Pittsburgh is a city of neighborhoods, each with its own flavor and flair, history and aesthetics. The ecosystem of Pittsburgh music is similar—there are many musicians performing different styles of music at different venues around town. There’s something to offer in each of these musical neighborhoods, so it’s time to cross the nearest bridge and go experience something new.
That’s the mission at the heart of LOCAL, a virtual reality docu-series that highlights the lives and music of four local artists over the course of a few months.
“There are these pockets of really cool things happening with their backs to each other, and this year has very much felt like a bunch of people making that choice to turn around,” says Will Juergens, one of the minds behind LOCAL. As his project PM Mirror, he’s also one of the artists featured in the docu-series.
The earliest version of the LOCAL project began at the end of 2017. Elliott Conway and Will Juergens (who happen to be cousins), first collaborated with virtual reality when the two made a music video for the PM Mirror song “Sophi.” The two then brainstormed how they could use VR and 360 video with live music.
It was essentially a liv-streamed music variety show shot in virtual reality, pulling together different musicians and playing with the possibilities VR, 360 video and streaming had to offer. In August 2018, Juergens, Conway and Alex Grant began formulating a larger project based around the concept of profiling Pittsburgh musicians.
“Whenever you say you’re a local musician or local anything in Pittsburgh, I feel like a lot of people have a homogenous idea of what it means to be a local artist,” says Conway. “So if we’ve done our job well, the documentary will show the differences in experience these four musicians have.”
“And VR is a very good medium for showing you inner worlds and letting you live through the inner worlds and actual lives of people,” adds Conway.
LOCAL will feature musicians Benji, Tap Shorts, Synova and PM Mirror through interviews and performances taped over nearly half a year. The project is meant to give a glimpse into the lives of four different creatives living in the same city, pursuing the same passion.
Benji is a hip-hop artist with magnetic energy and a disarming smile to accompany his distinct flow and bouncy beats, while PM Mirror makes heartfelt alternative pop interlaced with delicate piano composition. Tap Shorts’ acoustic folk music is sincere and vulnerable with moving lyrics delivered by a beautiful, gentle voice. Synova is a Pittsburgh-raised electronic musician currently living in LA who makes crisp, smooth songs with soaring choruses.
“It’s all Pittsburgh music, but it’s all different types of music,” says Conway. “And all the artists have fans around the country, so there’s a tinge of irony in calling them local artists.”
All four musicians will gather live in person to perform as the punctuation of the filming process. The show, much like the series, will be a celebration of the musicians’ differences in sound, with an emphasis on getting folks to hear something new.
Benji is very enthusiastic about LOCAL’s mission to bring together different sounds and people, because it’s his part of his ethos too.
“This year, we made it a point to be on bills [like LOCAL – Live]. It’s one thing to be a hip-hop artist at a hip-hop show, but what about a hip-hop artist at a country festival? At a pop or alternative show? If you’re like me, and I accepted this show, you’re going to like something else on this show,” he says. “Go see a show that has an off-kilter bill and enjoy it, I guarantee you’re gonna like it,” he adds.
Sofia Sparks, who performs as Tap Shorts, sees the lack of mixed genre bills as an issue in the scene.
“The purpose of this project is taking people outside their musical comfort zone,” says Sparks. “You wouldn’t necessarily see all of these people on the same show, and that’s part of the fundamental problem we have in music, because our shows are catered so specifically to one group.”
Another interesting aspect of LOCAL is its emphasis on making artists feel comfortable to be 100 percent themselves. That means filming on the artists’ respective turfs during interviews, but it also means that each artist at the live show will have their own visual set on stage that’s true to their personalities and preferences.
“The idea is that nobody has to put on airs,” says Juergens. “We want everyone to feel as comfortable as possible.”
Tying these four acts together for a night at Spirit and giving them a platform to be authentic and free is an exciting prospect, especially at the end of half a year of shooting footage. A lot has changed for the team involved, and after the shooting ends the world will keep on turning. But where the scene is going excites the LOCAL team.
“I think how we perceive local musicians is going to change, and I think [the live show] is going to be a peek into the moment of passage from what a local musician has been considered to be and what a local musician can or will be,” says Conway.
“This concert is a snapshot of this moment in time in the city and a snapshot of this moment in time for these artists,” he adds with a smile. “And if you want to be a part of that snapshot, then you can.”
LOCAL – Live featuring Benji, Tap Shorts, PM Mirrors and Synova. 7:30 p.m. Fri. Aug. 9. Spirit Hall, 242 51st Street. $10. www.spiritpgh.com