Interview with Audiovisual Artist LEViT∆TE
In anticipation of the audiovisual exhibit curated by Connor Campbell (aka LEViT∆TE), we sat down with him to learn more about how this electronic musician came to be a highly sought-after and collected audiovisual artist working across a range of music and visual art software, including Unreal Engine for his full-blown audiovisual films.
LEViT∆TE is a multimedia artist based in Los Angeles with both established art and music careers. LEViT∆TE specializes in CG/CGI, rendering visual content for music labels such as UKF, Noisia’s, Division Records, Deadbeats, Tchami’s Confession, and many others. He has toured the US playing audiovisual shows featuring his own music and visual content.
LEViT∆TE minted his genesis NFT in August 2020. He’s since amassed a notable and dedicated base of collectors on the SuperRare, 1stDibs, and MakersPlace. He also contributed to the “Ross Ulbricht Genesis Collection” in December 2021.
As a musician, LEViT∆TE has collaborated with artists like Bassnectar, Gunplay, Fuse 808 Mafia, Mayhem, Sidewalks&Skeletons, Brothel., Zuse, and more. His music has appeared in the 2017 ESPN broadcast of the X-Games, as well as the 2020 film “The Tax Collector.”
MP: Paint us a picture of your life pre-NFT. What kind of art were you creating? Were there any formative experiences that really shaped your artistic vision?
Starting in high school and fresh out of high school, I was always making music. On the side, I would make videos of like my friends and I snowboarding and stuff, which actually involved a bit of motion graphics, although to me, at the time, it was just messing around with Final Cut or whatever.
And then, when I got out of high school, I immediately jumped into just being a DJ at clubs and things like that. Then I started producing music. I moved to Seattle, mainly focused on producing music. I shelve the idea of visual arts. I would do it as a hobby, but it was all music.
When music started paying the bills, it was great, but I was still eating ramen, so there was no money for a graphic designer. So if I wanted good branding, I had to jump back into the Adobe Suite and get to it.
So I jumped back into design in 2015, 2016. By 2017, I got more into CG stuff and realized I’d love it just as much as music. It felt like I was a kid again like I’m just drawing by myself again. My grandma’s a professional artist, so I’ve done studio arts pretty much my whole life.
So I’m just making these really cool visuals, and then I would pair them with my music. By 2018, I’m 50/50 between visual art and music. I took clients here and there for visual work, and my music would pay the bills with shows and royalties and whatnot. In mid-2020, my friend Nathaniel Parrot sent me a message about SuperRare — this website where people buy and sell digital art.
At that time, NFTs were the backend, but everyone talked about CryptoArt. I applied in August. I’m not a crypto guy, but I thought there was cool art on there. So I minted my first piece in August 2020. Then I applied to be on MakersPlace and got in. I was like, “Oh, hell yeah.”
The first thing I minted on MakersPlace was
I had just finished an audiovisual album. It was ten videos and ten songs. They’re short videos, like about a minute, but for ten normal-length songs. So I minted these videos and drop my album.
After a week or so, Moderats, who is just an absolute legend, puts in a bid for one of the pieces. It was like $600. I held out to accept, then a few days later, I looked into Moderats and took the bid.
The day after, I got a DM on Twitter from Moderats. He said he wanted to buy all 10 for what was a legitimately life-changing amount of money, and it was like 9:00 am. I’m yelling. I’m freaking out. I’m waking up my roommate.
That was my intro to the MakersPlace community, and it was my first massive step into the world of NFTs. It’s not just, “Whoa, I can pay the rent with my art.” It’s, “My life just changed. It’s totally different now.”
So that’s how everything got started. From there, I reinvested in myself and kept things going. Later that year, I worked with the electronic label Deadbeats on this four-part video series with ten editions each, and it was awesome. It sold out all but one, so 39 out of 40. But the experience with the MakersPlace community has been so awesome, it’s such a badass community.
MP: Can you tell me more about “Legacy” (the audiovisual album mentioned above)?
“Legacy” was a year-and-a-half-long project. At the time, my platform was mostly music. My fans came from music. So, you’d think that with a project like that, it’d be 7-8 months on music, 7-8 months on visuals. It’s not even close. It was four months of music and over a year on the visuals. I learned Unreal Engine because I wanted to make it more cinematic. I had made pieces that were renders, but the stuff I wanted to do, I couldn’t do in C4D and not with the computer that I had. But it could be done in Unreal Engine.
Then I was just a machine. Just go-go-go until it was done. I’m my own manager, but I really don’t prioritize the management side of things. Right when I finished the album I just said, “Okay, now I’m going to release it in two months.” It wasn’t this big to-do. I hire a publicist on the spot and just get it out. I used money that I made off of merch to pay for the minting of the visuals. I knew from the beginning that all those videos were going to be NFTs.
Now I’m gonna say some shit. A lot of people love to mint something and then claim they were the first to do this, that, and the third, like whatever it is. I have no idea if I was the first to put out a full-length visual album set — and there was a two-and-a-half minute music video in there too — and I kind of doubt that I was, but I hadn’t seen an album as a deck of visual NFTs.
MP: What was the creative process like for coming up with ideas for the videos and creating a throughline for them?
I was taking a walk one day in Seattle, listening to this beat I’d made. The whole idea came from that one song, that one beat. It’s the second track on the album. It’s called “Among Trees.”
So I’m taking this walk, and I think, wow, this beat is like walking through the woods, but it’s like some dark futuristic place, something apocalyptic. Then my imagination starts running around this idea of doing a visual album.
I started piecing the thing together, the whole storyline. The story is about a little boy and his grandfather. The little boy’s parents have died in this lab experiment gone wrong. (laughs) It’s perfectly nerdy.
The lab made this thing called Harbinger, and it’s black, and it eats matter. It’s in the comic book — there’s a comic book that comes with the album, and that sold out. It looks like liquid metal or ferrofluid.
To combat the Harbinger, they have to fight it with drones and these robots, which are referred to as The Protector or Percy, in the album. That’s the robot you see walking through the woods.
All of this came from this one walk and my wild-ass imagination. I knew then that if I wrote the album for this exact story, I’d have to make the visuals. So I wrote a treatment and went straight to work, day after day.
Write a song —okay, that’s that scene from the treatment. Write the next song; it’s that scene. Finish the album side of it, and the same thing with the visuals. I’d pick a chunk of the treatment and bang it out. I would’ve loved to do an hour-long piece. Outside of effort and commitment — I’m just one guy pulling 12-hour days for a year — but outside of that, it would’ve taken my computer years.
I’m way more than happy with the one-minute videos. It’s called “Legacy” because the characters in the story are leaving a legacy by saving civilization, but it’s also my stamp of the ol’ college try, putting everything and saying this is what my 20s put out. So I’m very proud of that work.
MP: How did “Blissful Patterns” come to be?
That one was fun as hell too. I made that right after “Legacy,” so I really knew all those techniques in Unreal Engine. My friend Mayhem from Atlanta reached out to me. He manages Binx, who’d just done a collaborative EP with BroSafari on Deadbeats. So Mayhem reached out because he wanted the four-song EP to be this visual thing.
They sent me the treatment, and I was like, “Alright, so I’m not an entire motion picture studio.” It was the difference between what I could technically pull off and what I could do and make look good. So we had to simplify what they’d come up with. I sent them one after the other as I finished them.
Fast forward to December. NFTs are in the zeitgeist all of a sudden. “Legacy” is just about to come out. I emailed Deadbeats right after “Legacy” came out and said I really wanted to put the pieces out as NFTs. I made a case for it: electronic label getting in super early, crypto art is going to be huge, this, that, and third. I shit you not, I just got ghosted.
Then Varien’s drop happened on Nifty Gateway. I sent another email to say, “Hey, I asked to do this exact thing two months ago, and this is how they did.” The rhetoric immediately u-turns, and they wanted to jump on a call that day. I started legitimately consulting — not even on this project — on how to get into web3.
MakersPlace was kind enough to host the drop. It was one of those days where I’m just chugging coffee and stuck posting on Twitter. We functionally sold out. The last one out there is just floating in the ether.
And going back to who can claim what, I can claim this: I am the only graphic designer that Deadbeats has hired that made them money.
MP: Can you tell me about “A Looming Weight,” your 50 pieces in 60 days project that you released back in April?
“A Looming Weight” and the ∆RCHIVES project as a whole are like an open-book version of NFTs. It’s everything I want to make — even if it’s just an experiment over a few hours. It’s a place where I can just show my art. I’m going to have to postpone Season Two because I had four different projects with other people come up.
2021 was such a life-changing year and such a shift of perspective for my whole life. I never experienced such a massive change in lifestyle and also just the way that I look at and think about art. I came back from Miami Basel, and I was really inspired and feeling really driven. I’m pretty self-critical in the way that if I see the top of the mountain, I will push myself to get there. Inside my head, it’s do better, do better, do better, make more, make more, make more. Not in a toxic way, but just out of inspiration and excitement.
And going to Basel, I saw that I had been living in this bubble, making art, making visuals, just a workaholic, but the question was, “Am I doing this in a way that’s genuine to me, or am I just practicing a craft?”
I got back with a fire under my ass and the open question of “How hard can I push this?” I wanted to do a piece a day, but some pieces took 16 hours or more, so it couldn’t fit into a single day. But I did not take off a single day in those two months. I hit 49 and made my last piece, which is called “Capstone.” It took four days because it’s basically four pieces sectioned off into corners. It’s the classic Vitruvian Man, but each quadrant is styled differently. It took a hot minute.
That whole project represents a summary of that insanely life-changing year. Some people, when they have years like that, sit down and put their feet up. I felt the other way. My stance was, “Now more than ever, I should keep gas in the tank.” Every little part was this massive summary of every little part of me and who I feel like I’ve developed into as a man.
MP: Your work calls to mind the German concept of “the total work of art,” incorporating visuals, performance, music, and story. Where do you think the work you do fits into the history of art and cinema?
I think the more people that really sit down and really commit and pull this shit off are going to be the ones that represent a shift in content creation.
If we look at it down the line 20 years, when things are hyper-aided by AI and people have developed programs that expedite this entire pipeline. Things just get easier and easier. But the people who are grinding now represent the shift into being independent, doing it all when you don’t need a team or a company or investors.
I really lean in the concept of audiovisual because if you choose to go that route with art, that is the most that you can deliver through what people use to watch media now. And what I mean by that is we’re on our phones all the time. We’re on a screen all the time. The majority of media that we view is with a speaker and a screen, right? So if you decide to go the audiovisual route, and you take all those titles yourself, you get in the driver’s seat for all those moving parts. You’re delivering what I would think is the most refined and maximal version of what you can do right now as a digital artist.
That’s not to say that people that make still images or concept renders are less-than, by any fucking means. There’s nuance to all of this. But if you do choose to do full audiovisual, I do feel like you’re giving it all.
It’s such a difficult art form. I won’t blow smoke up my ass about the quality of my work. But I will always let people know how hard it is. It’s just hard. It’s so much tedious work to do full a full audiovisual piece with music, sound design, story, visuals, and animation, and to be one person managing all these moving parts. It’s a grueling amount of work. And I wouldn’t have it any other way because it changed my life. I’m proud of that, you know?