Shining a light on the world of LED gloving
Some of the kindest people you’ll ever meet at a rave will be wearing a pair of white gloves. If you’re polite, they’ll probably give you a light show, a performance where a glover uses their hands and the colourful microlights at their fingertips to create immersive, sweeping visual illusions.
Most glovers just want to make people smile, and Joshua Pilla is no different. Known to the gloving world as “Jest”, the young glover from Minneapolis, Minnesota likens gloving to a form of magic. In one of his popular YouTube videos, titled “Jest Do It”, he performs a light show with Shia La Beouf behind him yelling the infamous phrase ‘Just do it! Make. Your dreams. Come true.’ It’s the type of video that puts a smile on your face every time you see it.
To any young electronic music fan, Pilla’s life sounds like a dream come true. He gets to travel, film projects with talented artists and connect with people all over the world who love his art form. Pilla is one of 24 lucky glovers who have been invited to sponsor Emazing Lights, the LED glove retailer largely responsible for boosting the gloving world’s popularity. Gloving hasn’t commanded the mainstream spotlight in the same way as dance or magic, but the futuristic art form has managed to inspire a lively multi-million dollar industry – one that’s still growing.
In 2009, just as the electronic dance music (EDM) scene was starting to gain popularity in California, Emazing Lights was launched by 21-year-old Brian Lim as a $100 startup. By 2010, Lim was making enough money to retire from his day job at Deloitte and by 2015, the company had been featured on Shark Tank and CNN was calling the company a “$13-million secret”.
Emazing Lights was launched by 21-year-old Brian Lim as a $100 startup. By 2010, Lim was making enough money to retire from his day job at Deloitte and by 2015.
From a company that was gaining so much momentum, getting a sponsorship invitation wasn’t easy, but Pilla’s team of glovers, Minnesota Mind Melt (3M), were up for the challenge. They worked hard to create a brand that was recognizable and respected in the gloving community.
“Gloving captures aspects of art and expression,” Pilla explained, pointing out the added element of musical synchronicity. “It requires a certain degree of skill and character in the light show performance, but more importantly, it requires constant activity within the community.”
As a representative for the brand, he’s regularly hosting and attending events. He’s also filmed music videos for Pegboard Nerds, NGHTMRE and Krewella, and it doesn’t stop there. Pilla has also travelled across the country to be a part of the Facemelt Crew documentaries which showcased a group of the world’s top glovers with one simple mission: “Spread love for lights and melt faces”. And that’s exactly what they’re doing.
One of Pilla’s favourite gloving memories is from the Lightning in a Bottle festival in California. He was wandering in a Kylo Ren costume when he realized he was being watched. A young couple had spotted a flash of red and blue lights coming from his hands and they were intrigued. He made his way over and asked if they’d like a light show. That night, the two young Star Wars fans got to see an exciting light sabre duel come to life in Pilla’s hands.
But despite being able to create magical moments like that one, it’s not entirely easy for glovers to get across to the outside world what they really do.
Due to the public perception that gloving solely exists to promote drug culture, legislation was passed in California to ban venues from allowing glovers at their events. As a result, glovers are often abused and mistreated. In the US, there have been reports of security guards physically attacking glovers and even soliciting bribes from patrons who wanted to get their gloves back.
“What set Emazing apart was their commitment to [create] gloving events that gave glovers a safe space to practice and interact,” Pilla explained, expressing concern for how glovers are still treated by many promoters and venues in the industry. In an effort to help legitimize the art form, Emazing Lights created the International Gloving Championships (IGC), which gave the industry’s innovators a chance to inspire others to pick up a pair of gloves.
In Vancouver, there are no official competitions like the IGC, but the gloving community is passionate nonetheless.
Dylan Todd is a 20-year-old glover and aspiring music photographer who was inspired to pick up his first pair of gloves in 2015. After seeing his first light show at a friend’s house, he knew right away that he had to try it himself. “I just sat there and thought ‘this is the coolest thing in the entire world’,” he recalled.
As a dedicated music fan, he takes note of everything at a show from the stage and lighting set up to how the performers interact with the audience. The environment at a show can really make the experience special, and he can tell when the crowd is full of people who really love music. He sees gloving as a unique way to communicate with people. “It’s a different element than just going to a show and watching,” Todd said.
After seeing his first light show at a friend’s house, he knew right away that he had to try it himself. “I just sat there and thought ‘this is the coolest thing in the entire world’,” he recalled.
Similar to dance, there are classic moves that glovers have to practice every day. Whips, tunnels, flails, finger tuts and dials are the two-step, free spin, plié and moonwalk of the gloving world. Pilla described his favourite technique as one that imitates magic by “conjuring” the lights in and out of existence. He often uses conjuring as bookends for his shows, as it’s an impressive way to give the show a definitive beginning and end.
“Every glover has a different flow that they’re good at,” Todd said, marvelling at how people can interpret their feelings and personality through gloving. One person might love whips and tunnels while another could spend all day practicing finger tuts.
Like so many other dedicated music fans, Todd is happy to be connected to the music scene in any way possible. It’s safe to say he’s one of Porter Robinson’s biggest fans, having seen him in concert nine times, with plans for the 10th this summer, but the music scene isn’t about competition to him.
Todd wants to see the EDM community focus more on the music itself, but he’s more than familiar with the notion that electronic music, gloving and drugs go hand in hand. As someone who has never gone to a show intoxicated or used drugs, he finds it frustrating that people need to associate the two together. “If it’s about appreciating [the music] why does it matter if you’re sober or not?” he asked. Many of his peers don’t use drugs, yet the stereotype says otherwise.
Pilla weighed in on the topic as well, “This is a sad and dangerous misconception because some of the greatest talents in gloving are known to be sober and responsible people,” he said. Despite the EDM scene’s reputation for promoting drug culture, it’s often overlooked that every artistic avenue has its own substance users. Pilla maintained that it’s only natural for any type of artwork to attract people who want to escape reality through an enhanced experience.
The misconceptions about gloving can be discouraging at times, but Todd has still made friends all across the continent because of it and he’s optimistic about the community’s potential. Although he doesn’t plan to pursue gloving professionally, he wants to see glovers continue to stand up for what they love to do.
“If there’s someone trying to get into it, just start,” he said. “You’ll meet so many people who want to help you.”
At the end of the day, gloving is just another way for people to use their bodies to convey feelings and ideas that can’t be put into words. In the industry’s future, Pilla ultimately wants to see people being able to glove exclusively for a living. The industry is still far from receiving televised coverage, but with the art form gaining more attention in music videos and popular festivals, there’s hope for glovers to be recognized in bigger projects.
We are all looking for authentic ways to express ourselves, a way to feel connected to each other and escape from the impersonal, sometimes hostile realities of everyday life. For many people, a pair of white gloves is the key.
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