Storytellers of a new generation
Going Beyond The Music: An Insight Into The World Of Visual Jockeys Cover Picture

Going Beyond The Music: An Insight Into The World Of Visual Jockeys

Enter a new breed of entertainers who work behind the scenes to create an audio-visual experience.

Music isn’t how it used to be anymore – while genres like rock ‘n roll, jazz or even classical music have managed to salvage their fan following, the new sound that’s been emerging is electronic music. If one takes to it personally or not is irrelevant, because what is most interesting about this new sound is the visual element that complements it. Enter a new breed of entertainers called Visual Jockeys (VJs), who work behind the scene to create a memorable audio-visual experience for the audience.

India isn’t too far behind in this trend and has its own unique visual culture that’s growing around this profession. And while there may not be too many VJs at the moment, the numbers are definitely growing.

Bangalore, for instance, has offered some of the best names over time: from pioneers like VJ KayCee and VJ Harish to younger acts like VJ Zombie. KayCee, who started off in 2007, has gone from doing free shows at clubs that didn’t want to pay for screens and projectors to having created a huge name for himself and always having interesting projects to work on. Like him, Nishant John aka VJ Zombie, also finds it to be a viable profession. “That’s why so many more people are getting into it these days. As long as there are gigs with music around, there’s always going to be a lot of work,” says Nishant.

Another great place for VJs is Mumbai, which has given a stage to VJs like Wolves, Moebius, Oblique and Decoy. Wolves – comprising of Jash Reen and Joshua D’Mello – has reached new heights in the field, experimenting with media and lights and embracing technology to create giant holograms and intricate mapping. Moebius, the project of Nikunj Patel, takes inspiration from the duo and has created its own visual style. “There’s so many artists coming out of India and they’re not restricted to genres. A lot of people are willing to collaborate and that’s a great thing,” says the optimistic Nikunj.

Sri Lankan DJ Sunara performing at Border Movement Lounge, KolkataSri Lankan DJ Sunara performing at Border Movement Lounge, Kolkata

Unfortunately, this profession has not attracted too many women yet. But the one name that definitely stands out is VJ Decoy, the stage name of Dhanya Pilo, who creates, shoots, edits and animates her own content. For her, “Vjing is a mix of film language, rhythm, technicality and live improvisation. So when I’m playing with a musician, I bring in my own narrative to his or her musical journey and blend it (not mix it) and the audience experiences the new dialogue that is formed.”

There’s also the lack of understanding about what exactly the VJ does. While VJ Decoy has often been congratulated on the great music after shows and has to point to the DJ who was responsible for it, VJ KayCee has been mistaken for the guy doing the lights several times! There’s also the concern of budgets, points out VJ Zombie, elaborating that clients still have not understood the importance of the visual aspect of a show. “To be fair, it’s still a relatively new thing here compared to the rest of the world. This sometimes limits the budgets that you’re working with,” he shares.

One of the highlights for Indian VJs was the 2014 Pettah Interchange Video Lab in Sri Lanka, where three Indian VJs – Moebius, Zombie and Oblique – learnt under Berlin’s famous design collective Pfadfinderei. While Moebius collaborated with Pakistani electronica artist Rudoh, Zombie mastered the art of minimalism. Sourya Sen aka Oblique, a perfectionist when it comes to syncing the visuals to the music, also took home lessons on creating the visual experience, which he has used extensively on his tours around India since.

Another plus point for India is the fact that VJs are investing in the right technology. For instance, Varun Desai, a Calcutta-based VJ, uses interactive devices like the Leap Motion Controller and Mindwave Brainwave Headset. While the former controls visuals by hand movements, the headset uses the impulses from brain neurons to control the video.

Today, the scope for a VJ has extended beyond clubs and music festivals to the corporate world, with more and more opportunities presenting themselves at big events like IPL matches, dance performances, TV show sets, weddings and launches, where the stakes are much higher than club gigs where a VJ gets anything between Rs 5000 – Rs 25,000.

VJ Harish, who has moved from just club gigs to content creation for corporate clients, says that the thin line between art and commerce can be crossed sometimes. “I only take up jobs that give me creative freedom. I’m programming 38 screens at the stadium the Royal Challengers Bangalore matches this IPL with VJ SkaM and VJ BeeVee and I’ve also worked on the Bengaluru Football Club matches. VJing is a profession where the work is challenging no matter what the project is!” he concludes.


By Rohini Kejriwal
Photography: Rohini Kejriwal