Monday, 20 August 2012

Fangirls in the City: SiTC 2012

Photo - Lewis Shaw

“This stinks. This stinks of sweat, and fan girls.” They’re Kaiman’s words to me – it’s a hot and hectic day in London town, and we’re just leaving Summer in the City.
Back in 2009, Summer in the City started in Hyde Park as an annual, decidedly popular and now much imitated gathering of the fans and stars of YouTube. It was a chance for people to make friends, meet the people they spent so much time procrastinating watching, and of course to spend ridiculous amounts of money on train tickets. Whilst many things like it have happened before and after Summer in the City’s genesis, there are a number of things that make it different from the crowd – namely a regular A-list of YouTube stars who’ve generally attended from the outset.
Having only attended gatherings similar to it, my expectations are set decidedly high as I sit on the  hour-long train journey to London - the event being surrounded by an air of positivity from friends who have been before. Whether it lives up to its reputation or not, seeing old friends for the first time is set to be a high in my summer, especially after getting both my A-level results and a tooth extracted in one day yesterday. At Liverpool Street I learn that Fizzy and Kaiman – whose house I am sleeping at tonight – are late, and I meet up with three new people staying with me: Jodie, ex-scene kid from Essex, and two globetrotters from Colorado, US – Dylan and Masala – the latter of whom I affectionately nickname ‘Tikka’.
Kaiman and Fizzy – who kept up to her renowned ‘communication faster than the speed of light’ – turn up, Kaiman blaming their timing on Fizzy brushing her teeth and Fizzy blaming it on Kaiman needing a massive shit. Reserving judgement, our motley crew of mixed nationalities – Jodie turning out to be half-German as well – jump on a tube train to Barbican, where Summer in the City is about to begin its first year in an actual venue and not outside.
The venue is decidedly swanky – big brick walls and porters with suits and bowler hats indicate that perhaps the organisers are taking Summer in the City into new realms of professionalism, reminiscent of the fabled Vidcon in the US – transgressing somehow, from a gathering and into a convention. No tickets just yet, but there’s a queue to get in that you simply don’t get in Hyde Park.
Photo - Lewis Shaw

As we get in for our first day of SiTC goodness, it quickly occurs to us that things have changed, but in a recognisably good way. Walking through the lobby of what could easily pass off as a Bond-movie style hotel, friendly women in matching black dresses hand us YouTube emblazoned Ray Bans and direct us to the free smoothie bar and laptops, conveniently not too far from the ball pit where you can get free t-shirts. At this point you might expect me to write ‘I wish I could say I was joking’ – but I don’t wish I was joking. Because it was awesome.
Walking around the (rather large) venue things seemed monumentally different to park-style gatherings – sexy-sound-equipment is played upon by the regular onslaught of delightfully mannered and talented musicians, pre-plays of FIFA 13 and Resident Evil 6 are available to play, and the floor is suddenly a more popular seating option. Doubts from veteran gathering-goers about the sudden rise in fan girls and drop in actual YouTubers are in the air, but effectively nulled by the skilful awesome-party-throwing by the organisers.
Photo - Lewis Shaw

The day rolls out in the way you might expect a roll of carpet to if it was a metaphor for the internet – fan girls, memes, free stuff - and actual living internet that you can reach out and touch - being around every corner. Friends are made, humorous t-shirts are laughed at, and everything generally goes nicely, except for the one rule that if you go outside the venue for a smoke or for food, you have to queue up all over again – a weird rule, considering nobody paid for tickets, but one accepted nonetheless, not wanting to argue with the security guard who looked like Tinie Tempah (Am I right, or am I right?).
For a multitude of reasons, none of our group can make the gig in the evenings, so we roll out early to the Americans’ hotel near Bond Street: a surreal experience that culminates in setting off alarms in the most expensive hotel I’ve ever been in, taking vodka from a mini fridge that makes you pay for everything you take out, getting in bed with my first Essex girl (I’m sorry, but banter) and eating my first Lucky Charms out of the box in one of the world’s most expensive shopping districts.
Stressing that Tikka and Dylan have to stop being tourists at some point, we override their protests and take them to Kaiman’s house in East Ham – the ‘real London’, where we tell them all about rapes and riots and stuff whilst we walk through a pitch black path running through an estate. Things get weird as I try to sleep – Carlsberg calls me to bed but we have Netflix on – we start with British comedy, The Inbetweeners, and move on, in a surprising twist, to Thomas the Tank Engine, one of the few kids programmes whose theme tune makes a good rap beat.
In the morning, groggy and tired, we wake up late and make the pilgrimage back across the class divide into the swank of Barbican, finding a long queue outside of the venue full of disgruntled faces. A three hour wait we’re told, made only slightly better by managing to jump in where internet bro Conor recognises us. A famous YouTuber – who I shall not name because I name-drop him enough – was near us, but swiftly disappeared in a puff of stardom.
Photo - Twitter

The news tells me it’s the hottest day of the year so far, and I’m feeling it, slapping on the sun-cream as we settle down for the wait. The line moves slowly, but in a blur reminding us that we’re surrounded by people who have similar interests to us – a blur of Mexican waves, games of Ninja and impromptu Pok√©mon sing-alongs. It’s a hot day, and although we’re jovially making our own fun, it’s also an opportunity for doubts about the changes made this year.
It seems to me - sitting and talking with Conor and other veteran Summer in the City goers – that the move from gathering to convention, whilst all very fun and professional, is very unlike Batman: it’s what the majority of people want – namely the influx of fan girls and younger kids – but not necessarily what we need. Conor reminisces to when you could sit down with a successful YouTuber in a park and have a good honest conversation with him, without him being mobbed by fan girls – a position which, I would like to clarify, is particularly unpleasant if what you do best is making videos in your bedroom.
Photo - Lewis Shaw

Once we get inside, the party has lost some of the power that it had the day before, and the hot weather and considerable rise in people from yesterday brings us to sit down and talk instead of run around meeting people. One image sticks in my head: a pair of doors in the main hall upstairs, surrounded by fan girls, a mob of crazies who don’t seem to understand that the fabled VIP room behind the doors isn’t some sort of Hollywood A-listers party, but more of a blank room with scared YouTubers drinking bottles of water. Whilst I’m sure everyone who gets it is in some way grateful, the only person who seems to actively enjoy it is Sam Pepper – who if you haven’t heard of, just imagine the epitome of guys you would love to punch in the face. I’m not a very violent minded person, but we all agree that Summer in the City would be better if Pepper was ‘silently eliminated’ and his riotous attraction of 14 year olds dispersed.
As the day draws to a close, I meet up with some YouTubers as they escape the crowds, and whilst they put a brave face on for anyone asking questions, you can overhear their quietened protests to how the event has changed. Something YouTubers are often able to do is put a happy face on something – it’s not expected of a comedian to raise an issue or criticise, especially when his or her views are at stake.
That, I guess, is where I come in in my own way. As I bid goodbye to my travelling friends who I’m not to see for another year, and get on the train home, by head is thumping with a migraine and torn between how I write this post. There’s so many choices to make – whether I wax lyrical for two thousand words about how my friends are awesome and the party was amazing and namedrop non-stop (Which you’ll notice I haven’t done once) or whether I should actually confront the issue that stared me in the face on sweaty Saturday.
In their own way, the organisers of the event definitely deserve commendation – having run events like this before myself, I’m in awe of how they managed several thousand teenagers with so few hiccups. Whilst changes to the SiTC format are enjoyable, it’s not what people are used to, and a gathering of friendly people who won’t try and pull out your hair to sell on e-Bay seems lost forever, whether it’s a case of the wrong people being invited, the way the event is organised, or people not seeing their internet idols as people too.
Whatever has changed for all this to happen, I enjoyed myself at Summer in the City – I enjoyed seeing all the talent and fun and nerdiness all congregating once again – but if I’m honest, I can’t wait until I see everyone again. Just in a park this time.
- Lewis