Years ago, he was the first artist to work with the so-called blackest black, a unique light-absorbing color. When he released his debut album, he decided to share it with his listeners in an unconventional way – as an empty cover with no CD. It’s not just the artist’s identity that seems mysterious, but the form and content of his work remain equally cryptic. “I enjoy new technologies and social changes in general,” JAF 34 explains, and then adds: “These aspects are one of the not so many things that make sense to me nowadays, when everything changes all of the time. So, in my work, I accentuate them even more.”
The masked producer is passionate about various topics, including non-fungible tokens and cryptocurrency. That is why we decided to work with him on an elaborate article about NFT in the music industry which was published on the Česká spořitelna blog. JAF 34 likes to keep track of trends – whether it’s just a momentary hype or a fundamental invention that transforms the practices of the given field. For example, question marks now hang over the new era of the digital world, where everything – including cryptocurrencies, Web3, visions around NFT, or the metaverse – changes daily.
JAF 34 is one of the first Czech artists to offer their work to fans in the form of tokens. In cooperation with a photographer Tomáš Vrana, he produced a digital series of darkened graphics that depict the emptiness of contemporary society. These are available for purchase on the KnowsOrigin platform. JAF 34 says it’s possible that one day, he might also release original music recordings as NFTs. Why is he so fascinated with digital trends? And what are his predictions for their future?
Do you believe that NFT tokens are the future of the culture industry? Or are they just another fad?
NFT tokens are an integral part of the overall marketing mix that exists in the music and art industry in general. It seems to me that people live too fast, which is not healthy. All new technologies need some time to find their real use. And that can easily take several years. NFTs included. The markets and crypto might be down right now, but that doesn’t mean anything. I never fully appreciated creations like Bored Apes (note: one of the most valuable series of NFT visuals in the world). But NFT technology still makes sense to me.
Already in 2021, you were no stranger to cryptocurrency. Why did you jump on the trend train so early?
This world has a lot of good characteristics – but also many faults. One of them is an economy that is geographically rather distorted. Cryptocurrencies, and especially Bitcoin, are showing us a path that can help us update the extremely centralized economic architecture of the world to fit the new age and social needs. When Russia attacked Ukraine, Russians started withdrawing their savings and the economy began to collapse. The state had to artificially keep it alive. And Russia partially succeeded in this. However, the inflation was still rising, and the currency became worthless to ordinary people. If I’m going to exaggerate a little, what was happening in Russia was, in a way, similar to what happened before the Second World War in Germany. Back then, the Reichsmark inflation shot literally “to the moon”. And that’s mainly because, in similar situations, currency is burdened with national problems. That is why it is potentially so volatile, and it does not matter if we are talking about the ruble, crown, or dollar.
So, do cryptocurrencies offer an alternative in today’s economy?
With money, it only takes a few people to decide, and they can make any currency drop in just a couple of days. Cryptocurrencies don’t have this problem. They are decentralized and their system is the same all around the world. But some people may say: “Crypto has fallen by 80% in the last year!”. I agree, but we need to add two things. First, compared to other currencies, cryptocurrencies are incredibly young, so they need time to find their true value. Second, in a stock market – where Netflix shares, for example, have fallen by 80% over the past year – cryptocurrencies behave simply like technology stocks, so the change in their value was not much a surprise.
In his work, JAF 34 observes the hustle and emptiness of contemporary society.
How is the decentralized system connected to NFT?
It is another subcategory that strengthens the entire system. After IT specialists, artists were among the first to employ NFT as a new tool for their livelihood. However, there are many other possibilities of use, it is not just about buying a series of pixelated images at exorbitant price. Music bands can use them to show people a great approach to connection and mutual support. For example, I used NFT when I was promoting my debut album Empty with my 3D promo photos that fans could buy and become their sole owners. Because it is a so-called non-fungible token, it accentuates the collector’s value of the item. It all depends on the fan, whether they are passionate enough to see the value and invest in it or not. Anyone can save an image, but no one is recorded in the blockchain. The magic lies in the fact that you write down the unique owner of the given work.
Can we already foresee the potential of non-fungible tokens?
I only used them on a completely fundamental basis, but the possibilities go much further. I would mention unique VIP tickets or streaming services like Spotify, where a token gives you access to, for example, rare songs. I recently saw a “roadmap” of projects that deal with these new platforms, and there are literally dozens and dozens of them. Metaverse avatars are also being created, which can be inseparably linked with one person – this is where the truly useful journey of NFT for the wider public, not just artists, begins. There have been some ridiculous moments, for example, with the start of Karel Janeček’s presidential campaign in the metaverse. No one was there and the whole thing was quite cringey. But in a few years, something like this will be completely common. For example, people will have Facebook, but instead of a profile picture, there will be the avatar, which they can use to do whatever they want in the Meta world.
Is it possible for current Czech artists to earn good money thanks to NFT?
A lot of people have asked me about NFT and have shown a lot of interest in it, but here’s the truth. The entire crypto world is still very much at the beginning. For example, Bitcoin has only been with us for a little over 10 years, which is a very short time to establish any currency. The Czech Republic is viewed as “a power” in the cryptocurrency sphere, but still, only about one percent of the population actually knows something about cryptocurrency. I think a lot of investors are deliberately staying on the sidelines and waiting to see in which way will NFTs go. They don’t want to buy nonsense just because it’s trending. I think the future of NFTs is set. Even nowadays, 50% of our lives and communication happens in the digital world. Just consider how often we reach for our phone or laptop to communicate with others. I’m not a big fan of the metaverse, but I think it’s a natural evolution of our society, which will be inextricably linked to NFT. Personally, I only know a few people from the art world who make extra money because of NFT. But what’s the reality? You’d have to ask them.
Your art can be found on the KnownOrigin platform. How does it work?
It is a curation platform where artists are selected by individual curators. Thanks to this, the quality of the given artworks and the artists themselves is much higher, it’s not just visuals of monkeys. I got to KnowsOrigin thanks to Tomáš Vrana, a great Czech photographer who worked with me on NFTs. I personally also set up a portfolio on the Foundation platform, which is a bit more open. There, I sell NFTs that can be described as alternative visual mashups to every single song from my album Empty. One song, one music video, one NFT.
What exactly are your virtual works dedicated to? What are they supposed to symbolize?
The entire visual refers to the concept of the album, which is the emptiness of the world around us. Light and darkness. At first glance, they look like real figures, but they are just empty skeletons, built solely from ones and zeros. Tomáš Vrana and I talked about a new form of classic band photos for the 21st century. That’s why we thought we’d make them as 3D photogrammetry. It is a technique in which the photographer takes 360-degree photos of individual people, places, or products – from the sides, top and bottom. These raw photos are then uploaded to a computer and turned into a 3D model that can be changed by the artist in any way. It can be given different textures, it may be warped, the angles may be altered and so on.
Do you plan to release your future music recordings as tokens?
I thought about it, but the current technical criteria do not go well with my ideas, I think. As I say, this new world is just in its infancy, and everything is evolving. We will see what happens in the future, how will the platforms be updated. Never say never.
Check out the blog of Česká spořitelna , where we follow the topics of NFT and cryptocurrency.