Born in the millennium, I’m part of the generation that finds itself on the cusp between eras of music nostalgia. The 80s and 90s kids had their Walkmans, the 60s and 70s kids had their portable radios, (the generations before had, like, barbershop quartets, probably) 一 but us? We have half-remembered notions of crowding around box television sets, vibing out as Soulja Boy brushes his teeth on MTV to “Turn My Swag On” 一 probably too young to get the lyrics but not too young to sing along. We can picture elementary school friends on the couch chanting Soulja Boy tell ‘em just as vividly as we can picture not-so-later memories: sitting on our best friend’s bedroom floor streaming Vevo on YouTube, feeling every Taylor Swift lyric in our thirteen-year-old hearts. Now at twenty-one, the last music video I watched was by accident, when my finger landed on a small black square while scrolling through Instagram.
Needless to say, the music video watching experience has changed over the years. The screens have gotten smaller, sure 一 from televisions to laptops to tiny rectangles in our hands 一 but the audience has shrunk, too. I can’t remember the last time a group of friends and I crowded around a screen, making an entire event out of a two and a half minute video.
It’s this communal experience 一 this unity of visuals, music, and people 一 that Aerin Fogel and her team at Venus Fest Five wanted to recapture. A Toronto not-for-profit music festival and concert series, Venus Fest celebrated its fifth ongoing year this October with an inventive hybrid of virtual and in-person experiences. Musical artists including Haviah Mighty, Nimkish, Ah-Mer-Ah-Su and others were invited to record live sets, which were then visually interpreted by animators and filmmakers. These collaborative videos premiered at Toronto art gallery the plumb as part of the festival’s in-person event, alongside an ethereal gallery installation from multimedia artist Emily Pelstring.
“The idea,” explained Fogel, Venus Fest Founder and Artistic Director, “was to try to create something that speaks to the way people experience music when it’s not live.” The sentiment definitely landed; from the music and lights gently pulsing behind the plumb’s signature purple door, to the cozy television-projector setup, to the inflatable low couches on the floor 一 it really did feel like I was back in someone’s seventh grade basement, watching our favourite music videos. This design was anything but accidental, Technical Director Cass Beau explains: “Our goal with the technical arrangement and installation this year was to offer viewers an experience that hybridizes attending a concert, a listening party, or watching a music video in your home… to amplify the music experience as well as the visual experience in sort of a synergistic way.”
Expertly curated by Dainesha Nugent-Palache, the music videos themselves were riveting for this same reason, capturing a different sort of unity between senses. It was an unexpectedly intimate experience, witnessing an artist’s unfiltered interpretation of another artist’s work. Filmmaker Julia Hendrickson’s interpretation of Charlotte Cornfield’s autobiographical folk set, for instance, compelled the viewer to watch a near-eight minute video of a woman smiling, laughing, and at times simply staring straight into the camera. For Eve Parker Finley’s minimalist indie pop set, animator Jesi Jordan conjured an entrancing linework animation where unapologetically female bodies shifted back and forth into melting landscapes. Perhaps most politically evocative, media artist Roya DelSol’s video for Haviah Mighty’s set spliced together jittery, textured frames of the Black Lives Matter movement, painting a gritty yet resonant picture of this past year.
“The theme of this year is bridges,” Fogel elaborated, “because it’s our fifth year and in numerology, 5’s tend to represent bridges of some kind.” Fitting for an event that so carefully merged the experiences of music and video, home and concert, and 一 most resonantly 一 alone and togetherness.