Top image: Still, Junglepussy- Somebody (2017) dir. Erin Grant
Jessica Straker is the self-taught coder and writer behind one of the most prominent independent video streaming platforms in London, Juice VCR.
The site can be likened to a visual radio, an uninterrupted stream of music videos which you are only allowed to play out, or skip. No search, no customisation, just a continuous stream of tracks from independent artists across the world. Think Spotify’s Discover Weekly, just for visual content.
The platform has previously collaborated with labels such as Ninja Tune, Rhythm Section International and allows a number of hand-picked artists to create their own channels in order to promote their work. The only rule? They have to be unsigned. Thus, over the years, Juice VCR has become a go-to site for many A&Rs across the world.
Thanks to an unyielding work ethic and impressive curation that favours quality, Jessica, who has previously lived in New York and Barbados, has played a pivotal role in promoting the early work of the likes of Denzel Curry, Princess Nokia, and Lord Apex. As Juice VCR begins to branch out into in-house content, we spoke to Jessica about her plans for the future.
Undine Markus: The appearance of Juice VCR has changed over the past year. Could you take us through the most current concept behind the site?
Jessica Straker: What I wanted to do with Juice was to sort of recreate music television, build a visual radio. Now, I am working on creating more original content and offering the artists to present themselves as they want without any middlemen. At the moment, I’m working with Charlotte Dos Santos and this Jamaican artist Sevana. They’re documenting their tour and I’m collating a really loose content piece on who they are – something that we’ll premiere through the platform later on.
Undine: So you are officially expanding beyond music videos?
Jessica: It has always been my goal. With the first iteration, I just wanted to do the simplest thing. As I was funding it myself, I thought music videos would be the easiest thing I could do to help artists. It’s worked well for the past few years, and there’s been a lot of A&Rs and labels who use it to discover new talent. Even though the scope of the viewership isn’t that big, it’s really getting in front of the right people.
Undine: Your primary focus seems to be independent artists in the early stages of their career. However, I have seen videos from the likes of Denzel Curry, Flo Rida, and XL Recordings. What criteria do you apply when selecting the content?
Jessica: We don’t platform content that comes from the majors. We focus on bedroom artists who’re completely DIY and independent labels. There are artists on there who have now got signed and moved on. With Denzel, I left his earlier stuff on there and as he’s turned the corner, I’ve just stopped updating it. Juice is only focusing on one part of the journey. It’s there when you really need it. People come and go.
“We don’t platform content that comes from the majors. We focus on bedroom artists who’re completely DIY and independent labels.”
Undine: How regularly do you update your catalogue?
Jessica: We started off by rotating it every three months, following the template of MTV.
Undine: I didn’t know that MTV’s library was updated only every a three months.
Jessica: Yeah, they’d rent the catalogues from Warner or whatever and get three months of complete access. It’s very expensive, that’s why major labels charge a lot. Juice works on a custom algorithm.
Undine: And how does the algorithm work?
Jessica: It’s always worked where it’d show more recent content at the start, and more frequently. It mimics that old school thing of watching VH1 and waiting for something new to come. It’s a jumble.
Undine: Why did you choose to only offer the option to skip the videos as opposed to being able to look up certain artists?
Jessica: I wanted it to feel like a TV channel, like a visual radio, where you’re just being shown stuff. If you don’t like it, you can skip to the next one. On Juice, you can move the cursor on the credits and then go through to the artist’s Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and Twitter, buy the single. You can sit back, enjoy, and interact if you wish.
Undine: How big is your team?
Jessica: At the moment, it’s just me. I have some really relaxed curators that are around. Over the years, I’ve collected a few people so that it wouldn’t be as biased. I’ve got one guy who loves Latin music, he sprinkles in stuff from that. There’s a girl up in Los Angeles, another one in New York. We’ve had a few labels who’ve come on and put on all their roster. We’ve had Rhythm Section, Ninja Tune, and some other smaller ones.
Undine: How do you ensure that there’s quality control across the board. Particularly, when it comes to the wider curatorial team. What are some of the parameters that you follow?
Jessica: So how it works with curators is, I give them a log-in and they can upload videos from the back-end. I just give them a little deck that’s more of a style guide, but they can post whenever they want, fifty times a day or once a year. I regulate it myself and keep it going every week, but I try to keep it relaxed for everyone else.
Undine: And what is your traffic like at the moment?
Jessica: It’s roughly around a thousand hits per month. I don’t have the team or the backing behind me to really push the numbers up, but I can help the artists by getting it in front of industry eyes and interested eyes, who can help them even more than I can… I’ve had younger artists who’re in their bedrooms, who feel even more detached from the industry than I might feel. It also goes for directors, Juice links through to their work. I’d like to think that we’re helping shape the culture in some way.
Discover more about Juice VCR at: www.juicevcr.com.