Top 10 VJs in Underground Electronic Music

Apart from the beats, a good night should also provide visual stimulation along with an audible one. The often forgotten people who control these visuals – the visual jockey- are the artists that create a harmonized, visual component to further the audio-performance of the DJ.

In its own right, VJing is a relatively new profession that began to develop with the rise of technology and development of cheap computers in the 90s, with the first VJ software being released in 1992. The VJ operates technology that creates a 2- or 3D animation with specific software or film to generate real-time, optical illusory visuals displayed on a monitor.

VJs have to be on-top of their game, capable of synchronizing their art with that of the DJ, flexible so as to adapt to a number of different styles of music in one night, often not knowing what track will be played next. Slowly but surely, VJs are stepping out of the shadows of DJs, creating a stand-alone, independent form of culture. DJB gives credit to the top ten VJs in electronic music that have transformed the clubbing experience by creating a harmonization of the two most important senses, sound and sight.

1/ Pfadfinderei
Berlin-based Pfadfinderei, (translated as ‘pathfinders’ or ‘boyscouts’) specialize in interactive media scenography, often applying innovative ideas to fusing light, video and spatial design. Having done live shows for the tours of Paul Kalkbrenner, Moderat and Modeselektor, Pfadfinderei are one of Berlin’s true gems. Synchronising music with minimal light and video, using 3D layers of translucent gaze, they open different perspectives from all angles in the audience. These media alchemists also create album covers, video clips in addition to art installations and their humorous approach and distinctive imagination is remarkable.

2/ Heleen Blanken
Heleen Blanken is a cutting-edge Dutch artist in the electronic music scene. She began by doing various visual projects with some of Amsterdam’s leading clubs and galleries, but nowadays you’re more likely to find her creating atmospheres for festivals and clubs worldwide. Responsible for the visuals behind the UFO stage at this year’s Dekmantel, she has performed alongside Marcel Fengler, Ben Klock and Jeff Mills. Heleen is keen to put natural elements into the clubbing atmosphere from which she draws her inspiration. Most of her projections therefore consist of stars, clouds, birds and mountains. “I love what nature produces without a human interference,” explains Heleen in an interview with Sekoia. It’s then no surprise that her studio in Amsterdam is filled with a wide selection of minerals and gemstones.

3/ Gridspace
Inspired by modern-day science fiction, Montreal’s Gridspace creates visuals that stem from dark, galactic themes to bright panoramas. Gridspace’s visuals have graphitized numerous festivals such as Mutek and Igloofest with mood-enhancing visuals in deceptively simple tones of black, white, red and blue. His projects push visual and technical limits while he formulates images attuned to a variety of producers by sculpting his projection beams with motion graphics.

4/ Jem the Misfit
Jemma Woolmore aka. Jem the Misfit has made a huge impression on the European visual and electronic scene. Having VJed alongside the likes of Sven Väth, Paula Temple, Nina Kraviz and Ricardo Villalobos, this badass lady has in three short years risen to become one of Berlin’s top visual artists. At Croatia’s 2014 Sonus Festival she was behind the custom visual live performance for two stages. Her apocalyptic visual maps are often combined with warm blue and orange colours adding sensory warmth. Her brilliance also extends to exhibition projects, one of which ‘Music and Mood’ created an audio-visual journey that explored the idea that music affects us all, and that sounds can produce real change.

5/ Chris Cunningham
Ingenious and widely-acclaimed, Chris Cunningham is known for the intimate, sexually-charged robots in Björks “All is Full of Love” and the nightmarish Aphex Twin’s clip “Come to Daddy”. This dark, British mastermind, who derives his inspiration from Star Wars, is known to create multimedia shows filled with horror and beauty. The sci-fi DJ/VJ has performed at Sonar, Roskilde and Melt! festivals, projecting clips of strange human activity that is likely to have left you feeling disturbed albeit in awe by the whole experience.

6/ AntiVj
Stepping away from standard setups and techniques, the AntiVJ artists create immersive installations and live performances that challenge the audience’s senses. The European group, formed by Yannick Jacquet, Olivier Ratsi, Romain Tardy and Joanie Le Mercier, step away from standard setups and techniques with tasteful visual projections where aggressively flashing, colourful lights are replaced by supra-slow moving objects and lines. Joanie Le Mercier, who left the collective recently explained in a blog post that the name was chosen ‘half as a statement, and half as a joke’ to ‘dissociate and distance [their] work from basic club projections.’ One of their most famous shows, in which current member Simon Geilfus performed with Murcof, featured stars, lines and chemical particles that were projected on multiple screens to create a 3D-sensory experience that had no boundaries, taking the audience through a mind-blowing journey where the light sources could barely be perceived.

7/ Lillevan
An experienced visual artist, Lillevan performs at experimental music shows held in sit-down venues such as the Festival Luces de Invierno in Mexico. He’s played alongside electronic guitarist Christian Fennesz and even works with dancers and orchestras. Born in Ireland but based in Berlin, his distinct visual aesthetic is a result of his film studies. In an RA interview, he explains that his desire to be in control of the whole process and interest in visual play led him to abandon a career as a director, instead turning to short film. Lillevan’s visuals are simple, but tasteful, often presenting distorted clouds and drones through flickering images on one single screen.

8/ u-Matic
Ute Härting’s u-matic uses real-life footage, reduced to pixels and graphic elements to create an experimental visual experience at festivals, exhibitions and clubs. At the opening of the Light ART Tour 2013, u-matic teamed up with telematique to create a four-seasons themed video-mapping performance. Swirling circles of lines and dots were mapped on a castle wall to the sound of Bach and Vivaldi performed by Musica Sequenza. His approach is distinctly minimalistic as he reduces real life footage to pixels and graphic elements creating an experimental video mosaic.

9/ Jörg Franzmann
DJ and video artist Franzmann has been producing club visuals since 1996 at venues such as WMF, Watergate and Panorama Bar. Creator of a number of videos for the Perlon label, he has also VJed at Get Perlonized! for the likes of Zip, Margaret Dygas and Sammy Dee. His performances are characterized by simple but dark projections featuring a collage of random, sexual videos intertwined with trippy computerized features.

10/ Supermafia

Swiss label Supermafia use visuals that are often based on pure and simple geometry, using triangular shaped LED lights or rectangular screens and trippy animations. One of their three-layer installations places a DJ in-between a hologram and background screen so that the objects are closer to the audience than the DJ. This low-key Swiss group of VJs use versatile and adaptive installations that fit well in small venues as well as huge festival stages.