Pity the VJ. While DJs get the glitz, the glamour, the girls (or guys) and a fair old bit of gold, your average VJ winds up hidden away behind a big old pile of equipment making the record spinners look good. But ask Shakinda, the guy who’ll be lighting up the Floating Stage at Festival Centre this Thursday, and he’ll tell you that things are looking up. ‘It’s like DJing 15 years ago,’ he explains. ‘People like David Guetta were stuck in the back room of a club in Paris because they were “only the DJ” and now they are superstars.
I think VJing needs its Pete Tong: someone to become a household name and educate the masses to the subtleties of the art form.’ Easier said than done, though, since it’s those subtleties that hold VJing back. ‘It is an interesting dynamic,’ he agrees. ‘Music fills every square centimetre of a club, whereas with even the biggest installs you have to be looking at the visuals to see them.’
It’s a wonder anyone becomes a VJ at all, though in the case of Shakinda – real name Graham Robinson – it was very much a passionate reaction to ‘out-of-time and unrelated visual content at gigs’. After completing a computer science degree and researching the history of colour and music – taking in Isaac Newton, the birth of abstract art, experimental films, ’60s light shows and the early VJ pioneers – he launched his own business as a VJ to put things right.
‘I see VJing as kinetic, visual art,’ he says. ‘I try to use form and colour to convey feelings and communicate with the audience. Some of my content is created from live graphic programming, which I use to visually interpret the music I am performing with. In the same way that a graphic designer uses Photoshop brushes and blends to build a design, I use volume peaks and sine waves to control visual elements.
Other parts of my show come from pre-rendered graphics or video clips that I have story-boarded and shot. In my opinion, the art of the VJ is in creating an experience that the audience will never forget.’
And one of the ways he burns those memories into the clubbers’ brains is by maipulating the inbuilt mechanics of that very same grey matter – specifically, the phenomenon of synaesthesia, in which the brain interprets one sense as another. For example, actually seeing sounds as colours and shapes.
While true synaesthesia only affects a small number of the population, the principles behind it, says Shakinda, apply to everyone. ‘There are scientific papers that suggest all people have the potential to experience it. I myself conducted scientific testing that proved a test group of clubbers made associations between certain colour groups and certain styles of electronic music. Warm, fuzzy house was more likely to be suited to pastel colours, while industrial techno led to them choosing stronger contrasts, such as red and black.
The fact that the previous statement seems obvious to many further highlights the fact that these typed of association are present in everyone. ‘How that translates to my sets varies quite a lot: subtle use of energetic reds can be used to draw more people to the dancefloor and blues and colder colours can relax a bit of tension. Sometimes I just feel the vibe of a few colours and change my whole library to that group for a period of time or even the whole night.’
But despite all of his science Shakinda admits that it’s by no means a cut-and-dry business. ‘Like all art forms, VJ sets can be highly subjective. I’ve watched some really slow generated visuals performed with banging techno and the juxtaposition was really interesting. Was the VJ trying to be that clever? I guess I’ll never know…’
And science is only part of it – he draws on his Celtic Christian faith to inspire his art. Even his DJing name means ‘the presence or glory of God’. But sometimes that raises its own problems. ‘Some of the more traditional Christian denominations within Ireland sometimes struggle with the concept of dancing and nightclubs and that has lead to the occasional protest at some really big shows,’ he says.
But he’s kept on soldiering through. So, will his passion for VJing make him into the big Pete Tong-esque breakout star? Perhaps not. ‘I’m personally not interested in being famous at that level,’ he says, casually. ‘I think the hassle would far outweigh the gains. But VJing is very important and I enjoy travelling to other countries, so I’ll follow that as far as it takes me.’
VJ Shakinda plays at the Floating Stage, April 16.