it’s more of a social scene, or is it a chance to explore new technology?
Both. Completely both.
Because people come to learn about the new technologies, but by going to the talks, and talking to each other, and solving problems that they are having technologically.
They also go to chill out, network, that kind of thing. In Europe, the demoscene functions as a shadow network underneath the gaming industry. And then, I’ve tried to do a lot of outreach, I have done a lot of outreach in the game industry in this particular region for that reason.
So if it’s both the art scene and the tech scene, is that how you’re going about promoting the demoparty in Boston, as both, or is it more technology over art?
Both. Completely both… Both can benefit from each other, and learn from each other, and it seems to be the spirit of the scene at its utmost. There’s also a certain element of competition… but that’s changed a lot because technology is capable of so much more, and certainly it’s about pushing the computer, but a lot of it at this point is about the art, and about a new art form, a technological art form. To say things that you couldn’t say in the same way, in another art form.
I’m trying to understand fully what the demoscene is.
The thing is that it’s very hard to pin down. It varies very much from party to party, from region to region. The overall feeling is the emphasis on art and technology, and pushing yourself, pushing your technology…
I really want to recruit students, not only for the benefit of @party, but more importantly, for the good of the scene because there are so many people out there who would be so into the scene if they knew what it was, and then will meet each other because of events like this, and then will do different things.
I find it really interesting because a lot of people I know who are into computers, and who do coding and stuff like that, they’re on the opposite end where they don’t incorporate art very much, so it’s interesting that this is basically promoting it.
Yeah, and sometimes people will say “Oh I can’t draw,” or “Oh I can’t make music,” and you need somebody. You need somebody who can draw, you need somebody that can make music, and not only can you make something together, but you can also learn from each other. It’s amazing… the bits of practical information, especially when you’re working with computers, or just electronics in general.
It’s amazing how much I’ve learned from joining the scene. It’s really awesome.
So you can do anything on technology. There is no limit.
You just have to figure out how, and the weird thing is that you can often find people that are really happy to tell you.