We’ve all heard the term VJ, and if you haven’t, it’s an acronym for Video Jockey. Sounds like a funny title doesn’t it? But VJ’s are becoming a more prominent and most importantly a more sophisticated element within the dance party. We are seeing the marriage of technology and music becoming a greater reality every day, and the DJs are no longer the only outstanding artists we see mixing live in clubs.
Major dance events are seeing visual artists become a more integral part of the overall ‘experience’ of clubbing and dance music. Inthemix.com.au talks to jmg13 aka Jo Griffin, who is one of Australia’s premier visual artists in the dance music industry, and finds out what is really involved in being part of the simple acronym, VJ.
Jmg13 actually dislikes the term video artist, because “video” is unfortunately just a means of output. She explains it this way, “If I was to create my product on DVD, would I be called a DVD artist? Video Artist conjures up images of bad 70’s chroma key, and that’s not what I do.” Instead, jmg13 explains the finer details of her job within the dance scene. “I talk to whoever is designing the gig, and they usually have a theme in mind, and I try in an art direction / designer / producer sense design and perform video content that fits the brief of the night.” Jmg13 would start by making graphic content, from illustration through to graphic design and animation programs and cameras. She then composes this content into different playback systems, ones that she can manipulate in real-time, or maybe linear ones (tape). Then she would mix this using a video mixer and compose it for projection. It sounds like quite a sophisticated job, more than just playing movies over and over in a gig.
With a variety of visual artists in the dance scene, I ask jmg13 what kind of work ethic or work standards she follows when creating her work. “I guess I do try and be as original as possible, there is an old argument that there is nothing really original, but I do spend a lot of time researching and collecting images as influence. I spend a lot of time looking at paintings and watching movies, however, I have been known to be a bit of a footstomper about using other peoples content. From my point of view and from the way that I practice my art it doesn’t serve me well – there are other VJ’s like Coldcut who choose to repurpose existing material, and that’s their thing, but I try to not do that.”
For those aspiring VJ’s, what is jmg13’s story on how she became involved in creating visuals for dance parties? “It was a fluke, a natural progression. I was at Big Day Out 1997, and my boyfriend of the time was VJing in the Boiler Room and I just stepped up and had a go, and found it was the most natural thing in the world to me. When I decided that was what I wanted to pursue, I was warned that it would be a very hard path to follow, but I’m still here!” Well, it seems for Jo it was a very lucky break indeed. But it requires more than luck to become a mainstay in the fickle dance music community. In fact jmg13’s work speaks for itself, but she also has a strong educational background which has helped her vocationally. “I have Masters Degree in Art. I think this gives me a good grounding in the principals of what I do, but I don’t think you necessarily need any qualifications to VJ – just persistence. You also need some intuition about performance.”
The first time I met jmg13 was while doing a behind the scene’s feature at the Fatboy Slim Global event at Fox Studios in Sydney earlier this year. She was mixing live footage of the DJ with her own created cgi images on a huge circular screen in the Horden Pavilion. She told me she had the design brief of circles, and used twisting round effects on smiley faces and other cgi mixed in and out with live footage of Norman Cook. The equipment she was using for that gig was interesting to watch, to say the least. I could see a VCR, live cams, laptop and visual mixing keyboard (like a musical keyboard, but each key produced a visual effect). So how much technology does one need to create the visuals for a dance party? “I think technology and software is important and provides the impetus for what I do, but I always have a belief that it’s the ideas and serving the purpose of the night that is far more important than the software that I use – there is always a new bit of technology anyway. On the other hand, I’m completely consumed by technology, and I’m always problem solving and learning something new; it’s getting to the point where I want to learn a bit of software design, so I can manipulate my tools better.”
For the nerds ;-), what kind of software and hardware does jmg13 use?
Apple Macintosh (lots), Canon mini-dv camera, Roland midi keyboard, Panasonic mx-50 video mixer.
Illustrator, PhotoShop (stacks of plugging), Flash, After Effects (stacks of plugins), Final Cut, Infini-d, Arkaos, Pixeltoy, Vusic, Vdmx, Rhythmic Circle, Robot Funk, Nato+55, Mcthuga.
I now see jmg13 working at a lot of events where the production is done by XS, Global, Slinky, MoS etc. But she doesn’t only work for XS. She is currently working for Fuzzy and in the past she has accepted commissions from the Packers to do interstate and overseas gigs. She also works with DJ BeXta as the VJ for her live show. One of her most current projects is creating the visuals for the new technology in Fuzzy’s new club Yu. “Ming from Fuzzy asked me to create some content that works in with their Friday and Saturday night clubs of ear candy and congress. He also asked me to produce visuals for a feature wall ‘aquarium’.” So what is this featured wall ‘aquarium’ we keep hearing about? “Come and have a look!”. What a tease!
Jmg13’s involvement with the video/visuals on the club isn’t just a one off relationship, it’s on-going work. “I’ve produced some material that will form the backbone of a live mix that will be done every week in the club. I’ll be mixing a bit during the first couple of weeks.” I ask Jo what she thinks of the technological investment in the club, it seems to be a bit of a talking point at the moment. “I think it’s exciting that Yu have put a big focus on screen culture and they have cameras, playback, surround sound and mixing and switching technology that rivals any other club in Australia. In this way it is a very strong move on the clubs part!!”
Sometimes in dance parties we see a DVD or VHS movie looped as the only visual component of the night. I find them fun to watch, but I must ask jmg13 what she feels are the advantages in creating her own original videos and visuals for a dance event over using movies and looped videos? “My concern about what we do is that we are participating in a culture. By fostering artists, not just VJ’s, we are developing that culture. By fostering original art we are developing that culture. The screens should be a realtime canvas – rather than a collection of someone else’s memories and clips. I’d much rather create original content for my culture than be a passive observer or editor and regurgitator of other peoples content that has a dubious relationship with the moment that it’s on the screen.”
The above is a strong mission statement. So how important is a VJ’s work in the whole scheme of the dance party? “It’s just one element – it’s how it’s integrated that makes the difference. Unfortunately it’s not an artform than can exist without the music. It’s usually the bastard son of lighting, and this is one of my concerns – there’s little longevity to it.”
Jmg13 has worked on some pretty large and demanding gigs. Her favourites amongst this year were First Base, Fatboy Slim @ Global, Slinky, and BeXta’s live shows. As you can see that’s a lot of events to be working on, and those are only her favourites. Jmg13 is not working on any other projects outside of visual arts for dance parties at the moment, she is pretty much consumed by it.
You can catch Jmg13’s live mixes at Ear Candy, Congress, Lost In Bass @ Gas (Nov), Twisted in Canberra (Dec) and the Gatecrasher Summer Sound System (Syd) for BeXta’s live show.