The Evolution Of The DVJ

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The clubbing scene is evolving all the time, both musically and technologically. But one thing remains constant: people still want to go out and enjoy a great party. And that’s where the DJ comes in, being primarily responsible for delivering a tight playlist to ensure the dancefloor is kept full and the atmosphere stays electric. These days, with the emergence of DVD-turntables, a new breed of DVJs (Disc and Video Jockeys) are coming out of the woodwork and making an impact in the clubs. What’s the difference? DJs mix music from vinyl, CDs and MP3s; DVJs mash up real-time music videos that you can witness onscreen. JUICE gives you a crash course on the new revolution.

Text Adli Syahril

The term “DVJ” comes from the industry-standard Pioneer DVD-turntables; a more common name is “DVDJ” or plainly “VJ”, but the latter is sometimes confused with one used for the TV host of a music channel. However, the existence of this multimedia revolution has been deeply entrenched within a longer history of technology and music that spans over 4 decades.

Back in the 1960s, American artist Andy Warhol created a revolutionary body of work for his Andy Warhol Up-Tight party in NYC featuring a combination of his films, music by the Velvet Underground and Nico, and a dance performance by Gerard Malanga and Edie Sedgwick with lights by Danny Williams. Andy was considered the leading figure in the visual art movement known as pop art (think Campbell’s Tomato Juice Box, 1964). That was also the decade when recording and playback technology was 1st introduced, allowing artists to work with real-time video animation and art. Across the pond, English rock band Pink Floyd was the 1st to start combining live music with light shows and psychedelic projections at the swinging underground hotspot of that era, the UFO Club-too bad the club didn’t last that long.

The term “VJ” became popular in its association with MTV but it was actually coined by Merril Aldighieri, Hurrah’s resident VJ during the 70s New York club scene. While MTV changed the common understanding of the term to mean a televised radio jockey, visual artists worked harder in producing their artworks and debuted most of these masterpieces at underground clubs including Kitchen and Hurrah. At the end of the 90s, the world saw a wave of new technology and more new clubs with innovative live visual performance mixing.

Today’s nightclubs have video projectors, LED walls and plasma screens in addition to conventional strobes and lighting. While the common DJ is only responsible for providing the music, DVJs have the challenging task of syncing aural and visual elements together. For this reason, DVJing and advanced video display technology can effect major changes to the layout of a club and performance venue to accommodate a live video gig. Today, with the internet and the advent of social video outlets such as YouTube and Vimeo, many music fans have been highly exposed to DVJs as compared to the past. DVJ artists like Sander Kleinenberg, Hexstatic and Mike Relm continue to garner international acclaim for their imaginative video mixes, CD/DVD albums and epic live performances.

In Malaysia, DVJ sets are seen and heard at Phuture (Zouk) and the Milk club in Bangsar, with an LED wall and plasmas used in Zouk’s Mainroom as main visual elements. Milk’s resident DVJs Alex and Ray Rox (who carry the name A-Rox as a duo) were really impressed by the DVJ set played by Leonard T at Mambo Jambo back in 2006. As soon as they secured a residency at Zouk, they got their hands on the Pioneer DVJ-X1 and Roland Edirol V-4 video mixer, and haven’t slowed down since.

The same can be said for Zouk’s resident DJ/DVJ Luqe, who started DVJing the same year the 1st DVJ-X1 by Pioneer was released in the market-Zouk was the 1st club in the country to have a complete DVJ set at Velvet Underground. He got into video mixing through Zouk Executive Director Cher Ng, who came up with the brilliant idea in an attempt to create a new experience for Malaysian clubbers. “It was kind of hard to get good quality music video DVDs at that time. We sourced for other options and managed to purchase some from a company in the UK that sells music video DVDs specially tailored for club DVJing. But due to the lack of resources, I still had to combine my normal audio sets with my DVJ sets,” says Luqe.

But what difference is there between a DJ and DVJ when it comes to the whole party experience? “The difference is that there is an extra ‘wow’ factor from the crowd when they dance while watching their favourite artists onscreen,” admits dynamic DVJ duo A-Rox. “But note this: you still have to drop a happening tune. The video doesn’t do all the work. The main aspect of DVJing is still the music.” Likewise, Luqe believes that DVJing takes DJing to another level, “As a whole, it makes the club and venue more interesting with DJ/DVJ cutting and scratching, and sampling of random clips.”

We all know that clubbers are a restless lot with short attention spans. DVJing shows that being on the decks is not just about taking care of the music but also incorporating music video mixing, visuals and effects. “People’s preferences and tastes keep changing. They are always exploring and digging for something new. With DVJing, people will see that the DJing and clubbing scenes have a lot to offer,” adds Luqe. So far, the response from clubbers has been very positive towards this new breed of performers. At the weekly Flava in Phuture, partygoers look forward to seeing what video Luqe is about to play next. A-Rox also admit that most patrons to their nights get totally transfixed on the video mashups onscreen.

Whether you’re a DJ or DVJ, creativity is still key-especially when it comes to mixing the right track. “Everyone knows that there are no boundaries in being creative in DJing and it is the same with DVJing. It really depends on how you want to bring it out to the crowd,” assert A-Rox. “But of course, the more creative it is, the more difficult it’ll be. In DVJing, we have 3 elements instead of 2 compared to DJing: crowd, music and visuals. With that extra element, we definitely have more work and levels of difficulty, but the end results are extraordinary.”

Luqe agrees that it is harder to achieve that perfect symmetry between seamless audio and video, “It is quite a challenge when you have to think about getting all your regular tracks on video. In the past, I was playing original tracks or particular remixes, but now I have to visualise them into videos. And you’ve got to find the same videos with the same audio-I don’t play it if it’s a crap video or just for the sake of playing videos. So for me, it’s rather difficult because it takes time to really explore videos that suit my original audio sets.”

In addition, the technical aspect of DVJing can also vary from a typical DJ set, as Luqe explains further, “To add flavour to my DVJ set, I will integrate video effects together with my audio effects. On the mixer, I set buttons and knobs to be triggered when I want certain effects to be played on the screen. This is the difficult part cos I need to familiarise all the assigned knobs with the different types of video effects and transitions like grid sequencing, additives, rotation, zooming, splitting, kaleidoscopes and more depending on my preferences, and what hardware and software I’m using.” Similarly for A-Rox, they also add in a dash of effects on their videos such as strobing, colour isolating, rotating and anaglyph 3D.

Luqe reckons that not all DJs would readily opt for video mixing due to its intricacies but as the demand starts to grow, DVJing will somehow take over the DJ aspect, especially in commercial hip hop and rnb as it involves a lot of hotly produced music videos. In fact, most clubs are now looking at incorporating DVJing into their nights as it certainly stands out as a unique selling point. Additionally, A-Rox concur that DVJing is becoming the way of the future with the help of new technology like HDTVs and LED screens. Whatever the outcome, JUICE will be there to watch it go big.

Check out Luqe’s DVJ set at Phuture, Zouk every Friday and Saturday for Flava, and A-Rox at Milk from Wednesday to Saturday.

Images Milk + Zouk