Crafting a Space for Blockchain [Interview with Giani Fabricio, Part 1]

Unchaining the Creativity of Blockchain Events

Giani Fabricio certainly has one of the most interesting relationships with today’s blockchain culture. Despite being a creative professional, he hasn’t put up his art for sale on a crypto marketplace, tweeted out ‘trademarked’ memes, nor designed a new token UI. And yet, his design work has left an indelible impression, especially on the New York blockchain community.

Our team first met Giani at last spring’s Ethereal NYC event, hosted by Consensys. His name sprang up when our first question upon arrival was simply “who designed this event?” To this day, his creative direction helped formulate likely the most experiential occasion that thousands of blockchain enthusiasts had the joy of attending.

We had the chance to speak with the design puppeteer behind the scenes, exploring how a production designer made his way into blockchain and what his experience was like creating one of the more globally acclaimed conferences in the space.

The Creative Crypto: Thank you for joining us Giani! Tell us about yourself and your general background.

I’m originally from Italy, though my parents relocated a lot so I grew up hopping around the globe. Eventually, I ended up in a hotel management college in Switzerland and started a career in hospitality. I worked in hotels and restaurants for a while until one day I discovered Zen Buddhism and a deep passion for Philosophy. So I changed course and ended up in the United Kingdom to pursue a joint degree in Philosophy and Psychology. During that period I got deeply involved in the London underground rave and festival scene as an organizer and DJ. By the time I graduated university, I found myself running what at the time was London’s most prominent psychedelic / transformational festival known as “The Synergy Project.”

I didn’t have much interest in the music scene per se, the whole thing about Synergy was that it was pushing the envelope of what at the time was known as “conscious partying.” The idea was to turn clubbing into an educational tool by combining musicians, DJs, VJs, performers, artists, debates, workshops, and multimedia shows, working in collaboration with NGOs & charities to promote peace, justice, and sustainability. It really seemed to work as a lot of people’s lives were transformed at those events and their energies directed towards supporting meaningful causes. It turned out to also be one hell of a party, seriously. It’s hard to describe, you just had to be there. 

What became apparent for me during that process was that music, art, and creativity were powerful tools to deliver messages. The NGOs and charities that attended the events were reporting significant levels of interest and support coming their way from these events. We were essentially creating a new platform for their campaigns, while also helping them convey those messages in more effective ways by linking them up with artists and creatives. Evolving on that model, together with some close friends on a similar mission, I founded my first company Events4Change. The idea was to harness the power of the entertainment events industry as a vehicle for positive change by redirecting its resources towards the non-profit sector. We were a group of very enthusiastic and dedicated individuals on a mission to ‘change the world’, one party at the time.

It was all going very well, until of course 2008 arrived, and the tsunami of the global financial crisis swept us away. 

I found myself in pretty bad shape, had worked for months to produce a series of events in which i had invested the little I owned at the time. Everything went down, I lost it all, was broke and burned out. I left London and went traveling around India for a while. It’s a deeply inspiring place, and a very cheap one to live in, perfect for a bit of soul searching and figuring things out. During those travels I ended up in Auroville, an experimental self-sovereign community founded in the 60s near Pondicherry in Tamil Nadu. 

I was inspired by the concept and started getting very interested in alternative communities and systems of governance. I looked more closely at economics, the banking system, and the reasons behind the financial crash. For the first time I started asking myself questions like “what actually is money?” and “where does it come from?” Learning about the money supply and banking system was quite a revelation, one that led to my deep interest in alternative currencies and eventually discovering Bitcoin years later.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, some friends of mine who were VJs in the rave scene had started a video production design company called ‘Immersive’. They were pioneers of projection mapping systems and were moving from the underground party scene to more commercial events and the nascent EDM touring scene. It was the time when being a Producer / DJ staring at a laptop on stage stopped being cool, and the arms race to who had the biggest, flashiest, video & light show began. Immersive scored a contract for the Deadmau5 world tour and asked me to join them to manage the project.

Fabricio’s Coordination of The Lab at the Panorama Music Festival

From there onwards I started touring and managing the development of touring shows, basically turning creative pitches into reality. At first working mostly in the EDM scene, Eric Prydz, Swedish House Mafia, Chase & Status, Adam Bayer, Sub Focus, things along those lines. In the process, I got deep into both the creative and technical side of things, learned coding, audio & video engineering, 3D modeling, lighting & scenic design, content development, and so forth. Over the years I ended up taking on a variety of roles, from roadie Video Technician & A\V Systems Engineer, to Tour & Production Manager, to eventually Technical & Creative Director.

In 2011, I founded my current company Ultima where I focus on designing shows and the technical systems to run them. My speciality is linking together things like video playback, lighting, audio reactivity, motion tracking and projection mapping – the kind of tech that drives those interactive installations that have become so popular at events. Some of my ongoing projects include touring with the British Rock n’ Roll band “The Who” as Content Director, Technical Direction of “The Lab” stage at the Panorama festival, and the “Antarctic” 360 projection dome at Coachella. 

How did you get into the blockchain space?

In 2013, I decided to take some time off and moved from London to a small town in the mountains of northern Italy. It was right around the time when the Snowden leaks came out. Concerned about where things were heading, I used my newly gained free time to get deep into Cybersecurity, Cryptology and the Cypherpunk movement. Then on my birthday I saw something posted about Bitcoin’s birthday on some cryptology forum (turns out I share the birth date with the Genesis Block). I immediately got captivated by the idea. During the Synergy Project years we had also played around with the idea of having our own currency for the community called “Synergies,” but like many alternative currencies pre-blockchain, it never really went anywhere. So I was very curious to learn more about Bitcoin and why it seemed to be working. 

The difference was of course the blockchain. I was pretty quickly entranced by the concept. Some of my heroes at the time where people like Buckminster Fuller (Synergetics / Cybernetics), Aaron Swartz (Open Source / Hacktivism), Julian Assange (Radical Transparency), Edward Snowden (Encryption / Privacy), Noam Chomsky (Governance / Ideological Warfare), and Naomi Klein (Economics / Corruption). The blockchain seemed to be a mighty new tool that could bring about a paradigm shift in all those areas. One technology with the potential to solve some of the key issues underlying many of the world’s problems; the rigged global economy, and our corrupt, supposedly “democratic” systems of governance. I got pretty obsessed with it all. I bought every book I could find on the subject and pretty much focused all my attention on the subject. 

For the next couple of years, I stopped taking on new work and immersed myself in the blockchain space. I only kept my job touring with The Who which was sporadic and left me a lot of free time. It was also quite fitting as I owned the media server machines that ran the visual show. These are computers with hefty graphics cards to manage the video playback. They are plugged into free electricity in a new arena each day, only really needing the processing power for the 2 hours of the show at night. You can probably see where I’m going with this. Touring turned out to be a great way to run a small traveling mining operation.

…I was also pretty obsessed with trying to tell the world about [Bitcoin] and getting everyone around me into crypto… While working on [Panorama] I was reminded of the power of art and creativity to convey messages and thought I should perhaps use my line of work to help spread the word.

For a while, I spent most of my time researching blockchain projects, reading white papers, participating in ICOs, downloading and figuring out wallets, stepping up my security and so forth. A good old friend of mine was an ex-JP Morgan trader so I taught him about crypto and he showed me the ropes of trading. I got pretty deep into it all, and as a firm believer of the bitcoin credo of “Vires In Numeris,” I was also pretty obsessed with trying to tell the world about it and getting everyone around me into crypto. At the time, not many people were interested though. At Burning Man I was giving out Ethereum paper wallets with some ETH in them. Printed on them was an e-mail address that people could write to in order to receive instructions on how to cash them in, plus a general introduction to blockchain and decentralisation with tons of links and resources. I gave out a few hundred of those, but even in a place like Black Rock City people didn’t seem to be interested. Very few reached out or cashed in the free ETH.

How did you get involved in Consensys‘ Ethereal event?

In 2016, I was invited to help manage the first edition of “The Lab”, an interactive arts stage at the Panorama Festival. While working on that I was reminded of the power of art and creativity to convey messages and thought I should perhaps use my line of work to help spread the word. That’s how I first started thinking about bridging my experience in events with my passion for decentralization. Since Panorama was in NYC, and Consensys has its main offices there, I wrote an e-mail to inviting them to come see what we did as I had some ideas to share. 

Prepping for Ethereal NYC

Jesse Grushack, who runs UJO music and was familiar with our industry, answered. That lead to a meeting in LA where we quickly connected over a shared vision for an event that would bridge the gap between a technology conference and a creative festival with the aim to introduce people to the space as well as prototype blockchain tech to run aspects of an event. Soon after Consensys launched the first Ethereal, I wasn’t involved but I attended as a guest and loved the vibe. After 2 successful prototype editions, they were ready to scale up and were looking for a production company that could support that process. Meanwhile, a group of us from the touring and events industry had gotten together and decided to start a new company called Gravity Productions. We shared an interest in developing events to support decentralization and were looking for a blockchain partner. Consensys was looking for an events production partner, so pretty soon we all found ourselves in a Bushwick park sharing visions and vibing on how we could merge some of our ideas to bring Ethereal to the next level.

Big thanks to Giani for this conversation. Join us later this week for Part 2, where we dive deeper into Giani’s coordination of the Ethereal NYC event!

UPDATE: Read Part 2 [here].

Photos provided by Giani Fabricio and cover image by Zsolt Vidak.

Name: Giani Fabricio

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