One has to wonder what YouTube has become. Logang; their derivatives; rambling alt-right pseudo-podcasts… copyright strikes on the oppressed, advertising of the damned. The site’s cultural impact has always been under some kind of scrutiny (Bo Burnham, perhaps once the poster-boy of this imagined former YouTube, did a whole song about it back in the site’s ostensible heyday), and of course, internet-based stratification has erased any total endings when it comes to medium and movements— surely there’s a circle of small-time vloggers, somewhere on the site, that’s having the time of their lives— but the sense some moment centred around YouTube has ended persists, in a handful of fan narratives at least.
This falls into a wider quandary: the internet is no longer ‘punk’. In Charles Whalley’s essay “This Has Been a Blue/Green Message: Exiting the Social World”, the author refers to the term ‘post-internet’ which, rather than implying the internet’s end, refers to an epochally current moment in which the internet has become “something that passes over us rather than something we surf over […] as the internet flattens into reality, the novelty, fear and excitement fade”. In other words, what was once the domain of quirky subculture and avant-garde chatrooms, set against the backdrop of libertarian notions naive enough to be exciting (#Occupy, anti-copyright, blackouts in the name of abolishing SOPA…), have exponentially expanded to lodge itself in nearly every core facet of contemporary life. The internet has become mainstream.
Which begs the question… where next? If the digital world is a marketplace, where and when will the next ‘punk’ wave arise from? YouTube has steadily become an inherently corporate space, and so any resistance to this problem that arises from the site faces the daunting challenge of capitalist realism— how to forge genuine alternatives in a totalising system? Which leads to acknowledging capitalism is a hydra/the wide reach of market “ontology”/ Guy Fawkes masks made in a Chinese factory/etcetera. Which helps nobody.
I mention this because I wouldn’t define the current/inevitable next wave of YouTube-based British artists around the site, unlike the main topic of this essay, since their scope and collective genius will (hopefully) transcend the limits of the website. I’d rather define them by the more general term of the ‘Incandescent Generation’, an alternative to “Gen. Z”, the latter of which I feel is hopelessly terminal— but I’ll expand on that in a different essay. If we’re to define a new internet-punk we have to look at what’s just come before, defining them around the site, and see what highlights that were there can be viewed as signifiers of our ideal cultural direction. If our counterculture is to regress let’s look at this lionised “era” of YouTube, one remembered as “purer” and around creativity, rather than the current throes of clicks and algorithm.
New British YouTube (NBY) operated primarily between 2010 – 2015. As the name suggested, it blossomed in Britain, primarily London, though there was always the constant of transatlantic collaboration. I would also consider it to be a digital version of the “New British Wave” in the early ‘60s, both concurrent and after of the more renowned French counterpart. The “newness” of NBY comes from living after their precursors, the likes of ZeFrank and VlogBrothers (examples which arose from the U.S.) exploded to recognition, although there was a lot of overlap between the two group of creators. It can also be defined in contrast to the other American sets of YouTube creators at the time, people who in many ways sparked the website’s current state: Annoying Orange. Fred. Tobuscus. In North America, YouTube was already becoming “the new television” corporations and managing agencies wanted it to be; the NBY aesthetic was its antonym. New British YouTube ended in a cocktail of sexual abuse allegations (a prologue of sorts to #MeToo), the death of Vine (leading to a mass-exodus of vapid “content creators” migrating to pillage YouTube) and fall-outs between movement figures (as per any movement, history seems to imply).
As for the movement’s style, its quintessence can be found in Christopher Bingham’s biannual project Past Bing/ Future Bing. The conceit is genius: in 2011, every other day Christopher made a video, in which he conversed with his future self, in 2012. A year later, “Future Bing” responded and uploaded a video on the other day, along with Past Bing’s entries. For the year past and future weaved together on the hosting channel, bingradio. By completing this project, Bing did nothing less than raise the form of the vlog to an unprecedented creative and conceptual level.
I would describe the visual style of PB/FB and NBY as mid-fi. On the one hand, the camera quality of NBY is pristine to layman’s eyes. The movement’s progenitors were film students, and so have digital cameras that can capture footage in HD at the very least. They also have a mean eye to shot composition and arrangement, too. Unlike their precursors, who’s videos rarely rose above 480p in quality, on a basic and fundamental level NBY videos look good. We’re not watching the pixels of OK GO jump between treadmills, here. NBY is on a level of technical excellence.
Yet NBY’s videos do not emulate professional productions, unlike their American parallels. In terms of content, from subject matter to editing, the movement is lo-fi, in everything but technology. It’s singular filmmakers, or a handful of them, working hard on short homemade work. This especially comes across in PB/FB, which one could describe as a documentarian take on mumblecore, detailing the bittersweet tribulations of urbane twenty-somethings experiencing the post-collegiate world. NBY synthesised high quality with low-fidelity method, capturing an indie essence unique to the 21st century. This leads to a mixing of absurdity and earnestness, which I find speaks to broader trends like New Sincerity. One of the most viewed of the PB/FB entries is about the funeral of Bing’s close friend and acclaimed animator Edd Gould. One scene shows Bing and his friends, sitting heartbroken, as Neil Ciciegra’s jolly Brodyquest plays in the background. “This is so bizarre,” Christopher says. “Today is… stupid.”
The seriality of PB/FB is what makes it so unique. Here, Bing has formed explicit continuum for treating the vlog as a snapshot of the past, an aspect it is already accredited for— how many halcyon days have been captured by teenagers, in small-town pockets across the nation, set to woozy filters and lo-fi electroswing and artificial lens flare? In the former half of the ‘10s, Christopher Bingham set a standard for whole swathes of youth, members of the aforementioned Incandescent Generation.
The overlap between the two is definitely worth mention; those I would class as part of New British YouTube are still creating, some as (if not more) proficiently. In fact, I would argue that the movement’s endgame masterwork was released only three months ago.
Like a Dog or A Boat, you tether it is Myles Wheeler’s return to YouTube after two years and, along with They Call Him Hinge Joint, I believe to be his best work. A lot of his videography corresponds to the NBY aesthetic I’ve just outlined, being mid-fi and capturing a youthful sense of bittersweet melancholy, though Myles’ style stands out. He might just be the last of his kind in the YouTube of today, really— who else could make a poetics out of home-video tactics and gaffes like when, in Every Fuzz a Field (and something you said), flare renders the entire sky white, before fading to its blue detail, when the sun disappears behind a cloud?
Those moments, half-spontaneous and half-mediated to vlog form, a mixture of stand-up, monologue, documentary, narrative short-film and tongue-in-cheek surrealism, lead to an idiosyncratic style worth cherishing. It’s a filmography that only thrives in the medium of YouTube, due to their rapid pace and leftfield narrative structures, often pogoing in and out of their incoherent chronologies.
For example, a central motif in Like a Dog or A Boat, you tether it is Myles’ being locked out of his flat. Most of the film’s non-fictional content comes from the chronological progression to footage after this, but sudden scene-shifts return to Myles’ irreverent reactions to his error constantly. This digital quickening and breaking of time reminds me of flicking between browser tabs at an intense speed, a style that would have rendered films of the 20th century nonsensical. But, situated on YouTube, the rapidity works. Rather than distancing himself from the site (as many have understandably done; beloved booktuber Bazpierce bowed out recently, lamenting at the state of what was once a cherished part of his adolescence), Myles’ work begs to be understood in the lens of NBY— it’s a noble exemplification of its previous virtues, and so reclamation, of a corporate medium.
What’s the point of defining a minor movement like New British YouTube, if it’s so slippery and vague? I don’t intend to be authoritative in analysing video culture of the immediate past, but rather hope that, in being retrospective for the first half of this decade, schemata for ‘reclaiming’ a meaningful YouTube become visible, however vague or minor the impact. Rather than being comprehensive (I haven’t even touched on Kyhan!) my intention here is to catalyse discussion about the just-past so we can figure out a new alternative, be it within our Incandescent Generation or otherwise.
I think it’s worth mentioning that, be it for the sake of metanarrative or the digital quickening of time, the progeny of NBY themselves imply their movement has ended. In his video _25_, Bing visits a German internet-video convention and muses on the halcyon days of London’s YouTube Space: at the time of release, a whole 20 months ago. “It was such an exciting time to be a YouTuber in London,” he says. “That place buzzed every day I was there. […] It was truly a unique little moment in time and space.”
True, film movements usually last for only a handful of years before becoming absorbed into the mainstream, but I wonder what NBY could have been like if not for this attitude, and the cocktail of circumstances that ended it circa 2015. And so it appears a moment has passed. An undefined spectre.
Burnham, Bo welcome to youtube. (boburnham, 2008)
Whalley, Charles “This Has Been A Blue/Green Message: Exiting the Social World”, The Poetry Review (105:2 Summer, 2015)
Bingham, Christopher “Future Bing –Edd’s Funeral 2012.04.10”, Past Bing/Future Bing (bingradio, 2011 – 2013)
Wheeler, Myles Like a Dog or A Boat, you tether it (itsamemyleo, 2018)
Wheeler, Myles They Call Him Hinge Joint (itsamemyleo, 2015)
Wheeler, Myles Every Fuzz a Field (and something you said) (itsamemyleo, 2018)
Pierce, Barry Bazpierce (2011 – 2018) (Bazpierce, 2011)
Bingham, Christopher 25 (Christopher Bingham, 2015)
Music plays an interesting role throughout NBY. Future Bing’s entry “Love Receptionist” is a hilarious parody of the faux-serious dance-punk craze happening around the same time of its release, while his choices throughout all of PB/FB are mid-fi: originating from Bandcamp, they strike as somewhere between professional studio and bedroom-bound software. You can’t tell the difference. I can’t really think of anywhere else to put this point, and I don’t have an editor(!), so thought I would just leave this little observation at the end.