My Uber dropped me off in front of a modern mansion in the Hollywood Hills. The road up was steep and winding, filled with multimillion-dollar houses that twinkled when you looked at them from Sunset Boulevard below. I was told beforehand by my hosts to hail a ride-share, as parking in the neighborhood would be difficult to find. It was true: The tight streets were already filled with Ferraris, Teslas and Lamborghinis owned by the neighborhood's residents and guests who got there early. My dented Honda Civic would have looked out of place anyway.
Among the glittering manors lies the Afterparty House, a modern, four-bedroom, six-bathroom, two-story house with a pool overlooking the glowing Los Angeles skyline. The house typically acts as a gallery and community space for Afterparty, an NFT company, and its buyers. On this Thursday night, it was filled with influencers and enthusiasts all eager to get in on Afterparty's latest NFT minting party.
After getting the gate code, I walked up a sleek set of stone stairs tucked between well maintained shrubbery and lined with candles that led me to the entrance. To the right of the door hung a big sign with Afterparty's sleek pink and purple logo. Beneath that, a small ornate placard read “Welcome, Please Remove Your Jimmy Choo’s,” which I was told came with the house. I knocked.
David Fields, Afterparty's CEO, greeted me at the door with a smile and a handshake, then immediately launched into a tour of the house. He walked me through the dining room, with its conversation pit filled with velvet furniture next to floor-to-ceiling windows. Down the hallways lined with flat screens displaying GIFs of NFT art.
But the house is beside the point, Fields said, standing in front of the two large screens in the main room, which displayed the NFTs — colorful cyborgs and androids with features like goggles, studs and masks created by an anonymous artist — that were being produced and minted as part of Afterparty's “Utopian" collection.
The Utopians, and what they represent, are the point, he said.
Afterparty sells and mints NFTs that give its buyers access to the events it throws. (Fields called the whole enterprise a “decentralized creator Soho House.”) The company was founded last year by Fields, Dan Rahmel and Eytan Elbaz and debuted its platform in beta last June, starting with a few virtual, NFT-gated events. The NFTs it is currently selling and minting are the Utopians, which give holders access to the entire world of Afterparty events.
The Afterparty team started hosting live events in November and have had a handful of these minting parties so far, Fields said. They've attracted creators like Bryce Hall, Sia and Vinnie Hacker to the parties, and have banked $3 million in seed funding from a slew of angel investors and venture capital firms, one of which was Elbaz’s TenOneTen Ventures.
This night's main event was taking place to the left of the entrance: a walled-off enclave filled with comfortable furniture, sky-high ceilings and several more flat screens dedicated to displaying “mint passes.” Afterparty calls this the “live-mint room." It's where new NFTs are minted in an intimate, almost sacred way.
The minting room
Only 1,500 Utopians exist in total. Afterparty gave 500 of them to creators and influencers and is charging 3 ETH apiece — which ranges from about $6,000 to $12,000 — for another 500. (It's keeping the last 500 in reserve, for projects "to be determined," Fields said.) Its first presale, of 150 Utopians, sold out almost instantly.
Once they're in the club, many holders go through a minting ceremony at the Afterparty House. The process turns the Utopian art piece, each of which is one of a kind and created by an anonymous artist, into a digital asset on the Ethereum blockchain, guaranteeing that the holder is its only certifiable owner. And minting through a ceremony at the Afterparty House, Fields said, is part of what sets Utopians apart from a typical NFT.
By 8:30, a crowd of more than 50 people had arrived at the house. Then the rituals began.
Every 10 to 15 minutes, either in pairs or alone, guests who were minting would slip away from the crowd into the walled-off enclave, which was quiet despite the noise of the party.
At one point, Fields ushered me into the minting room to witness one of these ceremonies. A small group of people watched as a couple sat close together on a low, neutral-toned couch, shifting with excitement. Standing in front of them holding an iPad, John Van Liere, Afterparty's operations manager and minting MC, described what an NFT’s metadata is. Ingrained in that metadata, Van Liere told them, are three words of the holder's choice, living with it forever and making the token uniquely theirs. The minting passes, a digital key each holder gets before their NFT is minted, flashed on the screens behind them.
“[The phrases] can be extremely meaningful to them. They could be a joke. They could be X-rated,” Fields told me. “It's completely up to you; the blockchain is uncensored. Whether you give that [NFT] to your kid in 50 years or you sell it, that lives with it forever.”
When asked for their three words, the couple looked at each other, pausing for a second to think about what to choose. One said the first thing that came to their head: “I love cats.”
“I love cats,” Robert Graham, Afterparty’s chief community officer, repeated. “I love it.”
“So that’s a good one?” they asked.
“That’s a great one,” Graham said.
The other questioned whether or not to do something sentimental, but worried that “no one would get it” if they were to sell. They paused, shifting their drink in their hand as they thought.
“Let’s go with ‘all about community,’” they said. “That’s a good one!” an onlooker chimed in.
The whole process took about five minutes. The couple then got to choose a “debut song,” the track that would play them back into the main room of the house, where they would see their randomly chosen Utopian NFT for the first time. (The hits of the night included “We Will Rock You” by Queen and “Karma Chameleon” by Culture Club.)
The couple considered for a minute, one picking up their phone to look through their music choices. They finally landed on “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen. The song blared as they walked out to a crowd of excited party guests. “Let's give it up for them!” Van Liere announced over the microphone in the most MC-esque voice imaginable, and the crowd began to cheer.
They reached the parallel screens displaying their NFTs and gazed excitedly at the displays as two images revealed themselves: one NFT a cyborg with purple skin and a pink mask, the other blue and violet with glasses.
This process happened at least 10 times over the course of the evening. When I asked content creator and choreographer Matt Steffanina which phrase he planned to imprint on his NFT a few minutes before he went into the minting room, he paused to think. “I was going to freestyle it, but now that you bring it up, I guess I should start to marinate on that for a minute,” he said.
He ended up going with “4-2-0.”
Steffanina is no NFT novice: He owns more than 700, which he collected over a period of a little over a year. He found out about Afterparty after meeting Fields on the Bored Ape Yacht four months prior. Seeing him as a “pioneer” in the dance community and a “natural fit” for Afterparty, Fields decided to give him a Utopian NFT.
As a dancer and choreographer by trade, Steffanina said his interest in crypto and NFTs came from his passion for giving credit where credit is due. “I can prove that I did it. Nobody else has proof that they did it sooner,” Steffanina said. “Then it just opened up a whole can of worms of finding incredible artists that I loved and being able to use it within my dance community.”
After Steffanina's NFT was minted, Lil Wayne's “Lollipop” played as he strutted back into the party. He looked proud as his Utopian — a navy blue android with scarlet eyes, a pink mask and a hoop earring on a blue, pink and red patterned background — appeared on the screens. Van Liere described it as “rare” and “clean” to a crowd of clapping and whooping guests.
'The strongest community'
Wandering around and chatting with this seemingly random cluster of influencers and artists and tech bros and investors that somehow all made it to the party, I asked plenty of people, “Why this?” The common refrain was "community." Though many guests had already minted their Utopians, or were just the entourage of those who hold them, they said that being part of a community is what brought them there that night. Everyone mingled and chatted and hugged like old friends.
Vicky Palacio, a fitness influencer with more than 800,000 followers across TikTok and Instagram, was one of the creators gifted a Utopian. She didn’t know much about blockchain or NFTs before the company approached her, but since then, she’s been to every NFT event the team has thrown.
“I saw the community that they were creating, the quality of people that they were having join, and not knowing much about NFTs, they also educated me a lot and taught me a lot about the space, too, which I really appreciated,” Palacio said. “I just felt this is the strongest community, and I know that it's going to continue to grow.”
Fields said Afterparty aimed to focus on “building a diverse community” when choosing who to give its NFTs to but plans to decide who it gives to in a “community-driven” way down the line. Its current members include musician Jaden Hossler, model Heidi Klum and LANY lead singer Paul Klein. “I don't think it's the craziest thing to think — we want to build one of the coolest communities in history,” Elbaz said.
Once you get and mint your NFT, you gain access to the entire Afterparty world. You’re allowed to attend every event Afterparty throws (there is at least one minting party a week), such as a Super Bowl party at the house or pop-up event at Art Basel. Buyers also get entry (and two guest passes) to a music festival in Las Vegas in March, headlined by The Kid Laroi and The Chainsmokers, as well as annual festivals Afterparty plans to host for the next five years.
“Our mission has always been ‘after the NFT is the afterparty,’” Fields said. “We love what digital art has become, but I think that's just the tip of the iceberg. NFTs, especially for creators, we believe are going to be more about access.”
Though it’s currently working to get influencers and creators excited about scoring (and promoting) Utopians, Fields said Afterparty's eventual goal is to put the control in the hands of those creators. It aims to partner with creators to make and sell their own NFTs, which will act as all-access passes to their events for fans.
“My goal, and my team's goal, from the beginning has been to really reshape the creator economy,” Fields said. “This is an area that we're really passionate about, and I think NFTs are the technology to get us there.”
For now, these minting events happen around one to two times a week. This one started to die down by around 11. As parties in the Hollywood Hills go, that's pretty tame. But the enthusiasm for the community — and its exclusivity — might be a sign that more and more people may vie for an invite to the Afterparty mansion.
I left just before the night's final mint. Walking down the driveway, I heard Van Liere’s voice boom through a speaker from inside the house as he said, “Give it up for our next guest, ladies and gentlemen,” and, “WELCOME TO THE COMMUNITY!” I couldn't help but wonder how the neighbors felt.