Getting visual: Hong Kong's growing VJ culture

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You’re falling into a vortex of brain-melting hooks, the BPM is replicating the thrum of your heartbeat, the climax of the song is just around the corner and then suddenly… a sharp cluster of lights and images crop up, and the moment explodes.

But the visuals you’re seeing aren’t chemically enhanced magic; in fact, hours and hours of dedicated groundwork and art is involved in creating the images you might see on a screen or a projection on a night out. The art of visual jockeying, or VJing, is a marriage between performance artistry and hardcore technical engineering. A VJ’s technique can range from compiling ready-made videos or images that run through the night, real-time cutting and remixing or producing visuals off of a homemade software programme.

Nicolas Guyon and Frantz Lasorne are Visionaries 777, a multidisciplinary studio which provides visuals for Volar. They create their own software to run images automatically. “All our visuals are in 3D,” Guyon says. “What we’re trying to do now is to present a different dimension to make the visuals interactive with Instagram or Twitter, where you can upload stuff.”


Stefan Hensel (You Know Me Well) and AWI (Visionaries 777) at the Ozone Sky Party

VJ Foriverman, real name Yip Pak-to, also creates his own software to sync images to the music’s BPM. He currently teaches at the Hong Kong Institute of Design but has been VJing for around 10 years, citing Volar, Clockenflap and Armani Bar as his clients. “The VJ industry is very small in Hong Kong – it used to be more popular because of the rise of dance and EDM,” he says. “But now it’s struggling.”

The founder of drum ‘n’ bass promoters Magnetic Soul, VJ Sembei (David Chillingsworth), was influenced by the huge VJ scene in Japan. “I love it, but it’s hard work,” he says. “You either have to create your own content or at the very least splice up clips. If you look at DJ culture, there has been an explosion, partly due to the popularity of electronic music, but also due to the advances in DJ software technology. Those same advances have happened with VJ software but you don’t see many people getting into it.”

As with any creative industry, booking gigs is tough. Often, the VJ’s name is left off the event flyer altogether, although their participation is as integral to a successful club night as a DJ is. VJ Ocular (Eddie Tsang), who’s been VJing for drum ‘n’ bass and dub nights for over eight years, is extremely gung-ho about his setups and managed to convince Backstage to paint their walls white to project better visuals. It’s rare, however, for venues to be this accommodating. “It can be quite stressful,” VJ Ocular confesses. “I literally have to set everything up in a few hours just before the show starts, and bring in my own screens and computers."


Visionaries777 at Clockenflap 2013

Andy Stokes, who does visuals for Clockenflap and was part of the Robot event crew, has a few things to say on the VJing culture here and the direction it’s heading in. “I’ve lost interest in just playing other people’s clips – I have to make my own original content,” he says. “People push a button now and there’s a spinning tunnel.” Despite this, he’s positive about the future of VJing in Hong Kong, telling us that Clockenflap are upping the ante this year by getting more VJs – international and local – involved. He ends on a note most probably echoed by all VJs. “I’d like to see a lot more attention being given to VJs, and see people actually considering them at the same level as the DJs, and I’d like to see nights that aren’t just for the music, but for the visuals as well.” Ysabelle Cheung

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