Interview with Robin Brunson of Hexstatic

Hexstatic are Stuart Warren Hill and Robin Brunson. We had a chat with Robin about what Hexstatic do, and where their visuals are headed. Both men have a long history in visuals and formed Hexstatic in 1997. They are signed to Ninja Tune, and have a close association with Coldcut. They have performed at many significant art galleries and alongside David Byrne, as well as producing two AV albums of their own work.

Do you think of yourselves as VJs?
Basically we are AV artists – we kind of get lumped in the whole VJ thing, which is our roots, but I think we are trying to do something a bit different now. We’re not just about clubs – we’ve played at the Guggenheim in Bilbao and at other art galleries. We did a thing in Nottingham a while ago where the audience participated by controlling the visuals and the music. The results were a bit chaotic!

I’m interested to talk to you about the equipment you use. I know there’s a whole variety of equipment that different VJs use. When we spoke to VJ Anyone he suggested that he liked the idea that a pair of DVD decks and a vision mixer should become something of a standard setup. What’s your view on this?
We’ve been using the Pioneer DVJs for about 4 years now, and we helped develop them too. The set-up we have at the moment is two DVJs, a pioneer mixer which has midi out that controls a vision mixer and maybe a laptop with a video sampler so you can freestyle over the top with samples.

People often say of DJs with laptops on stage that they might just be checking their emails and playing back something pre recorded. Do you ever worry that people can’t tell exactly what you are doing live?

I think it can be quite obvious when you’re doing visuals because people can actually see that you are triggering stuff live. If you’re watching a DJ with Ableton you can’t tell what they are doing.

How much do you want people to focus on your visuals? Do you want people to take them in passively or concentrate on a screen?
People are more used to it now. When we first started people would just stand and watch, which could be a bit disconcerting because we didn’t know if they were enjoying it or not. I think you have mix stuff; there are parts in the show where the emphasis isn’t on the visuals. It’s sync and triggering but you don’t have to be looking at it all the time. Maybe during a break-down we might have a funny clip of video that gets peoples’ attention.

Part of the Natural Rhythms Trilogy and produced with Coldcut, Timber is one of Hexstatic’s most famous works. It is made with archive footage from Greenpeace.

One of the things the Eclectic Method said was that a bigger screen(s) helps give a more immersive environment, which stops people from ‘watching’ in the TV sense.
It differs from show to show, it’s always quite hard to get the set-ups you want. We played at Glastonbury last year with tiny screens which was quite nice, it meant people had to focus on the music. I’m more interested in the immersive stuff on the arts side, like the stuff we did projecting onto the Thames and holograms, that sort of thing.

Is there any technology coming up in terms of projections and holograms that you would like to build into a show?
We’ve always been really into that. We’ve got some friends from a company who are working on 3D screens which you don’t have to wear glasses for.

How good are they?

They’re amazing. They’ve only got them at television size at the moment, because it’s a very new technology, but they are working on larger. I’m not sure how long you could watch them for though! There is a bit of a problem with them if you want to film stuff because you have to film it from eight different angles. But if you do computer generated images you can do that automatically.

Companies like Pioneer have spent a lot of money producing VJing equipment and it’s easy to make a fairly Naïve analogy with the prevalence of DJing and conclude that the VJ thing is going to be very big. I was interested to discover that the VJs I’ve spoken to are often less optimistic. How do think things will evolve?

Well I’m not so sure. Very big acts like the Chemical Brothers have always produce visual stuff. At a lot of the nights we go to in Europe all of the acts have some kind of visuals. There are a lot of big name acts using the DVJs now as well – people like Roger Sanchez and Ferry Corsten, Jeff Mills as well. That’s interesting because most people in the VJ scene started off doing the visuals and came to the music after, where they are coming from the other way.

I’ve noticed that a lot of VJ world seems to rotate around this DJ magazine poll of the top 20 VJs. Have you got any feelings on that?
It does push the scene out there, I can’t really complain because we were number one two years ago, but then we’re not strictly VJs. That’s always a problem for the pole – I know this year there’s a couple of scratch hip hop DJs who just started doing it on DVJs. Those guys have no background in the VJ scene at all. I’m not sure it’s representative of what’s actually out there. I think they could be clearer about who is eligible; people like Inside-us-all do great stuff and really deserve to be there.

How would you like eligibility to be decided?
The people who put it together, I know Oli (VJ Anyone) and Addictive TV are involved, and they know enough to say who is really is a VJ and who isn’t.

I was interested to discover that someone has discovered a way of making final scratch work with video.

Yeah, I think its Serato actually. I’ve not tried it yet, it’s in beta at the moment but it will be very interesting to see how that works out. I know that DJ Food uses Serato and I think he’s going to get into the video side of things. He’s a really amazing DJ, so it will be interesting to see what he can do with it. I think it will open the VJing thing up to a whole new group of people. Serato seems to be used by a lot of hip hop and scratch DJs, all the people with the turntable skills to make something interesting happen.

What’s your next project?

The next thing is our DVD with some videos for our last album which didn’t have any video with it, and also some of older material which has only been released at low quality on CD-Rom. It will probably come out in around 2009.

Interview with Eclectic Method

Interview with VJ Anyone

Interview with Cuisine

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