Gloving celebrity Gummy, as featured in The Art of Gloving, a light show documentary
I've just spent the last six minutes and 21 seconds watching an episode of The Bunny Show, a YouTube series that stars 23-year-old Justin Perez—aka Gummy, the most famous glover in history. Gummy is in a dark room wearing a bunny mask, as you might expect, and he's doing a choreographed dance with his fingers to a cheery remix of Imogen Heap.
"I'm part of the first batch of glovers to come from the scene, or an 'OG,' as they call us," Gummy tells me over Skype. He's been doing hand dances for about four years, and his most successful video has accumulated over 3 million views. At the time of writing, that's about a million more than the music video for Kanye's new single, "Bound 2."
"I used to love light shows and rolling," says Tito bee, one of The Bunny Show's numerous YouTube commentators. "[It's] crazy how fast time moves. This song brings so many teen memories. I miss it all. I'm 24 now."
See—I'm also 24 years old, which, in raver years, is like 114. So being the grandpa raver that I am (or the 'OG,' as Gummy might say) I have occasionally encountered the "light arts" at warehouse parties, festivals, Burning Man fundraisers, whatever.
I've seen my share of poi, fire spinners, and flow toys, but I'm more of a lights-off-subs-on type of dude, and until yesterday I never realized exactly how many gloving devotees there are in this country. With an International Gloving Championship that is now in its third year, a dozen or so gloving-related YouTube videos surpassing a million views each, and even a permanent ban on gloving passed down by the United States' largest electronic music promoter, the answer is a fucking lot.
Gloving. If you're reading this you probably know what I'm talking about (you're on an electronic music website): the gloves with the light-up fingertips and palms that allow for high-tech rave hands. You may have attended an outdoor festival like Camp Bisco or Coachella and witnessed the act for yourself: one little raver sitting on the floor facing another little raver, while one provides the service and the other one watches. Sometimes the one watching is moving their jaw around a lot or drooling, but not always.
"It's a recognized dance form now, and dance is dance, no matter what music's playing," says Gregg Lillie, head of marketing at EmazingLights, an online outlet for light art accessories and the organizer of LA's International Gloving Championship. "Gloving has a negative stigma to it that it's all about drugs," he tells me, an assumption that doesn't feel like a stretch if you've ever watched a thizzy tween in fuzzy boots receive a light show from an equally fried prospective mate. But many members of the gloving community want the world to know that it's an unfair stereotype—and may I add, one that has pervaded dance music at large since the first American jazz clubs opened their doors. "These events show that it's not about [drugs], and it's not all about the rave scene."
Gloving's origins are fuzzy, to say the least, but Southern California's circle of elites say that the earliest gloving performance on record comes from a rave in 2006, where founding father Hermes gave a light show that later ended up on YouTube. Hermes and Gummy finally met face-to-face in October of this year, with Gummy giving an impromptu light show to the gloving legend over a totally sick Massive Attack remix. But even four years ago, when YouTube first inspired our hero to hone his hand-dancing, readymade light-up gloves were barely available. "My first pair of gloves I built myself out of a lot of different random micro-lights I could find. It was super ghetto [laughs]." Since then, he tells me, gloving has grown out of the rave scene and is finally "being more accepted as a true art."
In September of this year, the third annual International Gloving Championship took place at the Yost Theater in Santa Ana, about 30 miles southeast of Downtown LA. The event welcomed 150 competitors, and 500 attendees in total for an event that stretched from 11AM to 9PM. "It's still very much an EDM event," says Lillie. "It's still in a dark club with lights. But since [the gloves] are banned at Insomniac events, for example, we throw IGC as a place for the community to come together."
Banned, you say? In early 2011, the country's largest EDM event production company, Insomniac, issued a statement banning LED lights from their events permanently: "The image that it creates when groups of music fans are sitting or lying on the floor gazing at the designs reflects poorly and sends a false message of what the electronic dance music scene is about." Emazing's marketing manager tells me that this was in response to pressure put on Insomniac after a series of drug-related injuries and deaths at the company's events; they had to budge somewhere if they wanted to look like they were proactively addressing these safety issues. Local fire marshals also raised concerns about the fire hazard created by having attendees sitting on the floor giving each other light shows. It can also be fucking annoying, or so say the glowstickers.
"I would still love to go and just dance without all the lightshows and etards [sic] all over the floor. It would be nice to have some legroom," says one senior member of glowsticking.com, in a forum discussion of Insomniac's anti-LED policy. When the verdict first came down, the glowstickers, a separate camp of light art aficionados, were freaking out that the policy would put glowsticks on the black list as well. "Fucking glovers ruined everything," said Ange, a platinum member from Concord, CA, in a 2011 thread. In fact the glover community has its share of haters: "I see more and more gloves out here on the east coast," says a third forum member. "its like it some sort of mating ritual. girl sits down on side of party, 3 guys with gloves come over, the best is chosen, I can't wait for it to be on the jersey shore or something [all sic]."
But despite the ban, the hardcore glovers press on. "It absolutely made things more difficult for us," Gummy admits. "But at the same time, it brought us closer as a community." At least in the gloving mecca of Southern Califorina, Facebook groups like the Glovers' Lounge organize weekend meet-ups, while businesses like EmazingLights host weekly and monthly sessions to supplement the larger, annual championships. Gummy regularly receives messages of support from admirers in Japan, Germany, Canada, and Australia, and his growing YouTube fanbase is doing just that. "Gloving came from the rave scene so it will always be an aspect of it," says the gloving OG when asked about the art form's future. "But like many things that are new… it was misunderstood, and I think we are quickly growing out of that."
Max Pearl does not have light-up gloves but is still pretty sick at doing rave hands. -@maxpearl