In the world of VJs, one name has consistently produced pioneering work and given us a glimpse of the success possible for AV acts. Formed in 1992 by Graham Daniels and Tolly, Addictive TV quickly rose to the top of the budding audiovisual scene in the UK and Europe. Early on, they found outlets for their work through the Mixmasters TV series aired on UK television's ITV1 and quickly gained popularity in the club and festival circuits. Inspiring an entire generation of artists exploring the crossover between audio and visual mediums, Addictive TV has spearheaded a revolution in audiovisual performance.
Realizing the need for an AV community to support the art, Daniels and Tolly formed a number of events to help catalyze the movement. The AudioVisual Lounge was an event held regularly in London that gave AV artists a place to gather and show work. The Optronica Festival is a gathering featuring the best in AV acts and crossover art. These institutions have formed a cornerstone in the AV community.
Recognized by Pioneer for their innovative style, Addictive TV was at the core of the development team that perfected the DVJ DVD turntable, now commonplace in nightclubs around the world. This piece of hardware is critical to Daniels' and Tolly's show, as the primary instrument the duo uses to remix videos on the fly. Having spent so much time beta testing and refining its functionality, they have an intimate knowledge of the DVJ's inner workings not shared by most. Coupled with the VJ software VJamm Pro and an audio mixer equipped with MIDI, it is a powerful kit for live performance.
Recently, Daniels and Tolly were tapped to do the first ever official remix of a Hollywood film, Take the Lead, starring Antonio Banderas. The success of this project has led to a dramatic change in how VJ culture is seen by the movie industry, just as the music industry was forced to recognize remix culture in the late 80s. In addition to touring and playing live shows, this type of promotional remixing has become a staple for the duo.
We had a chance to catch up with Daniels and Tolly after a week of rocking stages at South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, TX. Here's what they had to say…
LD: South by Southwest (SXSW) is widely known as a rock ‘n’ roll festival. How did this audience receive your performance?
Graham Daniels: The SXSW show was really fantastic. There was a big crowd, maybe 1,500 people, and Stubb's Amphitheatre is, I believe, the biggest venue in Austin. It's where all the larger acts play when they're in town. R.E.M. was playing there the following night, and Motorhead the day after that, so it was great to be playing that stage for SXSW. And the reviews we've since read are incredible. One journalist said we blew their minds…and another called our set “a downright electrifying show” — not bad for a rock crowd!
Tolly: At first, I think quite a lot of people didn't really know what to expect from us, but then soon got into it quite quickly. There were a lot of film people in the audience, as this was the Film Closing Party, combined with the Music Opening Party, so that helped I think, but musically, we're quite rock-influenced in some of what we do. For us, as we're kind of regarded as a dance music electronic act — albeit an AV one with the unusual addition of pictures — it was a relief to go down so amazingly well in a rock music town! Loads of people came up afterward saying how awesome the set was, so it couldn't have been better.
LD: What type of content did you use for the show? Did you tailor the set for the South by Southwest crowd?
Tolly: Our set was pretty much half and half film and music remixes, and we normally play a longer DJ-length 90-minute set, so we did play a cut-down, one-hour set compared to normal. We tailored it to be accessible for the crossover audience that we thought we'd get and so kept in most of our rock remixes like AC/DC and so on.
Daniels: We dropped in a remix of Austin hero Willie Nelson's “On the Road Again,” which got a huge cheer…also cut up some of Quentin Tarantino's new movie Death Proof, which was all shot and filmed in Austin, with Queen's “Another One Bites the Dust.”
LD: Are you using any type of computer playback or processing in your setup? Is it strictly playback off of DVD?
Daniels: We use a combination of laptop and three DVD turntables — the Pioneer DVJ-1000s — plus an audio mixer with MIDI, like a Pioneer DJM-1000 or 800 that can control our video mixer, an Edirol V4, that's been modified to also take audio. So as an AV mixer, it enables us to cut and scratch audio and video at the same time. The laptop runs VJammPro audiovisual triggering software, so it contains banks of AV samples.
Tolly: That's just the club or music festival type setup. When we perform our live cinema project, The Eye of the Pilot, at film or arts festivals, we also have a second laptop running Ableton Live with a MIDI controller and with our guitarist, Alex, who has fretless seven-string guitars and three audio mixers.
LD: Has a DVD ever started skipping on you during your performance?
Tolly: Yes, once, live in front of the whole crowd, a DVD completely jammed up on us at a gig in Rome! We had to suddenly do a lot of effects and shout into the mic with Graham triggering clips, as I lined up another track and mixed it in. It worked fine!
LD: It's well known that you were early adopters of the Pioneer DVJ series DVD turntables, even beta testing them. Do you use other MIDI controllers? Do you use a video sampler to play back audio and video simultaneously?
Daniels: Yes, we were testing them right from the start, and from what I know, we were the first ones outside of Japan to have them — hand-built proto-types of the old DVJ-X1 model — back in 2003. Hard to believe it was that long ago, really, but yes, for our usual AV shows, we've pretty much settled on a stable setup now based around Pioneer's DVJ-1000 turntables. They're just brilliant machines for what we do. You can do everything you could do on a CD deck, like scratching and looping, pitch shifting, and so on, but with pictures always in perfect sync.
Tolly: Yes, we do use MIDI controllers but as I said before, mainly with our live cinema project setup, for use with Ableton Live software. For AV triggering, the VJammPro software we use is essentially a sampler, but we don't generally take a MIDI controller for that. We often use MIDI from a DJM-800 or 1000 audio mixer to control our V4 video mixer. That allows me to cut the video as well as Graham when I need to.
LD: As an AV act, your shows have the added complexity of video. Do you find that venues are prepared to accommodate you, or do you have to bring in custom display hardware?
Daniels: A lot of bigger venues have basic screens and projectors these days, and most places we play don't find it too hard to do a one-off install for us with multiple screens or bigger projectors, if needed. Obviously, we can only play those places that actively want to accommodate us, and since we're booked as an audiovisual act, it tends not to be much of a problem. Occasionally, though, we find certain countries where DVJ decks are hard to get hold of, so we have to bring our own, but that's about it.
Tolly: With some venues, though, it does require a bit of technical planning when it's the first time we play there, but as long as there's enough ceiling height to put up a large screen, it's not really an issue. It's on our tech riders that venues or promoters supply the display side of things, and so it tends not to be an issue at all. In other words, we can't really play the small clubs with low ceilings and a one-man DJ booth anyway, but that's fine since we prefer a bigger space and more people.
LD: How did the screen configuration you used in Austin compare to other shows you've done? What's the coolest screen configuration you've ever played on?
Tolly: Stubbs Amphitheatre is probably the biggest venue in Austin, and they pretty much put the biggest screen they could actually physically fit onto the stage, and it was a totally cool gig but wasn't that big by the standards of some places we've played.
Daniels: Yeah, the coolest screen setup ever was probably at the Sziget Festival in Budapest in Hungary, a huge festival on an island in the middle of the Danube River. They built a total wrap-around screen setup, comprised of eight projectors and eight huge individual screens for a crowd of about 3,000. We've also played at the London IMAX cinema, which is Europe's largest screen, about 80' wide and 60' high.
Tolly: Yeah, and each year we also play a big free party outdoors at London's National Theatre, where we use a 20,000-lumen projector to play images on a 60'-wide flat tower with no windows that's on top of the building that you can see all the way across the River Thames. It looks kind of like an enormously giant TV from a distance!
LD: What is the workflow like designing your content? Does the audio creation follow the video, or is the video produced to a finished audio track?
Daniels: Neither — both are done completely simultaneously, with me and Tolly sitting side by side swapping files backward and forward and simply creating a piece. We look for audiovisual samples in the footage — should point out that they have to work both aurally and visually — and then we begin the process of constructing a basic tune that works musically from those, always making sure the pictures also do what we need in terms of narrative or composition.
Tolly: Yep, then it's just a long old slog, no different to music composition — trying stuff out, seeing what works — but with the added complication of thinking in two mediums at once. It's something we've had to work out how to do from first principles really to achieve what we need. It's not easy to describe, but it's kind of a cross between filmmaking and composing. The difference with us, though, is that we don't separate out the processes for audio and video. We treat them as part of just one thing, and hopefully, that shows in the end results. What you see is what you hear and vice versa.
LD: How do you see the recent advancements in video and computer technology? Are technologies like HD playback and realtime video processing changing the way you go about making your art?
Daniels: Not quite yet, but I'm sure the day is coming when it will. DVD turntables are not yet HD, so that's a limiting factor right now — be great if they played Blu-ray. You can play back HD off servers and sync them up, but that's not an easy solution for playing abroad a lot. There are also no HD audiovisual mixers yet. In fact, Pioneer only just this year released its first AV mixer to work with DVJs, so we're some years away from seeing an HD AV performance kit. Projectors can handle that side of things with ease these days, but playback is not quite there for a quick and easy club or festival setup. Faster computers and realtime editing is speeding up the production process though. We use a Grass Valley Edius system, but for most people who are not doing either huge concert visuals or one-off art installations, standard def is still the norm.
LD: Do you see the industry driving the art or the art driving the industry? In other words, is the audience and establishment ready for AV acts, or are you educating your audience on what an AV act is?
Tolly: I think it's a bit of both, really. Art and industry always work hand in hand. Technology now allows us to do things we couldn't five years ago, and computers and AV software are improving, as well.
Daniels: The big players in the entertainment industry are now looking at what we do with interest, and we're now remixing films for Hollywood studios, mainly for web viral publicity campaigns but also for TV adverts and as DVD extras. And as we and other artists perform live more and do more official remix work, then over time audiences become more literate with respect to audiovisual remixing. This then feeds back to the mainstream, and you'll see more trailers and TV commercials begin to embody a remix style or approach, and I see that happening now.
Every time we play, we hope to bring new people to an appreciation of “audiovisual-ness,” if you like, and we've always gone out to try and bring it to the mainstream, like with our Mixmasters project, a long running television series of DJ/VJ sessions we produced that also came out on DVD, and our Optronica Festival in London that concentrates on live audiovisual performances with high production values, so it can work as mainstream entertainment.
LD: Your work brings you into collaboration with many different artists and groups. Who has been was especially fun to work with? Do you collaborate with other video artists?
Daniels: We tend to be quite busy with our own projects and so don't do as much creative collaborating as we'd like. But we've worked with the guys from EBN — Emergency Broadcast Network — who were total pioneers in the audiovisual sampling/cut-up field. 808 State were great to work with too, as was Howie B. We've also staged concerts at our Optronica Festivals with a whole host of interesting and creative people like filmmaker Peter Greenaway doing his live VJ show, Kraftwerk's former front-man, Karl Bartos, and also DJ Spooky doing a live film remix. Currently, we're producing some UK audiovisual acts and their debut DVD albums, and later this year, we'll be collaborating with Liverpool act Kinetic Fallacy for a big outdoor show at Liverpool's docklands as part of the city's European Capital of Culture celebrations.
LD: Do you ever collaborate with the lighting designers in advance of your shows? Do you find that coordination of lights and video can add to the overall experience?
Tolly: In an ideal world, they should work together; in practice, they often don't, and we tend to keep show lighting to a minimum and let the screen do the lighting, as normal rock band/DJ set style lighting tends to get a bit distracting and often spills all over the screen. Having said that, we did just do a big gig in Spain at Barcelona's Razzmatazz club where the lighting engineer did a great job. It was kind of an experiment, as he was working with a lot more lighting than we normally use. It doesn't always work, but if it's done subtly and with a bit of planning, then, yes, it really adds to a gig. Mostly, we don't get any chance to rehearse shows with the lighting guys, and since we don't yet travel with a full entourage of sound and lighting crew, we tend to always opt for the safe option of killing most of the lights on stage!
LD: What was your favorite show last year? Why?
Tolly: That's a tough one…we played something like 50 gigs in 40 countries last year. But a very memorable one would be in Japan at Womb, the Tokyo super-club. This was a big gig with a fantastic audience. Even Pioneer Japan brought down about 30 technical development people, and they really wanted us to meet each one formally, so when we came off stage, we had to go down a line of people bowing and shaking hands. It was a bit like a royal command performance, if that makes any sense!
Daniels: …I reckon the oddest fave gig was when we played a “silent disco” headphone set in the main dance tent at Glastonbury Festival. Everyone in the audience is on headphones, and the PA is turned off. Usually, this is a clever way of keeping an event running after a local noise curfew kicks in, and it's just the most bizarre sensation playing with no sound in the venue apart from the sound of dancing feet, the crowd a capella singing and lots of whooping and shouting. The singing that people do with headphones on is just great because they don't regulate the volume so tend to be all over the place — amazing.
Tolly: We did a gig to a crowd of 6,000 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas that was also pretty weird, as there were flying cameras, moving screens, exploding pyrotechnics, and at the end of the set, we got rolled away on a moving stage — brilliant, typical Vegas!
LD: What's next? What do you have planned for this year?
Tolly: Next up is another movie remix. We're creating a viral for the new Iron Man movie…fantastic project to be involved with and one of the few Marvel characters not to have had a blockbuster movie.
Daniels: And more on the art tip, we're working on our new live cinema project, Sampling the Culture, about the isolated Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, which just became the world's newest democracy. It's a very closed off country that not many people have ever been allowed to go to, let alone film there. They only allowed television seven years ago, and most of the country still has no electricity. We spent time there last year, filming traditional musicians and ancient dance rituals in a monastery with Buddhist monks in the mountains. We also shot monks playing volleyball and completely stoned cows eating wild marijuana that just grew everywhere on the mountainsides — absolutely incredible place. It should be finished by the summer, as we're doing a big event in Liverpool later this year as part of the 2008 European Capital of Culture celebrations.
Tolly: And with gigs, we've got two dates in Brazil, in Sao Paulo and Rio, and series of dates across Europe — particularly looking forward to Prague in the Czech Republic, as we've not played there before. And later in the year, we're in Tokyo and Shanghai again.