Anyone who has been going to contemporary music show consistently over the last decade has noticed a sweeping change in the quality of production by venues. As new technology arises, the big boys with the big bucks always have to have the next best toy. Modern concert goers simply can’t be entertained by four dudes on stage playing their instruments. Our attention spans are too short. Until they start handing out adderall at the door, an amass of lasers, fog machines, and wild videography will duke it out for our attention.
But these elaborately designed and seemingly random video loops can sometimes be so engaging that they take focus away from the music rather than complement it. It’s not often the videography is so good that it becomes the primary focus of a show, but this is becoming more and more popular with VJs who create their own original content. Where does it go from there? Moving into the low end of the 2010s, join us as we embrace this premiere form of art, coming to a GIF gallery near you.
During a collaborative night at Dim Mak Studios, where two of LA’s top visual artists pair up to drop some projection art during a techno set, I am privy to the artistic exposition of Michael Allen, a tech veteran employed by a number of venues including Dim Mak, and A.K. Brushart, an artist who creates socio-politico-psychedelic original videography under the moniker BleepBloop.
Michael Allen is convinced now is the advent of groundbreaking visual performances. “The technology has never really been there before, so we are just now trying to figure out what the role of these VJs is.” He has been working in different venues around the world since the mid-90s and has seen firsthand the sharp evolution of A/V technology. “We started off with video tapes and millimeter projectors. The quality wasn’t great and we could hardly fit any content on them. Years later, we digitized them [the VHS’], just as DJs switched from vinyl to MP3s or WAVs so they wouldn’t have to lug around all of that stuff!” Michael draws a comparison between the DJ and the VJ. “For the video projection, we have all of the abilities to tweak it during live performances, just as the DJ does. To try and predict the music and accurately match the two, that’s what makes for an amazing performance.”
“We’re in the midst of a technological revolution.” Says Michael. “Never before has [technology] developed as quickly as it is today. It’s almost scary. We can project remotely while pulling any content from the clouds and completely immerse people in live video holograms. It’s like the Holo-Deck on Star Trek!” Michael laughs, describing a futuristic reality soon to be made commonplace in live entertainment. “I want to see a crowd bobbing their heads to just the visual performance. An engaging show that is so hi-res, [the visuals] are real.”
“We are there.” Michael remarks of the unfathomable technology just at our fingertips. “A lot of this amazing, groundbreaking visual producers are keeping their content to themselves until they are able to sell it because they don’t want anyone to steal their ideas. It’s a shame we don’t get to see these things until years later. Budget is always a problem, too, but I think when people realize what a necessity visuals are to a live show, they will fork out the finances for it.” For Michael Allen, only the sky, and his wallet, is the limit.
Showcased in a variety of venues and music festivals, including Coachella 2012, A.K Brushart also went on to perform his brand of psychedelic footage at Wexner short film fest in 2011. It’s not until he and I are driving home after a rambunctious night at Dim Mak Studios that we are pulled over by the cops and shaken down for apparently no reason beyond the blatant rape of our fourth amendment right. In any case, as the police leave us to attend to actual crime elsewhere, we are provided with ample time to do an interview.
What music directly influences you when you’re creating work?
[When making visuals, I listen to] Squarepusher, Tom Waits, Tera Melos, Bernard Marx, Dillon Francis, Salem, Skrillex, Jazzy music, or anything that creates a scene.
What live tweaking do you do to make your visuals interactive?
I create all my own content with any medium I can get a hold of and that’s the hard part. Then, I move the visuals to compliment the music. However the music hits me is where I go with it.
What do you think about VJ artists role in contemporary live performances?
It completes the visual audio/experience. It is complete sensory output of creative medium. Now all we need is smell-o-vision and something like that lickable wall from Willy Wonka.
What do you see VJ Artists contributing to the future of live EDM?
Technology is always on the curb of the artist. Whatever we dictate the technology eventually follows suit. The possibilities are endless, really. If you look at it, the club/venue is basically the people’s art gallery and I feel our work as A/V artists will move further and further, blurring the line between the two.
What do you think visual presentation does for live music shows?
[It’s a] Full lapse into the creative medium.
Who do you think are the top VJ artists of today?
Today the artists are still making their way out of the shadows. My hope is in the near future that the VJ will stand alongside the performer onstage creating a whole new depth to the live performance. At least that is my push. I mean, what I do is performance art, no matter how you cut it, there it is.
How many different form/mediums of visuals exist?
Projection, animation, LSJ; it’s all subject to the hardware available. It is up to the visual artist’s imagination. However one can captivate an audience. I love all the innovations today, and once everyone starts making original content, much like way DJ’ing shifted towards producing, that’s where I see the art taking off. It’s time for animation to be fine art. Imagine framed TVs in art galleries playing hi res loops. That’s really where I’m going with this. Behind the curtains and into the streets!
See more of BleepBloop’s creations at his Tumblr.
BleepBloop’s video for The Mars Volta’s “The Maltin Jewel”