I first became aware of Youtube sometime in 2007. Since then, it’s played a consistent part in my media diet. At this point in my life -2019-, I’ve probably watched more Youtube than films and tv shows combined. There’s a lot of throwaway video there (“content”, they call it); stuff made to very mildly keep people’s attention, pass the time and little else; but every now and then I come upon someone making truly exciting stuff; people that invent their own new formats, with original styles and enriching, humane perspectives. I want to highlight five of those people here and try to explain what I find appealing about whatever it is they’re doing.
Nick Currie, or Momus, is a musician and writer. He makes baroque alternative pop music with conflictive instrumentation and a hint of Bowie. Apart from his music videos, he also uploads half hour Open University “lectures”; where he seemingly just picks a topic, turns the camera on and starts talking about it until he runs out of things to say. Unscripted and mostly unedited, these talks are often an assortment of rambling, loosely related thoughts, rich with cultural references and asides, mixed with observations about his own life. He adopts the posture not of someone knowledgeable talking down, but of someone deeply curious trying to put their thoughts in order by speaking to themselves out loud.
He’s educated and critically articulate, which would probably make a scripted version of this intimidating. Instead, he’s just standing in his living room, recording his voice with a phone and talking off the cuff, which makes it feel rather conversational and warm. My cultural and life experience differ greatly from his, so for me, listening to him feels much like reading a good book you weren’t entirely ready for; I don’t understand everything, but the parts that I do I appreciate, and overall I find his perspective illuminating. The lectures work both if you’re paying close attention or if you just have them in the background and tune in occasionally. In the one featured here, he talks about intentionality, whether it matters, and the wonders of the accidental universe opened up by the grammatical error on his mug. Also, a song from his most recent album, Pantaloon.
Porpentine is a videogame developer and writer. She’s made a lot of tiny weird games. They have a sense of the obscure; she makes up a lot of words and uses real ones freely; she basically writes like I wish I could. Aanyway, apart from her writing on and in videogames, she has a Youtube channel where she uploads little slice of life short videos. There are a lot of videos similar to these on Youtube, mostly old and with few views; they’re an early internet video aesthetic which now you would more likely find on fleeting Instagram stories. She has a singular vision and a nice voice; I don’t know, there’s something simultaneously soothing and mysterious about her persona that runs through all these seemingly innocuous videos. Here, she hangs out with a snail, talks about a sandwich she made, and follows a balloon down the street. This is what the internet was made for.
Brian Jordan Alvarez
Brian Jordan Alvarez is an actor, writer and director. His videos are an evolution of the comedy skits you’d find on Youtube in the early days; short, half improvised, and clearly filmed by a group of friends on their free time. It just so happens that his friends are actors and also hilarious. An abundance of non-sequiturs, extremely fast paced editing style, anthemic use of music and surprisingly frank subject matter are all markers of his stuff being on the cutting edge of current comedy. He’s a gay man living in Los Angeles, and that’s what his videos explore, through a kind of auto-fiction that’s both genuine and playfully imaginative.
His show The Gay And Wondrous Life Of Calleb Gallo is probably the best encapsulation of that vision, but his many short sketches are also great. More recently, he’s been uploading another kind of video, where he dances around in his living room or kitchen in an improvised way. He really dances like nobody is watching! To be witness to something so private is oddly touching, like being let in on a secret.
Tim Rogers is a writer, game developer and more recently video producer for the website Kotaku dot com. He’s renowned in the videogame world for creating very long pieces of writing where openly vulnerable autobiographical fiction and meticulously analytical cultural criticism seamlessly and not so seamlessly intertwine. His proudly indulgent idiosyncrasy has evolved to adapt to the growing audience for internet video, where he has adopted a kind of radio persona with a distinctly more accessible style that still retains the qualities of his old work. More than ever, his creations are bad jokes at face value, heart-breakingly honest on a second reading and hilariously life-affirming on a third.
The fact that he talks about videogames is almost entirely tangential; his videos are games in themselves; thought experiments and exercises in wordplay. In his most recent output, a monumental eleven-part video series, he minutely compares the English translation of Final Fantasy VII to the original Japanese script. All the while, he points out the mistakes, but he also offers a detailed breakdown of why those mistakes where made, explaining the nuances of both languages, suggesting alternative translations, and talking about his own experiences with localization, game development in Japan and this particular videogame’s significance in his life. In another video, he recounts the events that take place in the Western-inspired videogame Red Dead Redeption while doing a cowboy intonation and using time-appropriate vocabulary.
Ed Stockham is an artist, animator, musician and god knows what else. He does little abstract diaries and music videos that mix animation, physical drawings and live video. It’s all brimming with positivity, vulnerability and imagination gone wild; he’s basically an adult that never stopped doodling. He’s moved away from animation recently but what he has put out there already is a wonderful library of DIY masterpieces. In a world where vanity and cruelty so often populate the undercurrents of art and everything else, finding a bunch of videos where those things are nowhere to be seen is like taking a deep breath of fresh air.