Internal workings of a VJ

grunge background logo


Where to begin with this blog, background on the cause, what I ate for brekky that day, chronological list of events leading up to gig time, hmmm, maybe if I could figure out what category I’m going to put it in to I’d stand a chance. Ramblings seems to be the favourite, so I think I’ll keep it simple.

Picture it, you have a 5 minute drive, key in the car, right turn, on one, left turn, round and pay the toll to go through the tunnel and head down the A19. Now I said 5 minute drive, that’s on a normal day, or at least a normal time. No sadly this is rush hour Friday and this journey is not going to be that easy. As I hit the slip road, there is begins, could be worse, could be a lot worse. With “Lashed*” blaring on the stereo trying to inspire me through the journey and get me mentally prepared for the evenings proceedings and inspire me on the relatively short journey to Teeside, this jam is seriously pulling my mojo down. Or is it just adding to the struggle which then goes onto reveal the night’s true glorious intentions. Once I hit Testos roundabout on the wrong side of the Tyne I agree with myself that it’s all going to be OK, so I may not keep a strict eye on how fast the Focus is going, keep up with pace of everyone else…

After a nice clean drive down the ’19 and along the 174 I reach my destination, though the journey has taken almost double what it should have, I leave the car happy. It’s now time for some prep. The car emptied, hugs and salutations done and with a beer in hand I can now start to relax, or can I. Bollocks need to rewind a bit, explain my normal prepping proceedure…

First up comes a phonecall, “ere Jonny, we’ve got our next gig, it’s on the xth of x, that alright with you? Still waitin on a band to confirm but I’ll email you the details through now, in a bit, bye”. Details in my inbox, night name/cause/bands I set about creating the poster and mailing/myspace adding the bands. Now when adding the bands to my myspace, the simplest thing, add a message and ask what kind of imagery, themes etc that they’d like while their playing. You’d think here that any band would have an idea of a visual show to accompany them. Or at least I do. I’ve not seem that many bands in my time, not like the hardcore of live music lovers that I know. Don’t get me wrong, I have been to my share of gigs, travelled ridiculous milage to mosh in the pit but also to stand at the back just to take in the full magnitude of the event. I cant remember when I first noticed that the screens to the left and right of the stage weren’t just of the band on, but also a mix of animation and footage. More in keeping with a nightclub than an arena rock gig. But notice I did. And I thought everyone else did… I was wrong, any how I seem to be digressing a bit here, where was I, oh yes, a myspace message. Funny these things, you add a band, incorporate a message thinking they’ll care enough about who’s adding them to read what they have to say. Now I’ve been doing this for a few years now and I still add these messages, but I do so knowing that they most probably won’t get read. This annoys me, I read what people say when they try to add me, I look at their profile, I deny all spam. You know the ones where the names don’t match, they have no blurb, pictures yet have amassed 987 friends in the 2 days they’re been joined. I can do without these, they will not benefit me, numbers mean nothing without context. So, while the intial message is being ignored, I listen to the music they’re posted, make some notes on keywords that I get off the music (I don’t like to to read the influences, guessing them is more fun), general brainstorming, dark, bass driven, sounds like… (green day more often than not). Using this I’ll look through my catalogue of miniclips and footage, see what suitable. I’ll also send another message. Sometimes I get a response with lots of ideas, a few ideas, lots of words, two words, sometimes I get a response with “erm, I don’t know what you mean…” all are good, they’re a start. What really makes my testes rise is sending more messages and not getting anything back, only to hear a band talk at the gig and say, I didn’t know what you meant so I left it. ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH.

Be it armed with content or not I generally do a couple of clips using the band names. As I’d had correspondence From 1 out 5 bands (this was an usual one, 2 bands dropped out to play a music festival over our gig) I wasn’t feeling that happy about giving up my time for those who couldn’t be arsed. You can’t help those that won’t help themselves, so some shit like that. Please note as one band had bothered, not knowing what they want, still gave me 3 keywords, I did indeed make the extra effort for them, more to follow.

So, normally I have a good new amount of new visuals for each band, feeling optimistic about the night I’ll set about creating the decks for each band (it’s a resolume thing) meaning when I get to the venue I’m as prepared as a boy scout who’s just received the top badge for being prepared (remembering to take his needle and thread to the ceremony). This means I’m relaxed and in a good place, at one with my creative self,, ready to unleash a visual masterclass upon the public. For each gig I also like to arrive the day before, slow day, late english breakfast, cheeky beers, ‘erbal ciggerettes, you get the idea. This is the norm. This is not today.

So, having negotiated a jam, being a day down, with less than a quarter of the new material, and not one deck set (albeit one band planned for) here I am.

Time to train, 30 mins. Piss. cant do decks now, take up the offer of a beer, chill with the welcoming commitee (on this occasion Justin and Neil). Nagging in the back of the head, that maybe I could have done more. This is normal if not more true this time. At least we’ve used the venue before so I know how and where I’ll be setting up my projector…

uncle albert's cool signArrive at venue, Uncle Albert’s** in ‘boro town centre. Just opposite the train station which is handy for not having to carry things far. Van alredy parked outside, band unloading, all is well. Walk in, and, shit. Where’s the tables and stools gone? Piss. Last time in this venue there were a few little tables (good for stacking) and stools that fit nicely together giving me a six foot platform to sit the projector on. Nice and safe. Well then, keepin my external cool all the while I look for a new method, a speaker stack wins. Right height, add a bit of soft furnishing to account for the vibrations and jobs a good’un. Nice one, that was easy. Rights, laptop in the dj booth connect the leads and extentions and I can begin to set the decks. Ah, what’s all this shit in the dj booth. every plug used, gonna have to plug into my extention, the one by the projector. Now this area may be free from the drunken public, but wires stretched along where I need them scream danger, well not heath and safety issues (not my venue/problem). No, one wrong jolt and I will be left helpless behind the booth as my projector comes tumbling down. Rethink. The space Directly behind the stack has a chair and a table, no leg room as such but I’ve worked with worse (the Tavern, ‘boro sat on a ledge for 3 hours). With my new position settled (a good result in the end as I have a new view on the stage giving me a better insight how the public will see the event) I can now think about prepping the projector and the decks. Quick hello to the early arriving band, on this occasion Krystal and the Meths, and the projector is on, focused and screen size determined. Hello next bollock dropped. Last time at this venue, stack of tables/stools, close to the bands the screen area was so big. This time, bit further back, bigger screen area. Brought the same screen as last time, cack. Well I can’t let this affect my cool exterior, “nah, nevermind” I shrug off. Yeah, back on track. Band begin to set up (as much as they can with a amps still to arrive) so I flash up the animation with their name on, give them a little spur (they did the decent thing and replied to my message). However this is now to lead onto another occasion where it appears a part of my sexual organs appear to have been fumbled. Krystal and the Meths, not the ‘s’. Somewhere between copying and pasting from Illustrator to Flash, an error had occured. FFS as the kids would tweet. Personally I like full swear words, they are stress reliving. Internally my mind is bellowing “cunt fucking wanktruffle arse twat shit cockmaster”, externally, my shoulders are relaxed, eyebrows cocked in a noncelant manner, a wry smile across my face, “ah, you’re rights, I’ll have that sorted in a sec”. But of course the flash file I can edit with ease is on my external hard drive, at home, in ‘shields. The band wander off for a beer, and I get to work, Illustrator open, Flash open, 20 minutes job done. Easy if not annoying. 1 hour to game time, “beers anyone?” a call from Justin that I find impossible to ignore. Fuck it the decks can wait, we’ll be back before the venue opens, it’ll start off quiet, giving me time to get set. Mr Pigg you have a plan.

Upon our return (five to the kick off and two pints of sunset-something-or-other down) my plan takes a little slap. The bar has people in, not just the band and help, but the general public. Wankers. They wouldn’t serve us a beer beofre they open, but they let people in before it’s time. With my equipment on full view and no-one to watch it, not impressed. But to be fair, I have the small matter of the decks to sort, and lights, from no-where some absolutely fucking horrendous flashing red, blue and green lights are working their way through my screen. If this monstrosity wasn’t bad enough the spot lights are so bright that my lightest image looks like a stain on the back wall. Note to any venue owners, promotors etc more lights doesn’t make more atmosphere. Buying a set of gash lights off ebay ‘cos they were cheap’ makes you look cheap. Look at what the best use, and act accordingly. Doesn’t have to be bank breaking, simple, controllable lights to add some atmosphere, enhance the performance of the band… The next random button I will see, I will steal, bag with bricks and drop into the Tyne. So, more problems, a few questions, and a swift plucking of a lead, and it’s 1-0 nil Jonny vs Lights. A few more questions and the main offenders are still on. Looking for a big pointy stick to switch the bastards off is looking my most likely. Krystal and the Meths take to the stage, the krystal too much lighting right title behind them now.

Still those lights offend me. This made worse by the fact that when I spoke to the band regarding the visual show the requests were simple, ‘er, I don’t know, erm, strobes? Dark’ to paraphrase. I have strobes and dark images covered but this orange fucking abomination glaring down on them gives it a school disco feel rather than a tight knit band expressing themselves in a way well beyond their years. I have a quick word with Neil, and the lights are out. Genius.

lights out on krystalWe have dark band, dark room, atomsphere. As the music peaks and toughs so does the visuals, from blackness to full strobe at peak riffs and fantastic drumming. A full 5 hours after locking my front door and the show is well and trully on. Music and visuals hand in hand. Heaving crowd lapping it all up, smiles all round. And me hiding behind the speakers, bottle of ‘brown by my side, laptop in front. I fucking love this shit. As the band progress I add more to the decks, mixing styles, inputting effects, getting cocky trying to second guess where the songs may be going. Annoucing their final song, I start to prepare for the next band, they never got back to me. They’ll get what they’re given. As it happens the funky sounds of Straw Donkey go very well with a whole host of my work. Handy. Same to of the Alcoholidays. With a few blinded musicians, beers sunk, the night draws to a premature close as the bar staff are needed to go over the road. Not happy at this, feel we’ve been skanked, filled the bar on a quiet day (bloody fringe festival) and we are dispensed with early. Still more time for the after party. Now this is the bit that makes it for me. The completion of a few months work will be taken care of in a flat in Saltburn, with some of the most welcoming people you could ever hope to meet. The details of which, may come later…

*Lashed, Mixmag CD, circa 2000. Mixed by Lisa Lashes, find it, listen to it

**Uncle Albert’s has the best sign I’ve seen on a pub in a good long while