VJingClub visuals have come a long way from banks of portable tellies showing someone’s dodgy old X-Mix video. iDJ investigates the art and science of VJing…
Once upon a time, if you wanted pretty pictures to look at while you were out clubbing, the usual solution was of chemical origin. These days, though, visuals are very much part of the clubbing experience, with video projections a fairly standard ingredient in the party package. This has been the case for a good few years, admittedly – but it’s only really now that we’re seeing the emergence of the VJ as a clubland star in his own right.

There’s definitely been a groundswell of interest in VJing as an artform of late. For instance, London club night Vectors – the only night in the UK that has the VJ at the top of the bill – recently celebrated its first birthday. A VJ Conference was held at Ocean in Camden on October 12th, attracting several hundred attendees. What’s more, iDJ has it on good authority that several major DJ gear manufacturers are looking at VJing as the next area they might move into (we could say who but we’d have to shoot you!), while London-based Green Hippo, who’ve developed a hardware/software combo they’re hoping will become the industry standard, the Technics 1210 of VJing if you will, say they’ve already had “considerable interest” from some of the leading nightclubs in the country. And that’s not to mention the increasing number of letters and emails we’ve received on the subject here at iDJ Towers!

Yep, VJing’s definitely a growing phenomenon. But why’s it so popular right now? What can VJs add to a club night? And how can you become a VJ yourself? Read on, and all will be revealed…

Reasons to be visual
There are several reasons why VJing as an artform has caught the public’s imagination lately. For a start, there’s the general societal trend towards multimedia integration – a nation that’s now used to watching pretty pictures while iTunes or Windows Media Jukebox plays music on its computer, and sending picture messages on its mobile phones, is a nation that’s ready to watch animations and movie clips while it’s strutting its stuff on the floor. Secondly, there can be little argument that the use of visuals makes for a more immersive, multi-sensory clubbing experience, and the pleasuring of the senses is what clubbing’s all about, after all.

Some would argue that the public are also now bored of ‘superstar DJs’, and are looking to get a little bit more value for their clubbing dollar. “I think it’s related to the fact that punters are a little bit tired of paying £50 just to get in a club,” says Vectors resident VJ Anyone, who’s been VJing since 1996. “The visuals are a novelty, and if you put on a flier ‘special immersive visuals by such-and-such’ there’s an added value to your clubbing experience.”

The other major factor is that there’s so many more people doing it, because it’s never been easier to get into. Packages like VJamm, the video mixing software developed by the Coldcut crew, have done for VJing what eJay did for home music-making, while the actual equipment needed is getting smaller all the time.

“Nowadays, I turn up at the club, and I look like a DJ,” says Anyone. “I use two G4 PowerBooks and a mixer, and it all fits in a record box. Five years ago, I needed to hire a van to carry all my equipment, and I’d turn up looking like a lighting technician!”

On that note, by the way, it’s worth noting that VJs are very keen to be seen as performers, and not as technicians. “My show ends at the end of my cable,” says VJ Kriel, who’s one of the scene’s biggest names (see separate panel). “I don’t rig up projectors, that’s not my job. After all, if Pete Tong turns up to do a gig, you don’t expect to see him putting up the soundsystem – and you certainly don’t expect him to stay behind and dismantle it after the show!”

It’s with this problem in mind that Green Hippo have developed their Hippotizer. This is a bespoke visual imaging system aimed at the installation market. Where it differs from similar systems already available is that where most use their own proprietary file formats and offer the end-user little control over how the contents are displayed, Hippotizer accepts standard formats such as AVI video and JPEG stills (MPEG support will follow soon) and offers complete user control – meaning that where there’s a Hippotizer installed in a club, all the VJ need bring is a CD-ROM of his clips and animations. A far cry from having to hire a van!

Doing it yourself
So you’re convinced: VJing is the future, and you want in. So how do you get involved? The thing to do is start small. Make no mistake, to become a professional VJ you’re going to need to spend some serious money: on video cameras, computer equipment, video editing software, a video mixer… this is definitely not a poor man’s hobby! But the good news is that it’s actually pretty easy and affordable to give VJing a try – you can always save up and splash out on the pro-level gear later on, if and when you decide VJing really is the career for you.

The best place to start is by visiting AudioVisualizers (www.audiovisualizers.com). This is the online resource for VJs and video artists, and as well as articles, product reviews and useful links, you’ll find here a Tool Shack, which offers for download just about every VJ-related piece of software you could need. Most you have to pay for, but there are usually Time Trial or Lite versions you can download for free, so you can try before you buy. We spoke to a number of VJs – professionals, semi-professionals and keen amateurs – and the general consensus seems to be that the best packages for a beginner to try are ArKaos and Resolume. For those wishing to progress a little from these basic packages, VJamm Pro and Visualjockey also come highly recommended.

You can also download MPEG clips here to have a muck about with to get you started, though the trend in VJing ‘for real’ is very much moving away from using ‘found’ material, to shooting your own video or making your own animations. Partly because of copyright issues, and partly because – as with music and samples – it’s very easy to get too many VJs using the same tired old clips. For an idea as to what your basic hardware requirements will be, see our side panel.

Other places on the web that are worth visiting, meanwhile, are VJforums.com and VJCentral.com. The former is a message board centre where VJs can swap tips, discuss problems, help each other out with business advice and just generally network and talk shop. We actually spotted postings there by just about everyone involved in VJing that we’d spoken to – it’s like visiting the iDJ message boards to find Judge Jules swapping mixing advice with Darren Emerson! The latter, meanwhile, is its sister site, and is another great place to read software and hardware reviews, product news, advice on techniques, opinion pieces on VJ-related issues and so on.

Future visions
So what does the future hold for the art of VJing? Is this going to be a mere craze, a flash-in-the-pan phenomenon, or is this really the future for clubland?Funnily enough, most seem to think the answer lies in this new artform’s increasing integration with our own – ie, good old-fashioned DJing. “It’s very easy to be a pretty good VJ and a pretty good DJ,” says Kriel, “but soon we’re going to see people who are exceptional DJs and exceptional VJs. Like the Coldcut and Hexstatic team – I think you’re going to see a lot more of that kind of thing. Like, if X-Press 2 are a team of three, two of them could be DJs and one could be the VJ and that’s the team – almost like a band. I think within clubland, that’s how it’ll play itself out.”

And Anyone agrees. “There’s definitely a hybridisation going to occur,” he says. “I don’t think anything will happen without music. So whether a single person will do both or whether you’ll see a team or a duo, I don’t know. But I think it will be much more integrated.

“And I think it’ll become standard,” he continues. “To the point where instead of visuals being an added extra, within a couple of years, if you go out and there aren’t any visuals, you’ll feel there’s something missing. And that’s when you’ll start to see VJs with proper careers. It won’t happen at the same speed all over the world, but it will happen, I assure you.”

Keeping it Kriel
How’s this for a life story? You grow up in the circus in Illinois, are running your own mobile soundsystem by the time you’re 15, then get a job as a radio DJ. You move to Prague and edit the arts and culture section of a leading newspaper, then take up fine art and move to London to study. Completing a PhD in the application of the principles of Freudian and Laconian analysis to the interpretation of digital media, your video-based art installations appear at the ICA and in an exhibition curated by Brian Eno. Then you get a call from the Arts Council, asking if you’d like to be artist-in-residence at Radio 1, so you go along, take the job and are then informed you’re going to be their resident VJ. Your first gig? VJing to a quarter of a million people on the Radio 1 stage at Love Parade.

That, incredibly, is the background from whence hails VJ Kriel, one of the world’s leading VJs. It’s been something of a long and winding road to the top – and Kriel, who VJs regularly for the likes of Pete Tong, Fatboy Slim, DJ Tiesto, Darren Emerson and Sasha, is certainly at the top these days. Yet the last, most important turning on that road (the move to Radio 1) he almost didn’t take!

“I wasn’t completely convinced about doing it,” he says, “because I was very up my own ass at the time, and I didn’t want to mix with pop culture too much. Now I’ve completely gone over the wall to the other side, and I have some questions about the art world’s lack of concern for audience. I’m a bit appalled about my own attitude back then, when I look back.”

Kriel’s choice of imagery is inspired by ‘phenomenology’ – “quite a structuralist thing, of allowing a thing to become itself and allowing a thing to reveal itself to itself, within a closed system.” Which, in English, means it mainly consists of images of clubbers, as opposed to random Kung Fu clips or text by Jacques Derrida.

“When I started looking at this,” he says, “there were three or four things I saw consistently in VJ sets. You had big logos banged in your face all the time à la big corporate club, or you had this kind of post-apocalyptic electro-punk kind of dystopian videovision, or you had some guy sticking his video camera out of his car window, driving around town and then speeding it up. And I thought, the problem is none of that has anything to do with clubbing at all.”

“So I go in, I shoot the people at the club, and then feed the best moments back to them at the next event,” he continues, “in a way that they can psychologically project onto the screen their own sexiness and the beauty and the excitement of night, and it’ll just build them up, up, up as much as possible, and that’s what gets me excited and passionate about VJing. To make the party. You know: if Carl Cox can take them this high, then I can add that little extra bit where you’ve gotta scrape them off the ceiling!”

The Gear
What you’ll need if you fancy having a bash at VJing yourself…

A computer
There’s more software for the PC but there are several packages around for Mac users. Either way you’ll need a pretty highly-spec’d machine because video/animation is highly processor/memory-intensive!

An internet connection
For downloading software and/or clips. The faster the better, obviously.

Some software
There are dozens of packages to choose from. Basically you’ll need:
• something to create images (unless you’re shooting all your own footage), ie, an animation package
• something to edit video (such as Adobe Premiere, for instance)
• something to playback and mix with, eg, VJamm or ArKaos (you can worry about progressing to a hardware video mixer later on).
To try your hand for the first time, though, you could just grab a copy of VJamm and some MPEG clips off the net…

A video camera
If you want to get serious about VJing then a video camera of some kind (ideally a MiniDV job) is pretty much essential – all the leading VJs shoot all their own clips.

The more old-school route, of course, would be to get a couple of VHS recorders and a hardware video mixer do it all the old-fashioned way!IDJ magazine – Issue 30 / November 2002
Copied from the IDJ website – see http://www.i-dj.co.uk/features/featurespage.php?ID=33

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