Some of America’s biggest YouTubers appeared on stage in the UK on Sunday for what was billed as the world’s first social media music festival.
DigiFest UK was the first British event from DigiTour Media and was held at the iconic Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith, London.
Tyler Oakley, Rebecca Black, Brent Rivera, Our 2nd Life and girl band Cimorelli appeared alongside British stars including Zoe Sugg, Marcus Butler and Louise Glitter. X Factor boy band Union J headlined. TenEighty popped along to #DigiFestUK with a couple of Access All Areas passes to get exclusive backstage coverage of the show.
The day officially kicked off at 12pm, but eager fans queued from 10pm the night before to secure a place at the meet and greets. The first thing we noticed was how noisy the event was! Loud screaming is standard fare at YouTube events when subscribers catch a glimpse of their favourite star – but the atmosphere at DigiFest seemed unprecedented for a YouTube event in the UK. Louise Glitter noticed it too – and made a video about it!
At the meet and greet tables YouTubers signed autographs and took selfies with their subscribers, and the the crowds were ushered along to the next face at the table (whether they knew who they were or not).
It soon became apparent that there wasn’t enough time for everyone to attend the meet and greet – despite attendees paying over £100 for the ‘guaranteed experience’ – so the event organisers cut the line. Howevever, after Troye Sivan, Tyler Oakley and Connor Franta voiced concern another meet and greet was announced for later in the day. Nonetheless, for some fans the disappointment of waiting for hours without meeting their idols was too much and many broke down in tears.
The stage acts started with quaint performances from Dodie Clark and Bethan Leadley, warming the audience up nicely for the afternoon ahead. This was quickly followed by appearances from Niki and Sammy Albon and Cherry Wallis, who split the crowd into two sides for a Frozen sing off which delighted the crowd.
— TenEighty UK (@TenEightyUK) May 4, 2014
Later Frankie Grande – brother of YouTuber turned pop star Ariana Grande – took to the stage with a stand out performance. He dazzled the crowd in a silver outfit drenched in glitter and sang his version of Diamonds by Rihanna; shine bright like a Frankie. Rebecca Black also impressed with her live renderings of Friday and follow-up hit Saturday. Both are natural performers and had prepared well to deliver a polished performance. Unfortunately this made it obvious when other acts hadn’t.
Backstage some YouTubers were feeling the pressure to be funny and entertaining. Many were still having panicked conversations ten minutes before their appearance time, asking others for advice on how to fill their allocated slot. Andy Samuels, Harrison Webb and Stevie Ruffs kept things simple by taking selfies and filming videos. It was inevitable that many YouTubers’ content wouldn’t translate naturally to the stage, and repeated ‘7 second challenge’ and word association games left a lot to be desired.
— TenEighty UK (@TenEightyUK) May 4, 2014
Others nailed it. Louis Cole used his stage time to issue a challenge to teams of YouTubers, giving them £200 each and ordering them to go off on an adventure for our entertainment. The Gleam Team – Louise Glitter, Marcus Butler, Alfie Deyes, Zoe Sugg, Joe Sugg, Tanya Burr, Jim Chapman and Caspar Lee – built a human pyramid on stage. And Troye Sivan and Tyler Oakley hosted a Q&A session, which resulted in the first #Troyler kiss. Well, the first witnessed in public at least.
There were some tender moments too. YouTube Boy Band – Marcus, Alfie, Joe, Jim and Caspar’s pet project – mimed along to their cover of All About You, while the audience lit up the Apollo with their smartphones.
— Olly Newport (@OllyNewport) May 4, 2014
There were screams of disbelief when Alfie proposed to Zoe on stage. This turned out to be a prank, one which Louise fell for hook, line and sinker.
— Zoë (@Zoella) May 5, 2014
When we caught Louise backstage, she commented on how professional the event was and how overwhelmed with emotion she felt. She said: “I’m performing at the Hammersmith Apollo! As soon as I stepped on that stage I thought, ‘Oh god, Jack Dee performs on this stage’ and that’s crazy!”
There was plenty of tomfoolery to enjoy too. Tanya screamed at the top of her lungs as she avoided getting electric shocks on stage, and musician Daniel J did a back-flip off a low roof. (For safety reasons we must insist we don’t approve of this at all. Not one bit. But we did catch the whole thing on video and posted it to our Instagram). Some boisterous behaviour, however, landed YouTubers in trouble. Ben Brown and Louis were asked to leave the event by security staff after going on the roof.
For an event that sold itself as a fun day with all your favourite YouTubers, there were a handful of cases where security were perhaps a little heavy handed. Fans at the rescheduled meet and greet were ordered through a small room as quickly as possible, barely getting enough time to say hello and take a picture (but that’s corporate events, hey?).
Today one of the organizers at #DigiFestUK forcefully restrained me from hugging my fans b/c it was "unsafe." Um what? Dismiss yourself.
— Lilly Singh (@IISuperwomanII) May 4, 2014
The crowd’s biggest response came from the appearances of O2L – Kian Lawley, Connor Franta, Ricky Dillon, Sam Pottorff, JC Caylen and Trevor Moran – who did two stints on stage: one with live challenges, and a Q&A session. Later on, Ricky and Trevor performed their own solo songs.
Throughout the day there were also appearances from Matt Espinosa, Joey Graceffa, Brent Rivera, Andrea Russett, Jenn McAllister and many more, which kept the show moving at a regular pace. Any spare five minutes was filled with something, which meant every two minutes there was another roar of excitement bouncing off the Apollo’s ceiling.
While most of us became used to the constant noise, spare a thought for the parents and chaperones who were accompanying their children. There were plenty tucked away in the shadows with an iPad or a book. We even saw one parent wearing earplugs to guard against the frequent wails from the crowd; TenEighty salutes you, the parents and chaperones, for your loyal and dedicated service to the YouTube community (well, to your kids).
Ultimately the event built up to the headliners. Union J were an interesting choice for the headline act as they come from more ‘traditional’ media – Simon Cowell’s X Factor UK. The four young men were a pop package completely unlike the chaotic rainbow that had flown across the stage for the six hours before George, Jamie, Josh and JJ stepped on it. But DigiTour Media clearly know their audience well, and the fans who were screaming for Louise and Marcus were just as happy singing along to Carry You. And so were we.
DigiFest is an interesting approach to entertainment but what matters most is that the crowd had a blast. It felt like a very American approach to holding a YouTube event – pump up the crowd, put on a show, and give as much bang-for-your-buck as possible – but it worked.
It was most definitely an event, and not a gathering. There was little chance for conversation and acts rarely stayed longer than they needed to – being driven back to their hotels after their appearances. Fans and performers were kept separate, apart from a few who had bought VIP tickets and spent a lot of their afternoon sobbing tears of bliss as they went from one famous-YouTube-hug to another.
It was a frantic, bubble-gum pop event, but it felt like everyone involved went away happy. Fans got to see their idols do cartwheels on stage, YouTubers were kept happy with free Nandos and burritos. It was something different from the UK’s usual events, a show that was undeniably bold in ambition and a day that’s still ringing in our ears (no seriously, we can’t hear much anymore… should we call a doctor?)
Want more? Check out some highlights of our social media coverage on our Twitter