Ethereum Freedom and Parisian Psychedelia: Reflections on EthCC[5]

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Ethereum Freedom and Parisian Psychedelia: Reflections on EthCC[5]

Key Takeaways

  • The Ethereum Community Conference returned to Paris this week.
  • Vitalik Buterin and other prominent figures in the Ethereum ecosystem spoke at the event.
  • Ethereum fans packed out various side events that took place across the French capital.

The Ethereum faithful took over Paris for EthCC[5] this week.

EthCC Returns to Paris 

This week, thousands of builders, degens, and other cryptocurrency enthusiasts descended on Paris for the fifth edition of the Ethereum Community Conference (EthCC), Europe’s biggest Ethereum meet-up. In the years since EthCC launched, Ethereum has become a sprawling ecosystem holding billions of dollars in locked value. It’s the main hub for DeFi and NFTs and settles trillions of dollars in transactions annually. Though various competitors have had moments in the sun over the past year, Ethereum is still the biggest and most widely-used smart contract network in the world, and its dominance over the blockchain ecosystem is such that multiple other Ethereum-adjacent networks tagged onto EthCC with their own side events this week. 

Most crypto conference attendees will admit that the opportunity to connect with others at spin-off parties is as much of a draw as the main ticket, but even with dozens to choose from this time around, EthCC itself had a lot to keep Ethereum enthusiasts occupied. The three-day event welcomed speakers from some of the ecosystem’s top projects to Maison de la Mutualité, and demand was so high that many top industry heads were left ticketless.

The brutal European heatwave left many people exhausted well before the talks had wrapped up on the first day, but the conference only seemed to improve as it went on. Several Layer 2 projects used the occasion to announce their various ZK-Rollup developments, and beyond the main stage the venue was packed with the usual array of stalls, their hosts dishing out t-shirts, NFTs, and Ethereum-branded macarons to anyone who’d stop by. 

By far the most-attended talk of the week was the one from Vitalik Buterin himself. Contrary to his 2021 presentation on expanding Ethereum beyond DeFi, Buterin used his 40-minute slot to go deep on what the network’s future will look like after the Merge and other major developments. The Ethereum creator explained that the protocol needs to overcome a few hurdles to set itself up for the future, summarizing the outlook as “short-term pain, long-term gain.” 

Self-Sovereignty on Ethereum

Prysmatic Labs’ Terence Tsao used his slot to explain the complexities of the Merge to Proof-of-Stake, and PWN’s Josef Je introduced himself as an early Silk Road fanboy turned Ethereum settler. After extolling the benefits of the psychedelics he’d acquired with Bitcoin on the dark web, he went on to ask audience members who considered themselves a “crypto native.” Most people raised their hands, then he presented a list of the criteria he thought people needed to meet to earn such a title—significant crypto asset holdings, regular DeFi activity, and habitual crypto use for payments among them. In other words, he was more or less outlining the self-sovereign, decentralized lifestyle that Ethereum makes possible. 

Je was a diehard who subscribed to the freedom-first ideology that sucks people into the space forever, and I wasn’t surprised to hear the crowd cheering as soon as he mentioned mind-bending chemicals; blockchain might be a relatively new phenomenon, but it’s not hard to see the parallels it shares with the LSD-fueled counterculture movement of the 60s. 

As for the party schedule, there was more than enough on offer for those looking to burn the candle at both ends. This was my first Ethereum conference, and I was taken aback by the number of ETH devotees I met over the course of the week. It seemed like Ethereum’s native asset was almost everyone’s heaviest bag, to the extent that conversations rarely touched on other ecosystems. This wasn’t the kind of cringeworthy maximalist crowd you find spreading toxicity on Bitcoin Twitter; most of them struck me more as idealists who gravitated toward Ethereum a while ago and never really left. 

A whale I ran into at MakerDAO’s DAIvinity party told me he doesn’t look beyond Ethereum or Layer 2 because dedicating his time elsewhere would be too much of a distraction, then he guided me through some of the most valuable blue chip NFTs he’d acquired and the amount of ETH he’d spent on each. “I’m annoyed I didn’t grab a Hoodie [Crypto]Punk when they were only $200,000 the other week,” he sighed, unwittingly pointing out the staggering returns early birds have enjoyed over the past few years (ETH was priced at $0.30 when it launched in 2014 and topped $4,800 in late 2021; today it trades closer to $1,600). The OpenSea baller wasn’t the only one who made it clear his loyalty was to Ethereum. “What do you think of Solana?” one degen asked me at a ConsenSys happy hour. “I hate it, but I’m bullish,” he said.  

Paris by Night

Another member of our team inadvertently ended up at a party that was mostly filled with venture capitalists and pretentious money types in designer suits rubbing shoulders with one another; when he got there, he was greeted by a Palau government employee who shilled him the country’s recently-launched digital ID program. The guy explained that it was easy to get an ID and change one’s name to pass Binance’s KYC restrictions. We looked into this before we left Paris to see what we could dig up; our investigation is still ongoing. 

Other than a super low-key Polychain-hosted event headlined by Justice, the hottest afterparty ticket in town was for rAAVE, Aave’s late-night soirée held a stone’s throw from the Sacré-Cœur. I didn’t hear about Justice until after the fact but got into rAAVE because I was fast to get to the secret passcode that was revealed during Stani Kulechov’s Lens Protocol talk; others had less luck. Inside was a testament to Aave’s place at the forefront of Ethereumland, with a sea of Aave-branded tees on view whenever the lights went up in place of the dark dancefloor and lasers. At some point, I got talking to someone else who wrote crypto content, and then they left me on the dancefloor to scope out some psilocybin from their friend. Then I realized it was approaching 02:00 and I had to be up for my Eurostar back to London four hours later. Although I stayed later than intended, at times rAAVE felt like more of an upmarket affair in the 8th arrondissement for people who think clubbing involves bottle service and sparklers than the sweaty throwdown it was trying to be (sorry guys, but it’s actually annoying when you clap in time with house music, and why on earth was there a closed-off VIP area if this was meant to be a party?)

For the few days I was at EthCC, I heard little talk of crypto prices. ETH came close to $1,600 during the event after dipping below $900 a month prior, igniting hopes of a possible extended Merge rally. But even after days of ETH outperforming the rest of the market, most people seemed more interested in talking about what they were working on or the development updates announced at the event. Maybe it’s the months-long market slump (ETH is still 66% down from its peak) and widespread “macro” fears, or maybe it’s the exhaustion everyone is feeling from reading about failed Ponzi schemes and reckless leveraged trading. Either way, whether ETH trades a multiple higher, lower, or at its current price in July 2023, Ethereumand EthCCwill still be around. The few thousand believers who flocked to Paris for this week’s conference probably aren’t going anywhere either. 

Disclosure: At the time of writing, the author of this piece owned ETH, AAVE, MATIC, and several other cryptocurrencies. 

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