VJ Anyone a.k.a. Oli Sorenson performs with many top DJs and is currently touring with Sander Kleinenberg. He also runs the AV Social night in London, which pretty much does what it says on the tin. He has written essays for several books as well as writing for DJ Mag on the subject of VJing.
What is AV social?
It’s an off-shoot of another event called Vectors. That was at The End. Vectors lasted for 2 years, but then I got really busy and had to give it a rest. Then I got to be no. 5 in DJ Mag’s top VJs list, and I thought that gave me the profile to make a difference and highlight emerging artists. There wasn’t really an event that was focused on VJing in London, which is ironic because London has so many VJs. AV social is the simplest title I could find that describes it – it’s a social event for promoters and VJs so that they can network. It’s for both established and up-and-coming acts. We also get people from the manufacturers like pioneer and Pioneer to come down.
How hard do you think it is for a promoter to introduce visuals to their night?
It’s easier than it used to be, but it’s still difficult. At the same time it’s added value for the night, but it’s not just a novelty like pogo dancers, you’ll have to orchestrate it, for example having a lighting guy who makes sure the lights don’t go on the screen.
Speaking to Cuisine, their objective is to make the VJ as central to the night as the DJ. However, they still said they don’t get many people down who are there for the VJing. What it does do is really set their night apart from the others.
The advantage of booking a VJ is that you get a different crowd down, normally more sensitive to cinema and visual arts – people who go to festivals like Sonar or Futuresonic, not druggy punters. You can’t make those people pay attention if it’s not what they’ve come for.
Can you see those kinds of people getting into VJing in the future?
I think that’s starting to happen, but it’s not a ‘big thing’ at the moment. There are people out there doing more commercial stuff as well like corporate events and so on, with mixed results. When people interview me they often ask ‘is VJing going to be the next big thing?’. It’s been big before, in my 10 years in the business it’s been big about 3 times. It’s like asking ‘Is drum and bass going to take over from house?’ not really, it’s just another thing.
Presumably you can foresee growth just through the technology getting cheaper?
Definitely. The main advantage of the technology becoming more accessible is that it becomes transparent. People don’t pay attention to how many projectors there are. There are so many people who say ‘how is it done?’, rather than paying attention to what is being said through the medium. If you carry on using really cutting edge technology you carry on drawing a veil over the narrative aspect of visuals. Visuals have a strong heritage with cinema, design and even architecture; because you have to make people more conscious of the space they’re in when using visuals. If you are using a vocabulary that is constantly new, i.e. using new technology, people are going to be learning as they experience it. If they become more familiar with it, for me, it’s more interesting because you get to do things like storytelling or conveying an experience. Your performance is more to do with the expression of artistic vision.
I’ve noticed there are no fixed bounds to the technology that a VJ can use. DJs usually use two decks and mixer. I wondered if VJs did the same with two DVD decks and a vision mixer, the scene would be more focused and easier for the public to understand?
I’ve been pushing that for a while. I’ve been touring for about 6 months, doing between 2 and 4 gigs a weekend, flying everywhere. I’d love to put on rider the equipment I need and just take an external hard drive, but at the moment I have to travel with DVJs and all the equipment I need. I’m always jealous of DJs just taking records or CDs. It’s also expensive for me to buy something new every time it comes along. Let’s not forget that DJs used vinyl long after there were more modern alternatives. The only reason they have been so successful is that they’ve had so long to develop the technique.
VJ Anyone’s Kimono Flower single
Do you think VJs have a slightly easier time than DJs? There are so many DJs out there, while if you’re a VJ there isn’t so much competition to come up against.
It’s give and take. There’s a smaller audience to tap into. You can be a big fish in a small pond, and the VJ scene is relatively small. One important thing is that you can access visual arts grants and British Council grants. I think a lot of DJs are tapping into the VJ world to give themselves an angle.
Are you an artist or an entertainer?
Maybe a year or two ago I was very faithful to my roots as a club VJ. I love the heritage of clubbing which goes all the way back to disco; house music is the direct descendant of disco. I loved the attitude of house music, it focuses a lot on positive energy. More recently I’ve found that a little bit one dimensional, and I wanted to explore more sophisticated stuff, so I’ve been getting into grime and dubstep. I’ve been doing a solo dubstep gig for a while now alongside my more mainstream stuff.
Do you use a lot of video samples in your work?
I like to use samples a little bit because you tap into the collective memory, for example if you use a Star Wars clip everyone has seen Star Wars so everyone is going to understand where that comes from. My position on copyright is that if you are stopping people from using samples then you are stopping artists from tapping into collective memory. I use sampling for less than 10% of my performance, but it’s good to have that palette available. The danger with using samples is that if you are working with a high profile person, if you get filmed by a broadcaster they might have an issue with rebroadcasting it. I’m not that much into Coldcut type films though, I’d never put a dancing President into one of my films, it gives me a rash just thinking about it!
Have you ever done any bootleg stuff?
Not officially, but I have been commissioned to remix Manga videos.
I know that people often say that when DJs have a laptop on stage they don’t know what’s being done live. You mentioned that you have a laptop on stage, I wondered if you worry about this issue?
The danger is that people think you are checking your emails. The solution is to use a midi controller, because then you are using a musical instrument. I use a Korg Microcontrol, which has 25 keys, faders and a drum pad. In a way the midi controller is hacked, because it’s intended for music, but now it works with video. You can look like a musician, and behave like one stage, but you’re actually controlling the video.
Can you explain your working method?
When I perform with a DJ, which is my bread and butter, it’s a case of being flexible to improvise with the music that someone else is providing. That means I tend to use a laptop because it allows me to skip between videos quicker. I use Resolume at the moment but I’m looking into Modul8.
When I do A/V performances it’s quite orchestrated, I use DVDs a lot more. In the same way as DJs have eight bars of music at the beginning of records to beat match I make DVDs with eight bars of just a beat and a small rhythmic visual cue, so that I can mix DVDs.
How do you feel about the DJ mag top 20?
It’s very helpful, for example if you look at Addictive TV, they’ve been number one twice and said ‘we’re the top VJs in the world’ which is great. It’s helped me to a lesser degree, I was ranked no.5 in 2005, and I got a call from Nokia, and got to tour Europe and South America. It gives attention to people you wouldn’t see otherwise. It’s a straightforward popularity thing, you can’t be the best VJ because who is going to judge?
Any projects coming up at the moment?
We’ve got an AV social coming up in April in the Tate Brtain. They open the building up late one night a month and have some kind of event. It’s a really big challenge because the audience will be up to 5000.
I’ve also got a collective called NE1CO. I’ve been working a lot with big clients, and they’ve often said that it would be easier to work with me if I wasn’t an individual who might get sick or something. So I’ve decided to make it so that we are a collective who can all replace each other. To an extent we are challenging the idea of the artist as an individual.