Off-Duty: Serious Glamage at Vice Upfront

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ADOTAS – Roaming around ridiculously ornate bank-turned-event-hall Skylight One Hanson, passing clusters of hip partygoers (is ironic prep or unironic prep in fashion now?), I feel a strange apprehension circling my system. There are famous people here, I think — people of some kind of renown that Vice magazine has coaxed out to its first upfront.

Musicians, actors, socialites — I’m walking among them, but I don’t recognize them. I’m terrible at the “OMG, it’s a celebrity!” game  — I was sitting a few rows away from Jake Gyllenhaal at a play two years ago, but had no clue until my date told me after the show.

Take, for example, that tall and skinny flannel-wearing white dude, who must have doused his asymmetrically cut gray hair in a bucket of product before coming over — is that some elder indie rock statesman whose band provided background music for my college drinking? Or is he the barista at the cafe that makes really good mochas? (He could be both…)

Or that black couple dressed to the nines (we’re talking matching designer suit and dress) — is that some hiphop power duo I’ve seen on a magazine cover? What about the strung-out looking chick with a piercing clavicle and sunglasses on despite the dim lighting — have I seen her emaciated body wearing only underwear on a billboard on Canal? What about those two incredibly buff guys only in their undies… Oh, they’re just promoting an underwear company called P!Kante (get it?).

Because I’m covering this event (on duty for Adotas Off-Duty), I want to know, I gotta know who’s who — I need hot pictures for our party section. Somehow as editor-in-chief of a trade blog, I’ve been roped into the paparazzi. The real photographers — the ones with multi-thousand dollar camera equipment vs. me with my iPhone — are out in force and seem pretty confused about who is film-worthy (rather, hard-drive worthy). As I’m leaning on a pillar, jotting down notes (in my BlueKai notepad, which is slimmer than the eXelate one), I notice a snapper assume the position, capture my visage and scurry away before I can say, “No, I’m just a lowly journalist!”

Or am I celebrity just for being here? I’m curious if I blend in with the hipster masses with my smart haircut, beard leaning on overgrown, skinny jeans hugging skinny legs and a 16-ounce Grolsch bottle sticking out of my blue velvet blazer (that I bought at Target years ago).

In the VIP section I see the only celebrity I recognize — Nick Zinner, guitarist for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and one of several guest DJs for Vice’s event. Fortunately, he’s had the same immaculate black coif for about 10 years now, so he’s easy to recognize. I’ll mistake a flannel-wearing guy for a member of Black Lips later on. This celebrity spotting game is quite flustering.

The wife shakes her head at my highly apparent apprehension. “Amore,” she purrs with her Italian accent, “you are not having fun!”

I smirk back. “Hey, I’m here for work,” I reply.

“No, this is a party. This is amazing!”

She has a point — it’s a glam, glam, glam affair, with giant balloons (and I mean giant — you could fit several adults inside these) floating by the extremely high ceiling. This elegant bank-no-more has been aptly mutated into a swank affair by the magazine proudly devoted to sex, drugs and rock’n’roll (well, more now, but we’ll talk about that later).

“It’s like a bank, but the tellers are giving away booze!” I hear one amazed guest say. It’s true — Vice has turned every teller station (and there are many) into well-stocked bars. Caterers make the rounds with delicious pulled-pork sliders that feature hint of south of the border thanks to local joint/mobile Mexicue.

“This really is a Vice party, baby!” I overhear from a girl wearing black fishnets covered in what looks like gray spraypaint. And a Vice party is something I am not used to in the least.

Soaking it all in, I smile at the wifey this time instead of smirking. Technically it’s our one-week anniversary, and I have to admit I feel like we’re a couple of jet-setting socialites — I was invited to the Vice party as press while she’s got a blue VIP wristband as the plus-one of our friend Gaia, who works at an agency Vice was trying to woo. Why should I let work get in the way of being a celebrity for the night?

Upfront or Affront?

Fortunately, there’s this fuel for good times called alcohol, and Vice happens to be giving it away. But, wait, wait — there’s an actual reason why Vice invited all these people out and is loading them up with free booze. Suddenly the lights dim even further (from “seedy” to “Moroccan love den”?) and the screen on stage flashes the word “PORN” in red and white. Four girls in bikinis strut on stage and dance before the screen as Vice founder Shane Smith and President Andrew Creighton enter from opposite sides.

Is this an upfront or an affront? The latter seems more Vice’s style. Or maybe Vice is finally crossing over from naughty into hardcore. No, it’s just an introduction that plays homage to possibly the most successful industry online: porn.

“Everything about online video we learned from porn,” Smith explains, but it goes further than that. Vertical organization, SEO, geo- and behavioral targeting — all these online media tools have their roots and have been used profitably in online pornography. In other words, Smith is claiming he has studied the masters — even if those masters purvey products with descriptive terms such as “barely legal” and “hot group action” — and advertisers will be impressed by Vice’s fighting style.

The news itself is a two-part affair — first, the publishing company has finally secured Vice.com and is relaunching both its normal website and its VBS video channel on the domain. The publisher has been stuck on Viceland.com for more than 10 years as Vice.com was a porn site that put an extraordinarily high price tag on its domain — until business went south, that is, and Vice scooped up the URL for cheap.

The second piece involves breaking Vice’s online content into a series of verticals — Style, Food, Travel, Sports, etc. — to lure in advertisers looking to target via context. In addition, Vice previews several upcoming online video series, including branded content from the likes of Mini and Vitamin Water.

However, the vertical Smith is trying hardest to sell is Vice News. I’m surprised to find out that the company has 34 offices worldwide and 3,000 contributors; its numerous reporters have published guerilla journalism pieces from the hottest news spots over the last year: Libya, Egypt — even North Korea.

As Smith notes (and I agree), the young people scanning the Internet increasingly despise the mainstream media and are seeking alternative sources for (hopefully) unfiltered news. Vice News wants to be the premier alternative outlet, offering oft-updated, professionally shot and edited news content spearheaded by edgy reporters (which I take means you have a beard and longish hair… Wait a second, that’s my look…). This vertical also includes content-sharing partnerships with Huffington Post, Der Spiegel, El Pais and more.

So for advertisers seeking those coveted millennials and willing to go for gusto, Vice will be supplying the ambitious kind of content you want to monetize against. “Bango,” Smith repeats again and again.

Live and Loud

With that out of the way — completed with the toast, “It’s drinkey time!” — the music portion of the night begins. Even though they had some early technical difficulties, the DJ set by southern indie punks Black Lips is pretty tight and varied, jumping from old-school hiphop to olden goldies.

Their spinning is interrupted by an odd video ad for cloud music service Boinc (from News Corp.-backed Beyond Oblivion) that mashed a parody of a gospel sermon with the opening credits of “Star Wars.” Animated red dots with unsettling facial expressions sat in the pews as the pompadour-laden “Reverend Boinc” explains the sad history of digital music distribution and how Boinc’s cloud music service had arisen as the savior. (Does that make Spotify a false prophet?)

Following a forgettable electronic duo that over-eagerly channeled The Smiths (I couldn’t believe how many times I overheard the phrase, “Wow, these guys suck” coming from the crowd near the stage) comes reunited Canadian bass-and-drum duo Death From Above 1979. Years ago I saw these guys open for Queens of the Stone Age, and a lackluster soundsystem made the rhythm-section-as-band sound like mud. It’s deja-vu-all-over-again at the Vice upfront, but I have to compliment the duo’s energy and drummer-singer’s Sebastien Grainger mighty pipes, which offer the only audible melody during their set.

Downstairs in the bank’s old vault is a bit more my styte — a younger crowd obviously garbed in thriftware bobs their heads to spins from white-tuxedo-clad DJ Andrew Green and live music from local bands like Nintendo-core enthusiasts Anamanaguchi. Also quite interesting is a set from Hanni El Khatib, known for his cover of Funkadelic’s “I Got a Thing,” which appeared in a Nike commercial.

Sadly, I can’t stay for “Teflon Don” Rick Ross or NYC’s hipper-than-hip hardcore/Krautrock/[insert cool rock subgenre here] group The Men — the wife and I are exhausted playing celebrity and require some sleep before transforming back into boring-old career types. But I have plenty of photos to remind me I was one of the beautiful people for a night:

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