Just before midnight in Hell’s Kitchen, we snuck out the backdoor at Terminal 5 and boarded a slapdash, wooden bus befitting mythical creatures associated with dirt, bugs, and the macabre. We were, after all, among the “VERY few” who’d been chosen to go down, down to Goblintown.
But the interior was more college dorm than earthen lair, strung with Christmas lights, the walls decorated with a mishmash of stickers and the ceiling sprayed with graffiti. The occupants, kids, really, sat almost one on top of the other, proud of what they’d just accomplished and excited about what would come next. One of them was seemingly passed out beside a mattress in the back.
They were the creative minds behind IlluminatiNFT and the Goblintown NFT collection, the latter a computer-generated collection of charmingly hideous goblins that, almost immediately after their debut last month, began trading for thousands of dollars a pop. Their guests at Terminal 5 in New York that night were treated to a mysterious, interactive art exhibit that climaxed with a Cirque du Soleil-esque performance.
The young crew had just thrown a lavish party at one of New York’s premier music venues.
Standing on the sweltering bus cheek-to-jowl with them, we were traveling to another event featuring a surprise appearance from superstar DJ Steve Aoki.
The funny thing was, none of the members of the collective wanted to talk about their handiwork. Not that night, at least.
“We really don’t want to do many interviews, because we don’t want people to start talking about us, instead of the work we’re doing,” Alexander Taub, the founder of Truth, the umbrella organization that produced IluminatiNFT and Goblintown, volunteered at around 3 a.m.
We were standing on the corner of 15th Street and 9th Avenue on Manhattan’s West Side and could hear the bass from Aoki’s set thumping inside Chelsea Music Hall. The greasy aroma of free McGoblinBurgers, little more than a patty and cheese in a bun, wafted by.
The concert venue was spewing partygoers who were, like moths, instantly drawn to the fluorescent light of the goblins’ burger truck. Those who’d had their fill crowded the street between the venue and 9th Ave., talking about NFTs, DAOs, and their epic night.
Somewhere else in the city, world-famous magician David Blaine, a guest at a party sponsored by the team behind the Moonbirds NFT collection, literally sewed his mouth shut.
The Goblins and the Moonbirds were just two of the parties that were thrown across New York on the opening night of the fourth annual NFT.NYC, a gathering of more than 12,000 fans, founders, artists, developers and researchers with an interest or stake in non-fungible tokens.
For three days this week, the 1,000-plus speakers, distributed on hundreds of panels at seven venues just off Times Square, shared their insights on the markets and technology that power this new asset class.
At the cavernous Marriott Marquis, the beating heart of the conference, people with something to sell tended booths stacked with business cards, stickers and flyers, ready to pounce on any passerby who showed even the slightest interest in their projects. Builders networked as they waited on line to grab free Mexicali chicken bowls and miso bento boxes.
Of course, lately the crypto market has become morose at the sight of cratering tokens and wobbling multi-billion dollar projects. And the NFT marketplace hasn’t been spared: The floor price of the mega-hot Bored Ape Yacht Club is down 75% from its all time high in April, according to data from NFTpricefloor.com. CryptoPunks is down more than 80%. Other examples abound.
I heard crypto natives muttering “bear market” and other discordant comments as I jostled among the masses at the Marriott Marquis, each of whom had paid almost $900 to be there. And yet as I took in the scene I sensed defiance. A human in a marshmallow costume dancing to a dubstep remix of Edith Piaf’s Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien passed nearby.
Yeah, the vibe in New York this week was ebullient, despite the malaise in the market. And underneath the partying was a hard truth — the people who are into crypto for the technology and the promise it holds will be fine. It’s the grifters getting washed out to sea.
“I feel like maybe people who are newcomers or maybe want to make a quick buck, maybe they get upset,” said Baby Yors, an Argentine musician and artist based in Los Angeles. “Because they were promised heaven, and they’re not getting heaven.”
That was the feeling at the soiree thrown by Ledger, the crypto security giant. The crowd was laughing, wearing Ledgers on gold chains, and surrounded by NFT artwork on the walls.
“The sentiment is supposed to be low, but everyone’s having a great time,” said Bobby Hundreds, a streetwear designer. Bobby was right. We’re in a bear market, but for those of us that do more than watch token prices we’re having a great time.
Most of us at least. One guy asked @Michaela_NFT, an influencer, out for a date via a Times Square billboard, but she tweeted that it was a shame he was a Mutant Ape, a cheaper derivative project of BAYC.
Terminal 5, capacity 3,000, had been turned into an interactive art exhibit. At the center of the dimly lit venue, the Truth team had placed a glowing pyramid, an homage to the Masonic symbol on the back of the U.S. dollar bill, which has spawned many a conspiracy theory.
It sat on a platform decorated with electric candles, ribbons and markers. Docents in gold cloaks told people who were asking what it was all about to write their reality on one strip of ribbon, their dream on another, and to take one ribbon and leave the other on the platform.
It was the attendees’ introduction to an elaborate scavenger hunt at Truth’s first event Tuesday night. Multiple people approached me and my colleague Jason Levin as we wandered the second floor asking whether we’d seen Milo.
Milo apparently had something they were looking for. Every 10 minutes or so, a performer would take the stage at Terminal 5 and put on a brief show, juggling or dancing or singing, all while undressing. Let’s call it “avant-garde burlesque.” A man in a goblin costume stalked the venue, taking selfies with attendees and then screeching that his soul had been stolen.
We wondered aloud whether there would be a live sacrifice on stage that night. Around 10:30 p.m., it seemed a near certainty, as docents took the stage and Gregorian chanting was piped in through the Terminal 5 sound system.
Fortunately, no animals were hurt in the making of this spectacle. Instead, the event concluded with the scavenger hunt winner using a key he’d found to unlock a box that, as far as we could tell, served only to signal it was time for a troupe of gorgeous, professional dancers to bust some very impressive moves.
VIPs were hustled to the chariot that would take us to the afterparty at Goblintown. It was really hot inside. Everybody seemed to be reserving what energy they had left for Chelsea Music Hall. A pair of actors (or very committed team members) dressed as goblins had joined us, and were cackling and speaking nonstop gibberish to those who had the misfortune of standing or sitting nearby.
When we got to Chelsea Music Hall, the hoi polloi already waiting in line to enter the venue crowded the bus. Everyone on board agreed to link arms as we stepped off, making a daisy chain that would allow us, and only us, the VIPs, instant entry through a back door.
We deboarded and immediately broke the chain to wave to comedian Nick Kroll, who just happened to be standing on the street in front of the bus. But the group, remembering the task at hand, again linked arms and pushed through a crowd, feeling a little like celebrities ourselves, as bouncers beat back strangers trying to slip in with us or append themselves to the end of the chain.
Once inside the packed, deafeningly loud club, we understood why. Trying to pay for a gin-and-tonic, the bartender waved us away. It was an open bar. And the drink he poured was, by the taste of it, 90% gin and 10% tonic.
About an hour after we got there, the music died down. A comedian from 30 Rock performed a brief standup set, a Broadway performer dressed as a goblin sang a fantastic rendition of My Way by Frank Sinatra and the famous Steve Aoki took the stage.
Music Was Made for NFTs
The Goblintown NFT collection was born during this bear market. Nevertheless, its floor price Tuesday was down to $3,548, a 73% drop from its all-time high. Not that selling a couple goblins would have funded the night’s extravagances, but we couldn’t help but wonder: where did all this money come from?
One of the other striking developments this week was the confluence between music and NFTs. Baby Yors, then Argentine musician and artist based in Los Angeles, plans to drop a collection of 10,666 pfp NFTs in July entitled Los Diablos; they’re characters inspired by the colorful, diabolical costumes that come out for Argentina’s carnival celebrations. Holders will get access to a purpose-built park somewhere in a forest near the Argentine city of Jujuy, Baby Yors said.
“It’s been so hectic, so crazy, so many people moving through — all I can say is, I feel so in my element, being able to share what I’ve been working on,” Baby Yors said.
‘It’s all too new for it to be stable…’ Baby Yors
People were indeed talking about the market blues, he said. “It feels like everybody knew that it was going to happen. I certainly knew,” he said. “It’s all too new for it to be so stable.” Maybe a bear market will help the true believers focus on what’s important.
Daniel Avesta, head of content for the FrankenPunks collection, agreed. “Flushing out the garbage” he said, standing by the FrankenPunks table at the Marriott Marquis, for which they had paid $25,000.
Access to Mints
Avesta first twigged onto NFTs last summer and loved the concept: if Bitcoin was money on the blockchain, NFTs were culture one the blockchain. And, of course, there was the opportunity to make money.
He had a knack for joining NFT Discords before their launch and convincing members of the community he was one of them. And, like others ostensibly invested in the collection, he’d get early access to mints, and then flip the NFTs for a profit.
After a while, he and a couple friends decided to make a collection of their own. The idea behind FrankenPunks was to raise enough money to buy pieces from the storied CryptoPunks collection.
The early going was rough, though, with Twitter banning them multiple times. Apparently, the social media giant had decided to crack down on NFT projects in light of the rug pulls that plagued the industry during its bull run. But one of the FrankenPunks co-founders hounded the social media platform to protest their removal, and they were eventually admitted.
“After that, we blew the fuck up,” Avesta said.
During the mint in January, when Ether was still trading at around $3,000, FrankenPunks raised 1,800 ETH, Avesta said. The collection has since done over 6,000 ETH in volume on OpenSea.
Then came the crash. And it’s been rough, Avesta said.
“It’s very heavy when you see your own floor price dropping, or you’re seeing your holdings that are mainly in Ethereum relative to USD just absolutely tanking,” he said. A couple times, he wondered whether crypto was dying.
But “people have said Bitcoin died 500 times,” Avesta said. “It’s heavily volatile, but those are the thorns that come with the rose that is crypto.”
And now, the get-rich-quick schemes that littered the industry are getting cleaned out.
“The people who are just going on Fiverr, paying $100 for some bullshit art, and just slapping together a website with no plans to do anything, no plans to actually create, no plans to actually do something cool, innovative, and they’re just there to like, mint, make their bag and dip – they can’t do that anymore,” he said. “It’s done.”
And there were a fair share of questionable ideas at the conference. Stickers for “Bae Apes” – think BAYC but with longer hair – and “Bitcoin Chicks” – “a collection of 6,969 unique, magnificent & sexy women living on the Ethereum blockchain” – were everywhere.
On the third floor, a pair of buxom women handed out swag for StripperVille, a web3 video game in which players open their own strip clubs and compete with one another for customers. StripperVille stickers, Koozies, and rubber wristbands were strewn on the floor nearby.
One of the women, Alysse Diaz, took a megaphone and shouted, “Strippers matter!” Taking a break from her duties, she told me she didn’t own any NFTs, but was looking to buy.
“This girl, she paid like $400 for a Birkin [NFT], and it went up to like 40-grand in two months,” Diaz said. “I was like, ‘Holy shit, I need to get this, what am I doing wrong with my life, I need an NFT.’”
Diaz said she wasn’t turned off by the market downturn. Good investments are still out there. “It’s more about doing your own research,”
Sam Rosen, a professor of finance at Philadelphia’s Temple University, has tried to figure out why some pfp NFT collections become good investments while others fail. Speaking after a panel he sat on Thursday, Rosen said he had come to the conference to share some of what he had learned — and learn from others.
“I feel like, the one thing that always jumps out to me in this space is kind of the optimism — just, ever-present optimism,” he said, “and the kind of level of humor injected into things where, you know, you don’t see that a lot in financial markets.”
With reporting by Jason Levin
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