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Yung Jake: Leading a Net-Native Generation of Storytellers

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Kamal Sinclair

*Update*: Yung Jake’s E.m-bed.de/d is nominated for an MTV O Music Award for Best Interactive Music Video. Vote for the award here.

The New Frontier program empowers artists creating work for the new digital-age paradigm of story. We encourage storytellers grounded in traditional mediums to expand their practice by collaborating with technologists and experimenting with platforms in order to find innovative ways of making story. However, we are also cultivating a totally new generation of artists.

“As Sundance continues to expand the scope of its programming, I predict their New Frontier section (curated by Sundance Senior Programmer Shari Frilot) will emerge as the launch pad for a new generation of storytellers. Steeped in the narrative tradition of their predecessors, but fully conversant in the new language of digital media, they will create the transmedia experiences that will form the bedrock of the next 20 years of storytelling.” (Brad Wilke, FilptheMedia.com)

In the 18 years since the Internet was first commercialized, a “net-native” generation of storytellers has emerged who have only a foreign notion of a world where story, art, media, social communities, global connectivity, mobility and technology do not occupy one space. Among those powerful influencers in the field are artists like Yung Jake.

Yung Jake was a breakout star at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier section where he exhibited E.m-bed.de/d and Augmented Real, screened Datamosh, and performed a truly 21st Century live rap show.

He has an unabashed and almost naive willingness to play with and design net tools like augmented reality mobile apps that allow his avatar to float in your iPhone-occupied hand as it emerges rapping from walls, posters, postcards and pinback buttons; or HTML5 sites that allow him to take over your computer with pop up windows as he fulfills his persona’s ambition to get virally embedded across the cyber mediascape. He also uses these net tools to humorously tell the story of the net-native generation in their native vocabulary (i.e memes, data, 720p, GIFs, mash-ups, pixels, remix) and with their native aesthetic (i.e. User Generated Content, phone-camera quality images, stock icons and photos, Garage Band quality music and webcam videos). Millennials that grew up with YouTube, blogs, social media, and an app universe (where nerd culture is king) can relate to his character’s ambitions to be digitally omnipresent and have the agency to remix reality with his access to seemingly unlimited digital tools.

Both at the New Frontier Micro-Cinema and more recently at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, Yung Jake pushed the boundaries of mixing real and virtual spaces in a live performance where he was never actually seen in the flesh, although he was actually live in the space and dynamically interacting with the crowd. Using multiple large screens on the walls of a room, he DJ’ed a club experience with YouTube videos that provocatively and humorously commented on each other. For example, he juxtaposed a hip-hop video deifying the Gucci brand, while another wall screened a “how-to” video on knock-off Gucci products. All while embedding himself live via webcam into the various screens and performing in relationship to the other content by rapping, commenting, dancing, superimposing graphic icons on his web-cam body and playfully interacting with the audience.

The most 21st Century moment of the show was when he took over all the screens with the “rock” image that triggers his augmented reality app. Mobile phones and tablets appeared out of nowhere throughout the crowd, each held up with the app engaged so that Yung Jake’s avatar floated out of a multitude of screens at once. From the back of the room it looked like an army of digitized 3D Jakes coming at you from varied luminescent screens.

Yung Jake and his collaborator Vince McKelvie were Fellows at the 2012 New Frontier Story Lab, where they workshopped their work-in-progress, Kickstarder. Creative Advisors like Susan Bonds (CEO of 42 Entertainment and producer of the Nine Inch Nails Year Zero ARG), Aaron Koblin (Co-creator of Arcade Fire’s Wilderness Downtown), and Bret McKenzie (Flight of the Conchords) spent five immersive days at the Sundance Resort helping them concept and design the next great project in his young body of work…one that will assuredly help to define a generation.

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