Entertainment venues, like any other industry trying to be relevant by 2010, need to address the importance of attracting youth culture markets, namely 13-25-year-olds. First off, this generation has greater spending power than any other previous generation at $165 billion in the U.S. alone; they are the primary influencers of trends in fashion, music, sports, art, technology, and entertainment. This generation adopts trends at lightening speed, starting from local inspirations which spread like air on fire in this age of mobile phones and internet access, and the viral effectiveness of word-of-mouth communication across youth markets.
However after more than 15 years attending various fashion runway shows, events, store openings, including hosting our own events and working with sponsors of a variety of the top music tours in the country, we continue to be surprised by the lack of foresight and inspiration many “venue” producers have when it comes to youth culture. We’ve seen proof of concepts from agencies that look good on paper, but in no way are attractive to the demographic they’re trying to target on-site (for which then blame often extends to the activation people rather than the agency for not understanding the campaign in a “real world” setting).
To be relevant to young people, it takes looking at the world with fresh eyes. Thinking for a moment, like they do. Young people have a limited sense of history and tend to believe they’re inventing things that no one has ever done before. In consumer-driven countries, young people are passionate and hopeful about their future, yet cynical and seek excitement and acceptance that’s relevant to their lives. Communication with others is paramount and discovery is a motivating factor. This discovery is also why interaction tends to work best.
Youth today are also a multi-tasking generation, extremely mobile, and expect some kind of control on their entertainment, whether it be owning DVD’s, PSPs, Sidekicks, an iPhone, or the ability to change the ending of the movie (Machinima) or video game (The Sims) or create their own fashion avatar (H&M and Second Life). To them, preferable entertainment is not a one-way street dictated from the stage or the center of the arena or the runway. It’s surround-sound, mashed-up, interactive, multi-layered. Like an inverse pyramid, consumer control from youth markets comes from the bottom-up and will continue to challenge traditional ways of doing business.
Let’s get specific. By the very nature of youth who rarely have access, much less the knowledge or money, for the opera, theatre, the ballet, runway shows, their trends and ideas tend to come from utilitarian means: that which is available to them, inspired from the streets or their surroundings with transcending themes of music, sports, fashion, entertainment, and technology. (It is widely known among those of us who work in youth markets that people with the least amount of economic resources often create the most interesting styles, i.e. hip-hop and punk cultures.) Therefore, the styles and preferences of young people result in a collage-effect, very DIY (Do It Yourself), and a completely individual ensemble that is far more creative and expressive than older generations.
“We are living in a time of interfaces,” event producer Marcus Kurz from Berlin once said when talking about the subject of “modern theater.” This is especially the case of youth culture today, moving up into the ranks of primary participants of activities via venues. Interestingly, attention to details is often one of the missing links in reaching this marketplace. For example, the Girls Garage on the Vans Warped Tour, a musical tour that hosts 8 stages and some 70 booths that vie for the attention of attendees, is one of the coolest locations attracting hordes of people because it gives participants the opportunity to quickly create their own T-shirts in a pop-up “chop shop.” Not only is it interactive, of course, but the various art supplies available from specific colored spray paint, crystals, and attention to stencils, patches, and other items are attractive to the demographic and are completely in line with the age group.
On the other hand, over-sampled areas and venues become absolute clutter, especially to a marketplace that has an extremely fast-paced attention span (although it can be longer if they’re interested). This also applies to many traditionally structured fashion shows. Take runways for example. Some simply sparkle because they’re short, have many surprises, and the set-up, the room or venue beforehand, has the details to make the experience transformative. One such area is the Pool Fashion Trade Show warehouse that seasonally is transformed into a space they call “Loop” with different themes that capture the brands they’re showcasing. Last year, for designers behind the brand Skin.Graft.Design not only had a wild west themed runway, but the entire warehouse was transformed with artwork of a fairytale quality, collages, small nooks for attendees to wander into and see perhaps, a tiny installation, pinhole theatre, mobiles to draw attention to unused spaces, corners, and nooks. It takes also translating that theme to the bartenders or workers of the event, the uniforms that present the theme and cohesive element to the venue. Lighting is crucial and when executed correctly, such as the Joop! Fashion show and Vivienne Westwood show during Berlin Fashion Week last year, can make a world of difference.
When it comes to recreating “space” outdoors, this too has different meaning to youth culture markets versus others. Take Krumping for example. Krumping is the ghetto art, dance, and language of a new generation of urban defiance coming out of the notorious area of South-Central Los Angeles. Krumping, which was captured on film by David LaChapelle in the documentary “Rize” two years ago, has captured one of the core essences of youth culture entertainment. Derived from hip-hop, it’s a dance style that’s combative, violent, raw, and reminiscent of African tribal dancing with dancers wearing clown or tribal make-up. It’s a link in the chain of breakdancing battles and the houses of voguing. Krumping comes from the detritus of their surroundings -combative energy, poverty, race, shotgun marriages, imagination, and a huge dose of attitude.
The source of creativity within such youth markets are usually based on lots of people who have a common attitude of nothing to lose, perhaps no sense of history, and therefore make up their fashion styles, entertainment, and sense of identity from the little that they do have as they go along. This is clearly the case in Tokyo with B-boys and B-girls breakdancing at night when store windows turn into their own “mirrored” stages.
Stores such as Noir Kennedy in Paris where vintage is paired with new denim brands, and English phone booths are changing rooms, tap into the retail sense of shopping-as-event. Black Bloc centered in the heart of Palais du Tokyo museum in Paris also crosses boundaries -and with no actual store “walls” -as discovery art, fashion, T-shirt, urban vinyl toy location, than a traditional retail space. Pop-up stores in London and Los Angeles tap into the on-going change-up and creativity to be found in the new style of “informal” retail as today’s true retail. To their credit, many stores from the action sports industries are far more creative in structure, discovery potential of brands (vintage and new), layout, lighting, and music, than traditional sporting store behemoths like REI -which is again reflected in the types of people who like to frequent the shop. Tokyo’s backstreets of Harajuku, Ura-Harajukua and other areas have some of the most creative spaces/retail such as Beams turning the dry-cleaning conveyor belt concept into rotating graphic T-shirt art displays.
Urban vinyl underground stores are among the leaders in creating secretive, discovery motivated shopping experiences for those-in-the-know. Many toys are sold “blind-boxed” meaning in identical cardboard boxes (in foil wrap so it can’t be X-rayed), so you don’t know which model you’re getting -thus tapping into the collector in all of us. (Going one step further, sometimes toy artists create a “chase” model which is a rare figure not part of a series, creating even more of a sense of hype).
The new Bathing Ape store in Los Angeles hits on the theme of product as art with a revolving circular centerpiece behind tempered glass just out of reach like precious pieces of art to the passionate sneakerhead. As Kulapat Yantrasast of wHY, the architectural firm that created BAPE’s store-gallery said, “It’s almost Warholian. You take something from the street and put it in a position that forces people to question what that object is. It creates a distance. It becomes an object of desire.”
Cities in Europe such as Milan, Madrid, Brussels, and Riga for example, have been pairing up with retail to create “white nights” (notte bianca in Milan) whereby shops and museums stay open late and the metropolis hosts events, store sales, display window contests, and public transportation is free. Laundry Days festival during Amsterdam International Fashion Week is a great example of this.
The revival of old signs and neon arcades also appeal to recreating retro trends to meet the artistic inspirations of today’s youth culture. As vintage and thrift store shopping continues to increase, based on cheap finds and the ability to port oneself to another era, so too do events, retail, and art collide in a throwback to the past, recontextualized for the future.
Bookstores such as Reserve on Fairfax in LA also falls into the event category with cleverly designed wood shelves that convert to a quick mini-theater to feature local film talent. Swiv Tackle Circus, which also works as an artist residency in Oceanside, CA, also hosts circus performances such as fire dancers, and stilt walkers amidst selling graffiti spray paint cans, markers, accessories, T-shirts, and art.
So how have many old-school static structures competed with dynamic, open surroundings towards attracting youth? By making it less static, more ironic, seeing space for its potential rather than its current physicality–just as a skateboarder looks at streets, curbs, benches as a playground to be ridden. One step is to open up the venues. Allow audiences to participate, walk-through, see from different angles. There are many great examples, but one that comes to mind was an art show featuring artists Mode2 at the Bethanian Cultural Center in Europe 2 years ago, whereby the artwork wasn’t a picture on a wall, but painted directly on the sides of the rooms, at an angle, over the doorframes, across the corners, and the floor. You virtually “walk-into” the art and have to look sideways and upside-down to get it. Another example is the growing popularity in America of live graffiti artists, like Futura, Stash, Retna, ManOne, Kofie, creating pieces of work in the venue next to the staging area during a show or musical performance, which in turn is inspired by the vibe of the atmosphere -both performers and viewers -providing a necessary link through real-time creativity.
In China, the massive visual venues in Beijing prepped for the 2008 Olympics will surely open the eyes of young people in North America, Western and Eastern Europe–all of whom are extremely curious about the budding Pan-Asianism influencing their future.
On a local level, to attract youth markets it takes education of how things work in terms of what to expect from massive opera houses, superdomes, and theatres. It takes grassroots involvement in local communities, cafes, events, and going inside core street culture hang-outs with posters and flyers, and marketing through channels that are most relevant such as dynamic websites, blogs, trendsetting magazines and %u2018zines, alternative radio, social networks, text, and word on the street.
The raw energy, newness, and dynamics of youth culture markets may seem challenging, but think of the youth markets as a venue for change. Change is a vital part of being young. Think like they do, be a part of their lifestyle, and they will be your greatest evangelist as you transform your venues into modern theater.