The tortilla chips I am eating are real. The salsa and guacamole are real. The hot dogs and mustard are real, and the absence of sauerkraut is all too real. The artists, musicians, and social media stars around me are real. I am in a real VIP box in a real building (the—I feel violated having to type this—Crypto.com Arena), where the rapper Post Malone will be appearing to give a concert, though it is already nearly 10 o’clock—on a Wednesday, no less. “Emphasis on the Post,” I say to someone, who laughs. Everyone is very nice.
The tangibility of my surroundings is notable, insofar as they are the benefits that come with the purchase of an NFT from Dancing Seahorse, a new player in the crypto economy sandbox. If you have thus far managed to avoid this information (congrats!), NFTs are “non-fungible tokens,” digital trinkets that often sell for thousands of dollars or whatever that equals in Ethereum or Bitcoin or MoneySink, and which can then be resold, ideally at a profit—a concept that has led some people to think of them as investments.
Usually, NFTs are pieces of online artwork available for purchase, even if the images are already largely accessible for free. A Dancing Seahorse NFT, however, offers more than a uniquely designed rendering of a seahorse; it also includes access to fancy seating at events such as this Post Malone concert, as well as into the Dancing Seahorse building, an intimate nightclub-cum-workspace on Hollywood Boulevard that hosts performances by actual musicians, like the hip-hop artist Polo G, who played there in November.
Which is to say, a Dancing Seahorse stands out among NFTs, at least to me, in that it offers something of actual value—or “utility,” in the preferred lingo of the crypto believers. That’s not how Alex Nahai, Dancing Seahorse’s 35-year-old CEO, would put it. After all, that might suggest that other NFTs, ones that seem to exist merely to have their value bet upon, have no real, uh, utility. And one would not want to suggest such a thing when courting the attention of NFT fanatics.
I meet Nahai the day before the concert at the Dancing Seahorse club, where he treats me from our first greeting with perhaps undue affection and endures my questioning about what is so mind-blowing about NFTs. I learn from Nahai that NFTs are useful in ticketing because they cannot be duplicated (or so we are told), which makes them relatively counterfeit-proof. You can also engage in “utility rental”—i.e., selling temporary access to the NFT so that, say, a Dancing Seahorse member could transfer ownership for just one event. NFTs can also be used as smart contracts, which are self-executing financial transactions, like the payment of royalties. For instance, they can be designed so that every time a token is resold, its previous holders get a cut of the proceeds. (That these contracts are actually enforceable, however, may not always be taken for granted.) Legal questions aside, NFTs seem to offer some fairly frictionless ways to do business.
And they are a prominent fixture of Web 3.0. For the uninitiated: Web 1.0 was the internet of the 90s: email, still-image pornography…you remember. Web 2.0 was a term I first heard in the mid-aughts; it refers to the advent of web videos like one sees on YouTube and the dawn of social media. Now, apparently, the purveyors of cryptographic currency feel that the technology underlying their trade heralds the arrival of a new internet sequel. And Dancing Seahorse is specifically billed as a social club for fans of both music and Web 3.0. Nahai’s conviction is that there is enough overlap between these two communities to make the company a viable concern.
On the entertainment front, he has reason to believe he can attract a crowd: the club is, in fact, the reincarnation of another nightclub, Sabotage LA, for which Nahai used to book talent, including acts as legit as Iggy Azalea, Bella Thorne, and Tate McRae. Successful shows with these performers fueled the idea for an NFT-based membership that could “provide special access for people to artists.”
That access will cost you at least three Ethereum (Etherea?), which at the moment is the equivalent of around $4,000; there’s also a higher-tier Legendary membership that sells for 80 Ethereum, or around $100,000. Both tokens offer access to the Dancing Seahorse events; the Legendary ones have more “financial utility,” of course. Around 9000 NFTs will be issued in total. Issuing more than that, Nahai tells me, would be unethical: NFTs are a collection, and “there’s something special about that collection being limited.” So far, they’ve sold around 150.
Word is spreading among the Web 3.0 community, he assures me, but adds that that community is “very small.” He’s just come from Token 2049, a Crypto conference in London.
“People were coming up to our booth. They knew exactly who we were, they knew what we were doing. They were interested [in] our project,” he says. And the online community is growing: “Our Discord is up to about 17,000 now. A few weeks ago, it was like, I think like 2,000.” It’s currently at over 20,000 members and hosts a lively chat room where you can find users swapping memes, saying hello and goodbye to each other, and calling each other “fam.”
Nahai’s dream, he says, “would be to see and hear people at our events…enjoying the music [and] discussing different…ideas of businesses that they can start themselves. And I hope that each of these events in our community can be like a think tank, where people can network with like-minded people who have similar interests and create their own ventures out of that, too.”
There is no shortage of venturers among the influential individuals Dancing Seahorse assembles the following night at the arena. Early in the evening, I strike it up with an unobtrusively gorgeous 21-year-old named Ahlyssa Marie. She’s an R&B musician, brand ambassador (yes?), and TikTok star (follower count: 5.2 million) who lives in a content house, where I imagine each day she concocts a marketable song by lunch, her creative output unclogged by self-doubt or professional setback, then spends the afternoons documenting her meteoric success and blessing various products before retiring to the bedroom of another hyper-productive twenty-something to mutually luxuriate in each other’s youth and beauty. I am momentarily grateful for the psilocybin I’ve been microdosing, which allows me to regard her with admiration and wonder; months ago, she would have sent me into a tailspin of despair and self-loathing.
Marie does not own a Dancing Seahorse NFT; they’re still “building the relationship.” Like nearly everyone else here, she is interested in Web 3.0 and the NFT “space.” What is so fascinating about all of this? She notes that NFTs are “worldwide,” which makes me wonder if they might inspire some sense of awe in her. Global connection! Mass hypnosis! She also tells me that a lot of the NFTs she has were gifted to her in exchange for content creation. Her enthusiasm suddenly becomes less mysterious.
I speak with another woman, this one obtrusively gorgeous, named Kelly Pantaleoni. “I looked at doing some investments” during quarantine, she tells me. “I started with stocks and it led me into crypto. And it was just a fun space to be in—you know, it’s young, it’s fun.” It occurs to me later: I have certainly spent thousands and thousands on youth and fun. Whether I’d call any of that an investment is another question, but I am starting to get it, especially when I glance at the woman next to Pantaleoni. She’s another stunner, and she’s wearing two patches of some fuzzy textile as a top. Both of these women are nailing it, and I have never been more grateful to be gay and more or less immune to their sexual power. If I were straight, they could make me do anything.
Pantaleoni, interview-ready, tells me she’s “really excit[ed] about the utility that the project has for bringing NFTs and music together,” then adds, “I’m an influencer, I’m a model, I’ve been to 70 countries, traveled the world.” She seems to be enjoying life, and gambling is only one part of this supernatural überwoman’s dynasty: “I’ve been modeling for 10 years. [And] I built a huge social media platform. So I definitely have other things going on besides crypto and NFTs, but it’s taken up a huge part of my time because I actually love it so much and I do make a shit ton of money doing it.”
A VIP lounge at the Crypto.com arena downtown. (LAMag)
Then I start asking her about her NFT business—she owns a bunch and makes some of her own. They’re all images. She is testing my generosity of spirit. Around this point, she excuses herself, perhaps sensing where this line of questioning is headed.
I’m left with her friend in the fuzzy bra. Her name is Quiggle Ignacio, and I soon learn she still has one foot in the civilian world, splitting time between being an artist, an influencer, and a nurse. I am sympathetic: I would hate to have to so consciously choose between lucrative glamor and modest service. Ignacio “influences” for Dancing Seahorse but seems more clear-eyed than most about the precariousness of the crypto market. I suggest to her that investing in cryptocurrency is a game: Try and cash out before you’re the guy holding the bag. “Yep, absolutely,” she says, before pivoting: “I would say that Dancing Seahorse is a good company. They’re not trying to just flip it”—the NFT, that is—“they’re actually trying to create a community.”
Later, I speak with an NFT fanatic who allows me to survey his collection on his phone. He shows me an array of images on which he has spent “easily” over $10,000. Of course, these are investments! One of them alone was worth “at one point” $85,000. He shows it to me. It is a doodle of a cat. I start laughing hysterically. “I fucking hate this part,” he says, but he’s laughing, too. “It’s still worth, like, $8000,” he says. I congratulate him.
Then he comes out with it: The creator of the cat doodle, some person named Gary Veynerchuk, hosts this “like, insane fucking conference.” The fanatic went earlier this year, and it was “like Woodstock,” he says.
“People were…so open-hearted. Everybody’s sharing whatever they had like there was music, there was like tech people.” So it seems Dancing Seahorse isn’t the only NFT out there that comes with the privilege to party with the wealthy and beautiful. I ask this guy what other benefits come with any of his other NFTs. “Literally fucking nothing, dude. Literally nothing.” He starts laughing again.
I talk to a pair of brothers, Daivon and Desmond, who turn out to be half of a hip-hop band called Futrell (their last name). They’ve been invited here by their label: “We were like, Post Malone. Why not come?” I ask them what they think of the idea of buying an NFT.
“I would invest,” Daivon tells me. “I mean, who don’t want to make money?” I ask him why he thinks an NFT would necessarily make money. “I mean. That’s a good question.” We all laugh.
Desmond is more on message. “I believe in them,” he says. He thinks, in fact, that Dancing Seahorse has the potential to be “one of the biggest NFTs out here.” Why? “It just has that vibe.” Daivon adds: “Everybody’s got good vibes, everybody’s working hard and everything. So I say they have a good chance of really blowing up.”
By the time Post Malone takes the stage, there are maybe 30 people in the box. I’ve managed to find only one person (though I’ve invited Nahai to point me toward any paying members he’d like me to talk to) who has actually purchased a Dancing Seahorse NFT. The NFT holder is a middle-aged real-estate investor, and he bought a Legendary token—the $100,000 option. The guy is portly and gray, though he has brought his beautiful daughter, who looks to be in her 20s.
When asked why he’s bought into Dancing Seahorse, he tells me, pretty much, to just look around. “We’re in a suite. You have access—great, great seats to the artists. [And] in the Dancing Seahorse club, you will have accessibility to those artists to actually meet them, talk to them. And it’s a small setting…you’re up close.” He also expects that Dancing Seahorse will have a presence at music festivals, where VIP areas can be expensive.
I suppose if you go to enough of these things, an NFT from Dancing Seahorse—if it sticks around long enough and manages to capture the attention of enough beautiful people—might pay for itself. I’m also starting to get why Nahai isn’t just running a nightclub and selling regular old VIP tickets to concerts. Regardless of whether or not people are going to keep shelling out thousands for the privilege of owning an image of a cat, a dog, or a seahorse, it’s a thing people are doing now, and doing with great fanfare.
“Nobody can predict the future,” Nahai tells me. “If you provide something that is of true, meaningful benefit to people, I don’t think that that’s a fad.”
I stay to watch three or four Post Malone numbers. The crowd is absolutely nuts for him and I marvel at what it must be like to command such adoration. I like him, I decide: he’s unpretentious and smiles a lot. His face, despite someone having scribbled all over it, is open and generous, and inviting. I wish I could see it better. But we’re all too far away.
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