Since its founding just slightly over a decade ago, YouTube has built a cultural empire, pioneering the new, visual way we communicate in the digital age. That’s an emphasis on digital, though; enterprising people have found stardom- and with them caused YouTube’s brand to rise- shooting videos guerrilla style, out of bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms and backyards. Now, in a truly 21st Century twist, the company is building a series of brick and mortar YouTube Spaces to give back to these creators by offering them a physical space to meet and work, bringing their community together off-line, in real time.
Opened in late 2014, the New York YouTube Space, one of eight Spaces worldwide, is a spacious, two story complex housed in the upper floors of Chelsea Market, with editing rooms, a sound recording studio, a range of production studios, and even a few (surreal to stumble upon) permanent sets, from a boardroom to a New York style diner, not mention a fully decked out dressing room. It also boasts ample hangout space, highlighting YouTube’s intention – as my chipper guide told me – to foster community. Though you “unlock” privileges to use certain production spaces (believe it on not, for free) based on the number of followers you have, many aspects of the space are open to all, including talks, classes and other one off events (head to their website here for more info.)
I dropped in for Music Monday, a newly launched monthly series, to see Laura Gibson and VÉRITÉ, a bill booked as a belated celebration/continuation of International Women’s Month. Though neither of the evening’s performers launched their careers through YouTube, the theme of strong, talented women rang clear in two very different, but equally engrossing performances.
Laura Gibson, who can uniquely boast that she was the inspiration behind NPR’s beloved “Tiny Desk” Concert Series, took the stage first. The show got off to a bumpy start thanks to some technical troubles, but in the end the awkward intro only made the sudden, entrancing echo of her vocals all the more startling and satisfying. Gibson has an unassuming, almost shy presence on the stage, but though her vocals are delicate and her lyrics are often achingly intimate, she controls her music with a real sense of precision. Her three piece backing band was impressively adept as well, all except the drummer swapping instruments several times throughout the set. On some pieces I found myself wishing I could hear her alone with her acoustic guitar, but on other tracks, such as the upbeat “Two Kids,” the band helped to flesh out her indie-folk-pop sound.
An MFA student in Fiction Writing at Hunter College in the city, her keen observations about various aspects of the human experience are emotionally laden and can be, at times, painfully evocative. “We are not alone and we are more alone than we’ve ever been,” she sings on “Empire Builder,” the title track of her latest album, which was just released on April 1st. Between tracks, she explained that album takes its name from the cross country train of the same title. When Gibson enrolled at Hunter, she took the train on her journey from her native Seattle to New York. Many of the emotions she contemplates on the album are culled from the strangeness of the liminal space, as she called it, that exists between making a major, life changing decision and living in that decision; in her case, that space was the three day train journey from her old home in the West to her new life awaiting in the East.
As if that change wasn’t scary enough, Gibson’s apartment was destroyed in last year’s East Village gas explosion, along with all of her belongings, which included notebooks filled with musical ideas. The album revels in and wrestles with the ensuing tension between happy and sad, growth and nostalgia, among many other contradictions of adulthood. She writes on her website, “I wanted to explore that charge for change within myself, but also grapple honestly with the consequences of such self-change… It is about wanting to be a badass strong woman, but also wanting to rip myself open in order to nurture and care for people.” If the short set I was privileged to preview is any indication, she has not only survived the hardships and changes, she has woven them into a beautiful piece of art.
VÉRITÉ, up next and last, owned the stage from the moment she stepped foot on it, stomping and twisting her way around the small performance space in leather shorts, doc martens and a metallic, fringed jacket. “I’m pretty ridiculously stoked to have you here,” she offered sincerely. Backed by a drummer and synth/keys, she had two microphones to herself, which she used to live loop her songs, leading to a perplexing (technically speaking, for a neophyte like myself) but stunning set of songs in which she harmonized with herself, occasionally in three or four parts.
Unlike the timeless, introspective quality of Gibson before her, VÉRITÉ played the role of the party girl pop-star, bubbly and chatty as she tore through a run of songs about youth, love, lust and partying– all catchy, and many of them dance floor approved (“Weekend,” her most unabashedly pro-party anthem, has already been remixed by Penguin Prison). But her radio-ready, or more accurately, viral hits also belie a dark, almost nihilistic sensibility when it comes to what, in other hands, might feel like cliched themes. In “Underdressed,” which currently has well over 100,000 plays on SoundCloud, she intones with a no-bullshit sense of both honesty and urgency; “Everything means everything and nothing means nothing. So why hide your expletives under your breath? Cause all you ever wanna do is take all my clothes off.” Her smoky voice stands out on each track, and on “Colors,” she showcases an impressive penchant for trills.
Though the crowd for the event fleshed out a bit for this second performance, including people who trickled out from various editing rooms around the space to find out what the commotion was, it was, overall, a sedate group. That didn’t seem to phase VÉRITÉ, though, who grinned as she said her goodbyes. “Well, you guys have been a shitload of fun. My name is VÉRITÉ, and hopefully we meet again sometime in the near or distant future.”
Undoubtedly, we’ll all be seeing more of both Gibson and VÉRITÉ, on YouTube and well beyond.