Video-jockeys are becoming increasingly important in clubs these days, as party locations are going more multimedia.
Whereas night-clubs always tend to buzz with music, people and movement - sounds and beats would always dominate more than images, and club walls usually remained bare.
However, video projections are becoming increasingly important in clubs these days. Visuals help to communicate ideas further, projecting the ideas behind the DJ's music and creating the right atmosphere to go with the music. Ladomat, a well known label for electronic music based in Hamburg, toured Germany this summer with D – and VJs.
On the night of the Ladomat Tour 100 last summer, the WMF-club in Berlin was bathed in red. Not the whole club, but the screens of several huge monitors set in pairs around the dance floor - leftovers from the former GDR. When the music started, the red colour on the screens would begin to move slowly, showing jelly-fish, followed by other, more abstract visuals.
Listen to the music
VJ Philipp Geist was part of the tour.
Performing live is no easy task. The VJ must anticipate what the music will bring next, and what, in turn, he must add or substract from his video.
VJs create their own style by using particular topics and transferring them to a rhythm. A dialog between music, images and graphics is created. One visual never stays long before it switches to the next. VJs are not interested in creating a storyline. The club is not supposed to become a cinema.
Philipp Geist, a regular VJ at the WMF, works with a lot of TV-footage, for instance from sport events. "For the club, playful, ironic TV-trash is a good choice - normally I like to do a mixture of minimal, fast and slow images," he says. "Sport events, shots from the Olympics, are pretty good material."
Showing slides on sheets
In 1998, Philipp Geist began his career as VJ doing slide-shows with the group Console. His rhythmic images were shown at parties, galleries and museums – there were no real clubs in Weilheim, Bavaria, were he was living at the time. "On our tour in Leipzig I had to project my visuals on sheets hanging on the club's walls, kind of frustrating, but I still did it." It is also not uncommon that people simply do not know that what they are seeing are live visuals. "Some people think I'm the DJ. They come up to me and ask me to put on some techno."
Today there are only three clubs in Germany which have the facilities for a VJ. The WMF in Berlin, the Suit 212 in Stuttgart, which opened last year, and the Robert Johnson, a very small club in Offenbach. On tour with the Ladomat team, VJ Philipp Geist always had to carry his technical equipment around with him.
Every Thursday at the Kurvenstar in Berlin Mitte, hip hop and house beats fill the high-ceilinged rooms, while videos are mixed live. The flash animations are made with the help of laptops. These regular "Labstyle" evenings feature different DJs and VJs.
Labstyle was initiated by a group of graphic designers and VJs called Pfadfinderei. Most of their visuals are based on very abstract graphics. Other VJ-teams at Labstyle, such as Visualitäter and Codec prefer using photographic images. "I don't like to sample at all, something a lot of VJs do - I try to shoot most of the material myself, whether architecture, streets, skateboarding or break-dance," VJ Codec says.
No cheap sensations
Today's VJs go back to the 60s and the 70s, to the days of the video-mixer, a technical instrument which worked in a similar way to current forms of video-mixing equipment. However, it was only in the 90s that clubs were able to afford this kind of technical equipment.
The VJs Visomats alias Gereon Schmitz, Torsten Oetken and Michel Weinholzner have been working on the convergence of audio and video in clubs since 1997. Their base is the legendary WMF club in Berlin. Here, they installed a system for video-mixing and shocked the audience in 1997 with surveillance cameras and flickering monitors. "We don't use any cheap sensations like exploding atomic bombs," state the Visomats, "but we like to work with interference and disruption, images not usually welcome in a normal television context."
Until recently, most video and music collaborations have been shallow at best – many argue that video takes a backseat to the music, or in some cases, that the video simply has nothing to do with the music at all. But Philipp Geist thinks that live images are important. "Once I had a technical problem and all of a sudden the visuals where gone. At that moment everybody stopped dancing."
In clubs people are often busy dancing and do not necessarily pay much attention to the images projected around them. The images are meant to dance with the people, working like the rhythm of the music. Therefore visuals in a club are more likely to be dynamic, fast and rough while at a concert where people go in order to listen and see, the VJs have to work more precisely.
VJs usually choose their footage according to the event. Geist does a lot of video-mixing for clubs, but he also works with musicians. At a recent concert at the Mudd Club in Berlin, people weren't moving but listening and watching. The atmosphere was more like that of a living-room.
The two musicians and Geist sat on a small stage in armchairs. Philipp's black and white images appeared on three TV monitors standing at the bottom of the stage. Geist calls this kind of work "a dialog between sound and images - the visuals become quite equal to the music."
"In a way musicians and video people work in a similar way," Geist says. He points out that Schneider TM samples and records sounds, the way he does with images, in order to fuse them together at the live-act. And like the music, the visuals carry their theme through repetition and patterns, showing various alienated shapes.
"In a way I am doing performance art, maybe not art, but at least video-mixing is a thing of the moment," Geist says. He sees it as a challenge, "finding the right images at the right moment and never knowing exactly which images the evening will bring." According to VJ Geist today's clubs are becoming more and more multimedia, with people wanting to listen, feel and see at the same time.