Wham Bam! Shane Mitchell Immersive Interview

by | Nov 12, 2021 | ART

RVA Mag’s own John Reinhold recently caught up with Shane Mitchell to talk shop about their shared experiences in music and creative events here in Richmond. Shane is also known as the producer be.IN; he is one of the founders of Ebisu Sound and an artist manager for The Gradient Perspective. Shane and his contacts have been throwing a number of unique events throughout the years. They have also started “Six Feet Deep,” an augmented mixed and virtual reality company with immersive events and experiences. Shane has been quite busy with a number of projects including Wham Bam! Festival that looks to combine multiple creative outlets together in one shared festival experience. 

There was so much to talk about, so we just jumped right into it and got down to talking about RVA and all the things we love and are looking forward to in the future. We geeked out on RVA Love, Comics, and Technology quite a bit…

be.IN Shane Mitchell

What does community mean to you? And what do you love about RVA through your roots to this region? 

To me, community is the backbone of anything worth supporting. That idea can be applied to so many other hemispheres of life too. Society, economy, art, music, discourse, all of it. When we allow ourselves to understand the value of the greater whole of humanity and work towards building and thriving in this idea, we accomplish remarkable things. Since I moved here five years ago, Richmond has grown to be a place that I love and hold dearly, largely because of the community. I think it represents what is great about Virginia, the South, the DMV, all of it. The city hasn’t had it easy, but it’s tough because of it; and the people here are loving in their own way for it. 

I’m from the Appalachian part of the state originally; out in the mountains, in a city called Martinsville. At this point, it’s impossible to ignore the South’s history, the permeating truths of what lie beneath everything here and the foundation upon which it was all built. Virginia has legitimately been a battleground at points. Things are different in these mountains, they’ve had far more time to see far more than others; something lingers in the wind all the way down to the ocean. What I love most about places like Richmond, and even in small towns like Martinsville, is that there are these beautiful, defiant bastions of progress and expression that are empathetic and communal, even in the face of the lingering truth of what all of this has been.

What brought Ebisu Sound to fruition? And how has that grown?

Ebisu Sound came to life circa 2011 at James Madison University, when I met the other founders, Rex Whatever (Greg Wilson) and Brenton Schroeder (Alt_21). The moment I met Rex, Brenton and our other friends Clayton Hamshar (Sunrizen), Anthony Dutcher (At Most), Nick Fanelli (Doc. Awk), and so many others such as (Matt) Sackett and Juan & Beth (Sanmartin), James (Waugh), (Steven) Olin, Danny (Melendez), Ali — we all clicked instantly. They’ve all been integral to all of this in some way, and it started with throwing parties; one that we helped throw even making the local news and into the highlight reel. Then we started taking it seriously, making music together, learning, perfecting our crafts, and building something that meant more than just partying. Rex was the first of us to really dive into house, grime, dub, dubstep, DnB, things like that. We’ve all been to countless festivals together and those experiences formed so much of who we are now and why. All of us love that low-end, chest-rattling, mind-melting bassy revelry, and the freedom of connecting with people as they truly wish to be seen at these events is unlike anything else.

Ebisu is Rex’s brainchild through-and-through; I’ve just been lucky enough to help build it and watch it all grow. We wanted to start a movement of music and art, and to do it right for ourselves and our community. Rex loved the influences of Jamaican sound system culture and Japanese mythology, and it really came to life around his vision. Shortly after, I moved to Charlottesville with another close friend and collaborator, William Reagan (Terski). A friend named Mark put me in touch with Anand Harsh there, and the rest was history. I’m sure he’s going to say we would’ve been fine, but Anand has been instrumental for us, as a mentor and a friend since legitimately the first day we threw an Ebisu Sound-branded show. Wade Appleton (DiCE MaN) in NY, Alec Seifart (Murkury) in NC, Nicole Cacciavillano, Joe Rich (Thought Process) and the Black Box team in Colorado, Ally Grimm, PLF here in RVA, so many people we could endlessly thank too. Also infinite shouts to the rest of our managers and artists, Shawn Soares, Carly Eanes, Alex James, Taylor Wilson, Steffen Mahler (Sonder), Jeremy (Frush), Bryce Lukhard (Omnigalactic), Saeid Nikka (SNiKKA), Jake (Spector) and everyone else for making the dream work. Every day that we’ve been on this journey has been this mind-boggling, absurd dive into the idea of pushing what’s next, and we couldn’t love it more.

be.IN Live by Olivia Coleman

When did you get involved in The Gradient Perspective & DMP, and what are you working on at this time? 

I met Jared Oppenheim (Choppy Oppy), my agent, manager and the undisputed don of The Gradient Perspective, while we were both making moves around the east coast show circuit years ago. We’d run into each other at stuff we were playing, and then we realized this was happening farther and farther from home and more frequently. Jared and I were close friends immediately, realizing that we shared a similar vision for how to build alongside others to truly bring the music and culture we love to this area and beyond. He brought my be.IN project on as one of his artists and also as a manager for several artists, such as Camnah, No Remorse, Dropkick, Try and Imagine and Jack the Giant. It’s been so humbling being a part of this incredible family, and to have the opportunity to have my creative contributions and goals brought to life with the TPG team. 

DMP has been great to my friends and I for years. Nick (Galotifiore), Daniel (Murguia) and their entire team being a source of tremendous support and love in Virginia Beach and all over the place. They’re focused on properly making the biggest events and best experiences possible for people, and they genuinely care about it. They really work to give everyone a platform they can, too, and it’s great. Currently, our biggest collab project is Wham Bam Music Festival on March 10-12. It’s been years of work by Nick, Daniel, myself and a whole team ready to bring something completely different to the festival scene and our local community. Outside of that, Jared, our TGP team and I have been building ideas with other festivals and brands across the country that I can’t quite divulge yet. There’s tour stuff, some album stuff I’m finishing, a lot of really exciting things. The future’s really bright. 

Tell me about your Synthesia: The Goodman X Story comic series. Whats started this journey?

Synthesia first came to life in 2020 on a bright March day in the rolling, blue hills here in Virginia, no more than thirty minutes from Richmond. I’ve always loved sci-fi, fantasy, comics, books, all of it. To me, a good story is a gateway to another universe; a place with its own rules, perspectives, lessons, emotions. Stories in themselves are such a fundamental part of the human experience, a sort of escape from the world we know and a way to share with one another. Comics are good for that, and for telling sides of stories that don’t always make it to other mediums. There’s an authenticity to comics that can’t be denied. Synthesia really started when I was in lockdown both at my parent’s house in Stuart, and then Richmond. I was back home for a while but even just going out to grocery stores, I felt really afraid of getting my family sick. I came back to Richmond and spent the next five months in isolation, just writing, creating and reflecting. During that time, the world was obviously very different even from what it is now. Partaking in protests and seeing the treatment of people who were simply being active in causes and using their voice, especially black voices and people of color, all of it sticks with you. Seeing this violent, racist side of the world rear its head for everyone to see was something I won’t forget. I’d always known it was there in some part, especially in places like Virginia, but to see it that loud and that proud just reminds you of how far we still have to come, you know? 

I was on the roof of my old apartment in Manchester one night, listening to the cacophony of sirens, gunshots and bedlam, watching plumes of smoke dot the sky and reading through all of these stories of people in our community– people I knew– recount what it was like all across the city. All of it happening live, right there in our backyard. Seeing it, being there for what happened those weeks, gave life to Synthesia and this purpose: to support the voices that need to be heard through stories. In times like this I want to help in some way, but it isn’t just about me, and frankly, sometimes  it isn’t about me or people like me at all. The comic is about this utopian immersive game world that people escape to, due to various social, health-based and political reasons in the near future. I don’t want to spoil too much but there’s a lot at play in this world that we get into later, especially with the protagonist Goodman. He gets caught up in it and gets used by it. I thought about representation, and how entities like Black Panther, The Punisher, X-Men were so formative to how America was able to address its own racism, xenophobia and to provide a mirror of sorts. Goodman and Synthesia represent a lot to me now after years of building this world, and I hope they can challenge many caustic ideas that still thrive today. I know how I want this story to go for years, how I want it to end and the message I want to spread. Working alongside people like incredibly talented artists like Will Shanklin, Tay Lamell, as well as various cultural and character consultants and colleagues, I hope we can make something that tells a proper story that we can give back through as we go. They’re all so incredibly talented and motivated— it’s great. One day, I’d love to have a whole canon Synthesia narrative universe with it. Will’s already providing narratives and characters of his own to build parts of this universe around too, which we hope to have more on soon. Tay’s also been instrumental in developing Goodman and much of the universe with me, really fleshing out who the character is and imbuing his perspective into the story and the world too. If you can’t tell, I’m thrilled about this opportunity and project.

Synthesia: The Goodman X Story

Did you find yourself telling stories based on your family and experiences? Is there a surreal version of real life that connects to it? 

Absolutely. My family is incredibly strong, in the face of any adversity; the universe can be wild and tough and apathetic at times, especially in a region like where we’re from, and it teaches you a lot. It’s almost a world of its own, with its own rules and hardships. Without sounding like a Hallmark movie, we always find a way through whatever it is. This especially goes out to my mom, John, my brother Brandon, my sister Megan, Chris, Kendal, Kalli, E, Shannon, Malaki, Dame, Jeremiah, Tristan and his family, Granny and Paw Paw Harrison, Max, Miranda, Avery, Autumn, Becky, Connie, Sean, Melody, Liam, Tiff, Jacob, Josh, Char, James, Ryan, all my close friends who are also family, so many others. I do it all for them at the end of the day. Growing up in a place like where we did, even the air is stubborn. It’s just who we are, and there’s so much resilience to what’s beautiful in this neck of the woods. The experiences we’ve had, and others that people in my life have shared, all shape how I view the world, why I do what I do, and hopefully what I can immortalize while I’m here. The big goal of course being to build something for those that I love with all of this, and to give back a fraction of what they’ve given me.

My mom is especially my hero there. I don’t know how she does it all, and how she’s battled through what she has to be where she is, but I admire her and all the other warriors in my life. She has this saying “Everyone has a cross to bear.” I realized at an early age that everyone does, and they’re different sizes and shapes and builds, but they’re there. Mine doesn’t negate someone else’s and we all have something we need help carrying from time to time. My late grandpa Hassel, another soul who has shaped who I am, also used to say “Life is what you make it.” There’s a lot we don’t know about the universe, so why set out to make it anything other than beautiful? My family and I have all had to confront the finality of life several times, but still made it through somehow. It’s reinforced this sincere appreciation of just being here and alive. Breathing is surreal. Floating along on this water-covered rock at a thousand miles an hour is surreal, falling in love is surreal, looking out at the vastness of space, traveling the world, feeling music, doing what you love; I think the wildest part is the fact that humans are lucky enough to weave this tale together at all. 

How does the comic book wrap into Wham Bam Music Festival? And how do those two worlds combine with music? 

The history of the comic is inextricably linked to the history of the festival. Nick and I were looking for a venue space for Wham Bam before we even knew that’s what it would become. I’d brought Nick out to meet the owner of a potential place because I felt since I’ve known him that he’d be one of the best to throw a festival right and to truly achieve what we’ve since set out to do. I could always tell that he and Daniel, his business partner with DMP, valued my ideas and work with Ebisu. Both work so hard on their own ideas too. We knew we wanted to do something different, but not quite what at first. While we were tossing ideas around, a music festival based around a comic became all we could talk about — we left that night and I went back home with endless thoughts in my head; ideas, inspirations, a whole universe of potential brewing. 

For almost a decade, it’s been my goal to bring all kinds of immersive things to life through events in real time. Coupled with today’s technology, it’s become this playground of innovation for what we can build into a festival like Wham Bam. Music is a natural catalyst for the rest of these ideas because they are conceived around the settings it provides. Festivals, venues, tours, artists, all of it sets the tone and the stage for what this can become. It’s my dream playing out before me to be able to make worlds that combine shared experiences like music festivals and things like comics. I’m sure I’m going to sound like a broken record at some point but telling these tales, creating these worlds for people, I wouldn’t trade any of it.

WHAM BAM FESTIVAL

So I know you’re into VR App and technology. You have a new app release, “Six Feet Deep.” Can you give us a brief breakdown of this and how it works in tandem with all your projects?

Yeah, definitely! When Covid happened, one of the first things that came to mind was the actual likelihood that we wouldn’t be able to congregate for live events again. I love being among people, connecting, exploring, experiencing life; the question then became “How can we still do that?” Augmented and virtual reality was a no-brainer immediately. Friends such as my business partner with Six Feet Deep named Chris (Castillo), as well as Steven (Olin), Brenton, Ashley (Coleson), Seth (King), John (Reagan), Grant (Moore), a dear mentor Sean (Kearney), so many of us and basically everyone I’ve already mentioned would talk about these forms of tech all the time around campfires or at festivals and then one day, they were possible. 

Music brought us together, and Chris looks at building tech and designs like I view making music and writing. It’s an art for him, and there have been countless ways he’s already designed tech that I genuinely believe have the capacity to change how all of this is enjoyed forever. Hyperbolic sounding, I know, but some of the stuff we’re set to debut will allow us to create and play in these spaces like never before. The potential for augmented and virtual reality is incredible. Chris, Olivia (Coleman) and I have been hard at work for years, and you all can finally see it live for the first time Friday, November 12th at Basic City Beer Co. as we debut our Six Feet Deep beta and an augmented reality, collaborative mural. Also while I have a moment, I must say Basic City is incredible. Shout out to my dude Trevor Craun (Craunic) and his team for giving us a space to debut this stuff and to have people out just for music and camaraderie in general as we have.

In the grand scheme of things basically are we talking creation and total immersion in a shared artistic environment? What ways can this grow and still maintain human connection? 

I think in part, yes but also, no. It’s going to come in a lot of different forms that comprise a shared environment but the mediums that can comprise that space will be drastically different, both entirely virtual and in the everyday world. One person could be wearing a pair of augmented reality glasses that provide an overlay of an image onto the world around them, while someone else could simultaneously be experiencing the same environment with a fully immersive virtual reality-based headset. These experiences can be seamlessly combined, dynamically changed on the fly and everything, even on your phone. The whole world at that point can become a sort of shared artistic environment, which is a cool thing to think of; having the entirety of the world we live in as a canvas, a potential creative space. Augmented and virtual reality only requires a space for a digital asset to be simulated through your phone. That can happen pretty much anywhere, and likely everywhere soon. 

In that sense, it all becomes a shared art piece. When you look at it from that perspective, it kind of enhances human connection in a way. Let’s say a person from America with augmented reality glasses logs on to draw in AR with a person in a place like New Zealand. They could exist in a digital space, and share in that moment just from a phone. My mother has a background of twenty-plus years in special education and it’s always inspired me, seeing her with her students and thinking of how simple a connection can be and how profound at the same time. You could create a drawing in a shared digital space, be literally thousands of miles apart and unable to ever see one another, and still deeply connect. It’s pretty remarkable when you think about it.

SIX FEET DEEP VR DEVELOPMENT APP

How did COVID effect you in working on all these projects today while still dealing with events being shut down? 

It’s kinda odd how much something like Covid has always been in the backs of my friends and I’s minds. We’d always thought about that sort of “What if?” scenario, you know? What if something like a virus shut the world down? What if laws changed, or became more aggressive towards rave culture and music? What if we couldn’t do festivals again, from a safety perspective? The effects of Covid have still been shutting events down across the country and world, but the live event industry is bouncing back where it can. I think it is inspiring to see what people are doing to innovate and maintain new standards with planning and safety as well. Covid changed everything overnight for all of these endeavors for a while. We were planning Wham Bam and getting ready for that literally a week before everything happened and the world shut down. Whole projects pushed back, timelines for things like tours and albums put on hold because of it. It was pretty defeating at first, knowing what things could be and living through what they were. I feel fortunate though. Genuinely lucky beyond words. My team and I have managed to stay focused, healthy and just kept at it, and here we are. Now we’re motivated, as are many of our colleagues. We hope to do better and brighter for our world, our communities and this culture. Experiences can give life to boundless creativity with some focus and drive. As they say, after the plague came the Renaissance.

You have a lot on your plate so what are you looking forward to personally in the future? I’m particularly interested in your book / comic plans, and your partnerships with good causes.  

The big thing for a while that I want to keep doing is building on this sort of creative universe we’re making, building more canon stories we’re working on currently, and creating a web of options for directions we can go. There really is an endless amount of narrative potential out there and we’ve written a lot of these things to play with these concepts in abstract ways. Working on things such as integrating comics made by Billy Holiday and I, ideas that Rex is creating, others that Will (Shanklin) and William (Reagan) have made. The realms of science fiction and fantasy are so cool to me, and giving them this psychedelic, absurdist touch is enthralling to say the least, so I don’t foresee it going anywhere soon. Chris is constantly blowing me away with our mixed reality platforms, so we’re finishing up the roadmap for what’s next is in the pipeline. Outside of that, I’d love to keep writing, creating and directing. 

I’ve been working on several screenplays for books and movies for years, one being a passion project called Liberty & The Czar. I’ve been writing that since I was 18, so to have it finished has been a feeling in and of itself. More to come on that soon. Hoping to debut some music and show stuff kinda all over the world in 2022 as well, so definitely more on that too. Philanthropic work is really important to me as well. Causes like RIP Medical Debt, Lost Dog Foundation, Art on Wheels, RepresentUs, supporting local businesses, civil rights causes and activities are ones that I wish to aid in any way possible. I plan to have a portion of proceeds from every major project we have go towards these causes. Also, on a local level, we love organizing things such as community cleanup stuff, food drives, coat drives, everything. Helping any way we can and encouraging our audience to do the same I feel is how we can really give back on a deeper level. It means a lot to me to be able to do so. Hit any of my team or I up if anyone reading this is interested in working on these kinds of projects too! 

John Reinhold

John Reinhold

John Reinhold is a CEO, shareholder, and President of Inkwell Ventures. Inkwell is the founding company of RVA Magazine, Inkwell also owns GayRva.com and RVA On Tap.

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