I was clicking through my instastories earlier this week when an advert popped up for YouTube Music in Residence – a temporary installation in London I hadn’t heard about but which, according to the Dazed promo, was “a four-day event celebrating the UK music scene.”
Coming soon after the launch of the new streaming service YouTube Music, the In Residence series, taking place at London’s 180 The Strand between Thursday June 28 and Sunday July 1, features a mix of live gigs, immersive installations, and talks from leading figures in the music and culture industries.
Dazed, “Pxssy Palace, Crack Stevens & more to appear at YouTube Music: In Residence”
Best of all, tickets were free! Well, as you can imagine I hopped right on that and signed up.
On my way into London on Friday I was a little trepidatious. I wasn’t sure who the event was aimed at exactly. Fans? Musicians? Industry types? I didn’t know anybody else who was going and all I could grasp from the promo literature was that it was a “celebration” accompanying the launch of YouTube Music, YouTube’s new streaming service. As a record collector, I still depend on streaming to sample new music and listen on-the-go. I’m currently a Spotify subscriber but I was keen to see what YouTube had to offer.
Approaching 180 The Strand from Temple station, it occurred to me that I had no idea what to look for. Would it be a hidden back door? Around the side of the building? No, I shouldn’t have worried, for as soon as I turned the corner I saw the great looming shop front, styled gorgeously in matte black with the iconic red YouTube play button and looking pretty imposing. I half-expected to be stopped from going in, but the security were lovely. It wasn’t busy so I gave my name at the front desk and was given a wristband to enter.
Walking through a red and neon optical illusion of a corridor, I then stepped into an empty hall worthy of a sci-fi movie, with a tunnel of flashing white and blue neon bars overhead. The design already had the art lover in me excited, if feeling a little eery as I walked through alone.
Exiting into the main space, I saw that there were a number of installations dedicated to the UK music scene. All-Star Ambition was a lovingly detailed recreation of SB.TV founder Jamal Edwards’ teen bedroom, the very room in which he started a revolution by filming the music that he loved and sharing it on YouTube. From the camcorders and cameras piled up over his desk, to the walls coated in carefully collected flyers and posters, all the while with Ed Sheeran singing in the background, I felt like I was stepping into a real space. I loved this installation, not just because of how well it was put together but also because the idea behind it, of understanding a person through seeing their workspace, is so effective.
Lost In Music was created with Pitchback Playback, a company who put on listening parties in the dark (or as dark as fire safety regulations will allow) playing music in high quality on the kinds of gorgeous cinema soundsystems you’ve only dreamt of for home-listening. I was a given an eyemask to wear and listened to Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy, a classic that I’ve fallen in love with all over again (where can I buy Blue Lines on vinyl…!?). Listening to music in pitch black is a powerful experience, and it did remind me of one of the reasons that I love listening to music on vinyl – your concentration is so purely on the music.
Some of the other installations were museum-worthy as well. Sole II Sole featured trainers made famous by various musicians housed in glass displays and accompanied by listening stations while Instant Classic was an ode to lost club culture, recreating a mini club complete with sunken dance floor, DJ booth and massive soundsystem. They were also playing a documentary above the dancefloor about the history of club culture.
A few steps on and I came to a recreation of the Dublin Castle, a Camden venue made iconic by Madness, Blur and Amy Winehouse. There was a recreation of the pub bar, but better yet a door led to a recreation of the Back Room of the Castle, where there were a number of performers throughout the weekend. I saw Adam French, who I’d also seen at Bushstock Festival last weekend, and Oli Fox – both were excellent!
Wandering through the space I came to the YouTube Music demo area, Essential Shelves. I probably got a little overexcited when I saw all the vinyl displays set up around the tablets and headphones that they were using as listening stations. It was a smart metaphor, comparing the meditative joy of crate digging with music discovery on their app, although I found the most interesting aspect of YouTube Music to be the ability to not only listen easily to the studio recordings, but also to listen to live versions of songs that had been uploaded to YouTube, especially as you could switch to audio-streaming only to save data and listen with the app closed. I think if YouTube Music starts adding other music-related videos (Genius-style lyric breakdown videos, interviews, podcasts etc.) that’s where it will really succeed.
The headliners for this event were the talks and panels in Studio 180, and I was delighted to see Annie Mac interviewed by Jamz in an intimate space. Mac spoke about her music curation process and her experiences forging a career in radio and live performance. I was also lucky to see Nick DeCosemo, former editor of MixMag and now their Global Editorial Director, speak about the history, culture, and lasting impact of acid house – I was amazed that this was a free event as I would have paid good money for that talk alone! Rave has never really been my scene, not for actively disliking it, more out of general ignorance, but DeCosemo’s talk made me eager to explore the history, especially knowing how indie artists like Primal Scream were influenced by it.
Overall, the event was pretty incredible, and I was really impressed by the work that had gone into it. I kept having to remind myself that it had been totally free, and even though it was a promotional event the integration felt natural and complementary. However I did find it a little eery that the event wasn’t full – everyone I spoke to had only found out about it earlier in the week, and it wasn’t really clear who YouTube wanted to be here. Was it for music fans? Bloggers? Musicians wanting to work with YouTube? Mysterious.
In any case, I think I’ll be giving YouTube Music a go – have you tried it out yet? What did you think?