There are many unsung heroes in clubland, but non more so that Visual Jockeys (VJ’s). These artists spend countless hours preparing visuals, which transfix; yet many are hidden away backstage and often receive zero credit from the public. Our coveted reporter Simon Murphy catches up with Melbourne based VJ “vdmo Kstati” and attempts to learn more about the artform.
Thank you for joining us today Grigori. Please tell us what a VJ’s role is?
VJs are artists that offer visual elements to shows, which adds to the overall experience for the audience, making events much more memorable and exciting.
VJs are live artists. There is rarely a moment when you get to press play and dance while losing control of what is going on. It’s quite hands on from start to finish. In some situations, certain shows are programmed from the start, which involves development and preparation of specific content. Yet the execution of the show itself always has a strong live approach and things always get played out on the spot.
We have all stood back and admired the work that VJs do at events, often being hypnotised by the visual accompaniment to the music. In many cases, that is about as much as we know about VJing as an art form. For those playing at home, what do you actually do when you are on or behind stage in front of your computer? Are your images all played on the fly or do you have pre-prepared sections of video/art?
Very good question. To answer this however is to say that there are many approaches to perform visuals. With every option there are artistic and scientific ways, which we utilise with various forms of technology.
Let’s look at term VJ briefly. For long time it’s been considered as Video Jockey but I feel that now however it represents – Visual Jockey as what we perform is not only Video, its visual. If this has some point of confusion, let me rephrase and highlight some of the most common methods.
There are numerous styles of live Visual Performance, dating back to the early days of VJ artform: think Lava Lamps, Light Projectors, Oil and Ink Experiments.
Moving forward into the days of VHS: it gave artists options to use recorded mediums and begin to experiment and mix in that medium.
Further from that: with the progress of computer power and technology, we have moved to digital realm. Video has taken its form in digital which given option to mix and manipulate video content through computers.
As technology has evolved, new methods of performance have been added and we now utilise – generative approaches, code based solutions, realtime 3D/ games like environments, effects and plugins systems, visual synths methods, live coding, live cameras that are ported through video mixing software or mixing equipment – all variant of size of the show and situation. There is a huge world of possibilities out there and many tools are available for every platform.
It’s important to add that we can also use sound input to drive our visuals, so beats can drive visual scenes and how they evolve and behave, yet overall guidance and transformational change from tune to tune is up to a VJ.
Do you create the visuals from scratch or are there art banks that you purchase to incorporate into your shows?
I have been a user of After Effects for over 9 years, this is one of my all time favourite tools and is responsible for large point of my content from scratch and re-edits. At times I do seek content that is available around me, yet I generally always will do its re-edits and apply further mixing approaches to live mixing.
In other cases I use Video as textures, which appliy to some of my realtime generative or game like software, so that’s a completely different mindset all together, which I utilise from time to time.
I also run Global VJ Community, which contributes to a daily Content News feed called – VJ Union Loops. At times some good releases or ideas come through that. I also have some visual producer friends who I exchange and do remixes with.
A good DJ prepares for their sets and also adapts to suit the situation. Do you spend long preparing for each gig?
Most DJs play 1 hour or 2 hour sets. VJs play 7 to 9 hour sets. Most DJ tracks are 3- 5 minutes. Most video loops are 12 seconds to 45 secs and sometimes we use generative aspects which can add dynamic fun. In other words, there is a lot to prepare for. Best advice is to always add and extend your content. Keep producing all the time. Practise and prepare to various sounds.
On average, it probably takes anywhere from 4 to 40 hours to prepare for some shows. Longer if you preparing for Festivals where you have to perform at number of stages. However, this process is ongoing and you constantly build up on content and techniques with experience. It is not uncommon in some cases with some VJs to work on content up to a year for some major tour, so it varies. Rendering is the killer! 😉
What equipment do you use when performing? Is there a basic standard that all VJs use (e.g. a DJ would start with two decks and a mixer) or does each person have a different way of approaching it? Which software do you use?
My set up is pretty straight forward for basic shows and it can grow larger for festivals, but in summary, its generally 1 or two laptops and sometimes it can be a media server, plus some mixing equipment with extra capture sources.
With vjing there aren’t that many standards except maybe the output types we can have. Be it vga, dvi or hdmi and in rare occasions composite (which is dying out).. even those options are not standard. Each show can have its own configuration all together and these days a lot of people have begun to expect mapping, which adds another layer of complexity on top of possible configurations.
In a sense, you have to be prepare for anything and be proficient enough to adjust if you deal with super small or super large screens, mapping or complex configurations.
For most times, I’m a big fan and user of Resolume Arena. Resolume has been very important part of my VJ career and I used they software for very long time. It had since evolved to what it is now, and its grown with community to new heights as it offers excellent set of tools for what needs to be done. At the same time I can utilise additional software with dedicated sharing texture components such as SPOUT (for windows) into which I port applications such as XNTH, Processing or Touch Designer or vvvv. SPOUT in particular I have been involved in since day 1 and have been one of the most vocal promoters which been received with loud applause worldwide by tons of Windows VJs. http://spout.zeal.co
Have technological changes had an impact on VJing and the way artists approach their shows?
Absolutely! Resolutions are getting bigger. More processing power is needed. World class shows now easily use 4k content, which you may have seen at such events as Armin Intense or Eurovision for example.
Can you tell us a bit about VJ Union Australia? What’s your involvement with this group? Is there a global network amongst VJs?
VJ Union Australia is online community driven establishment dedicated to VJ industry and practise and it’s been in operation for over 4 years and its foundations have spread globally. I have launched this project as a Founder and keep moving it along as a Head Cheerleader and Developer and Most active Contributor and Networker.
Among some of the other bigger groups that I run include VJ Union Europe & VJ Union USA and we also cover Canada, Russia, Asia, Middle East, Africa, Israel, Mexico, South America under VJ Union. New Zealand VJs are welcome to VJ Union Australia by default. 😉
Historically speaking, there are number of communities for VJs that had existed globally. However each of them had they own life span and sometimes few of them fall behind if they didn’t evolve it and respond to changes and needs for specific tools and modern communication methods. I have been involved in number of such communities and saw some elements that aren’t addressed which is where VJ Union plays a very important role now.
At present we still utilise social media heavily and yet Im working on a lot of platforms which we can call our own that address aspects that help us to spread the word further.
Along with online communication, it also acts offline and to date VJ Union has been responsible for setting up VJ meetings across the Globe. At present, we run monthly events in Berlin, Seattle, Melbourne that seem to lead the way and have many more coming on board – eg. Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, Marselle, Tel Aviv, Sao Polo, Moscow, Seoul, Milan, etc. To Keep up with some of the juice please check http://vjunion.net.
In the past VJs were not given much spotlight but I have noticed in Melbourne, events often mention and publicise who their VJ for the night or event will be. Do you feel the visual artists are finally being given the respect they deserve or is it still an afterthought?
You ask really good questions Simon! Melbourne in particular always had its presence of VJs and yet you have not always heard of them, mainly due to the fact that many artists weren’t advertised. The people in the scene knew who they were, but general public would not hold them a household name for example.
It has taken a lot of work, and ongoing communications to make sure that VJ names go up on the flyer and all relevant media. Still today you have to really push that across with some promoters. It’s a massive challenge and takes a lot of energy and communication. For many years I have been pushing this forward for myself and countless of other VJs and Visual performers. I feel its slowly changing, yet until we can reprogram the mindset of majority and develop stronger visual performing culture, its sadly an afterthought and will require a lot of work. So there is a lot of work to be done still.
The moment flyer design concepts take place you can start working with VJs and artists on how to create spaces that are unique to they own event which adds so much more to events. For VJs, it’s also a much better idea to speak with promoters well in advance to achieve the results that make things noticed.
Do you ever get booked for gigs that have music that you do not like at all? Are there creative challenges when you play at events with sounds or styles you’re not used to? Any horror stories to share with us?
I guess I’m in a good position to choose which gigs to take and which not. I generally prefer to work at electronic events and happily can apply myself to variety of sounds; Techno, Prog, Psy, House, DnB, Trance, Minimal, Hard Dance, Breaks and everything in between. I hardly ever have any issue with those.
At some occasions I get asked to do shows for bands, and on super rare occasions I accept it. I guess part of me is looking for a challenge. What I have realised after all these years is that working with band on a show that does 45 min or 1 hour can become more time consuming then say playing 8 hours VJ set to Psy music. Preparation for some of those shows and high demanding clients can easily turn your experience from positive to “get me out of here” scenario.
As a word of advice, try to aim to work on music you enjoy, and always break projects into parts – production and performance fees if clients become too demanding in what they want to see prior to the show itself. I don’t think I will mention any names this time, but they are out there 😉 You live, you learn.
Are their any acts, crews or events that have stood out as big supporters or great people to play alongside? What makes a great gig for you?
In Melbourne purely on a consistency level – two stand out strongly – Big Red Bus and Prognosis. These two have been so supportive and encouraging for long time and we still moving forward improving things to new heights.
I have been extremely fortunate to work with number of crews in Melbourne, getting to know many quite well and working with them regularly. Darkbeat, Hard Kandy, Fevah are top level and quality promoters, – always have the time for them. If I continue writing the rest of the list, it will be Who’s who of Melbourne scene and I have a lot of Love for them all!
But there are countless others, In Cairns – Open Records and Frequency, In Brisbane – Elements that I had developed good working contacts.
What makes a good gig for me? Being and feeling well prepared, getting excited about music and having your expectations exceeded by a mile by DJ and Performers that you work side by side with and of course having great quality screens and rocking crowd on awesome sound system!! Booya! 😉
Also, for me working with my best friend Javier – aka VJ BlueMD is also always very special. We had built this special connection over the years and can work really well together complementing our style like nothing else.
Have you ever felt the desire to jump behind the decks yourself?
Long before I was a VJ, I was a promoter for over a decade and have seen many changes across the country for long time. I got involved with visuals because I saw a need to add this element to events I was running while living in Queensland years ago.
I can DJ and actually prefer playing really long sets. Really enjoying doing them. Same goes for my VJ sets where 7 to 9 hours is quite a norm for me. I would be happy to do DJ sets just as long if opportunity comes.
I’m most interested to work on audio and visuals sets and make visuals the boss! This is where visuals become the driving element of the music. Not the other way around. When it’s done right, it’s amazing. I guess, this is where you’d most likely see me do music, which would be as part of full AV show.
Finally, what is coming up for you gig wise? Are there any key events you are looking forward to?
You can generally find me performing every week-end somewhere around Melbourne. This week Im performing at new techno night @ Loop called TUNED IN, which kicks off on 19th July.
Other worthwhile events to Mention – She Only Loves Sex Drugs and Techno on 1st of August at My Aeon – Very special Art and performance inspired event with quality selection of Techno across Two rooms, and its Sexy 😉 Win! This is followed by – Big Red Bus, Instinct Events, and Prognosis that are also scheduled for August, so you can surely catch me there.