DJ, VJ: or both? Of course these art forms have been around for years, but the machine that brings them together is brand new… Something like a technological phenomenon, the new Pioneer DVJ-X1 unit has inspired many a DJ since its launch in March 2004 at the Musikmesse Show in Germany. Conceptually involved from the beginning with this groundbreaking DVJ technology, and even prior to its genesis, was Dan Tait. Originally from Southend in Essex, but attending university and currently living in Leeds (UK), Dan is a DJ with over a decade of experience and also a graphic designer since graduating with a fine art degree. With numerous productions and remixes in the bag, Dan also spins as part of G-Club with Gerald (‘Guitarra G’) Elms on keys, and Shovell on percussion. It was at one of his live G-Club gigs in London about two years ago that Pioneer’s product development team first made contact with Dan, who was exercising his creative freedom and working out ideas on the CDJ-1000s. Tait’s exceptional technical skills were obvious, and so he quickly became part of the Pioneer testing team alongside the likes of: Roger Sanchez, Sander Kleinenberg, James Zabiela, Erick Morillo and Jeff Mills. However, it is not simply a technical prowess that has allowed Dan to emerge from a crowded DJ market; his method of absorbing elements from a rich variety of electronic dance music sources, while focusing on house, creates a healthy assortment of pliable sounds. Reflecting this fact, Dan was booked to appear in Taiwan with G-Club at the Ministry of Sound in Taipai for two consecutive nights in August, and at The Professional Lighting and Sound Association (PLASA) event at Earls Court, London, in September for a DVJ demonstration. October meanwhile saw Dan performing inside the Discoteca at the Space, Ibiza closing party on Sunday 3rd October with an entire audio-visual DVD set, and outside in DJ Magazine’s arena with a regular DJ set. Indeed it’s been an exceptionally busy few months for Dan, and as he looks forward to showcasing his exceptional DVJ skills to an industry audience at London’s House Music Awards (HMA) this November he reveals: “I tend to focus on rhythm and the crowd’s interaction with the music by picking out certain aspects of the tracks, and then recreating them visually.” So in view of these achievements, Ibiza-Voice investigates the reverberations of this revolutionary new breed via a Q&A with a fresh new DVJ – never mind about Dan Tanit, cue Dan Tait!
Hi Dan; so how has life been treating you since your DVJ set at Space for the closing fiesta, and as a DVJ-X1 (DVD only) set how do you think it went?
“For me it was a great experience. I felt very privileged to be playing at the Space closing party (a dream of so many DJs), and to furthermore to be representing Pioneer with this new technology. Regarding the actual gig, I think it went really well as the crowd reaction to my set was great. They had a fantastic set up, with no fewer than seven huge screens, so the visuals had a great impact and also it’s Space; that club is mad!
…In terms of actual DVJing, the unit allows you to play DVD tracks, which you have prepared visuals for, and then affect them in real time. So for those special moments I find the machine allows me to take the whole club experience one step further, intensifying the situation. Everybody tries to exaggerate drops and builds, and the DVJ-X1 can obviously make a vast difference at these times. However for me, the music always comes first. You don’t want to make a video with a complex narrative, which stops people from dancing as they lose a hypnotic connection with the music to become fixed on the visuals. Dance music revolves around rhythm and repetition, and so you must reflect that in the accompanying visuals. I tend to focus on rhythm and the crowd’s interaction with the music by picking out certain aspects of the tracks, and then recreating them visually. Generally I found Ibiza to be an inspiration once again. It’s a fusion of the clubs, the environment and the people, there is no other place like it!”
If a VJ is in tune with the DJ then their combined performance may be spectacular in a club environment; so how does the new DVJ-X1 machine add to this existing mix and will people be able to use it?
“Yes, as the bare bones of the matter is like mixing one record into another record. The process of DVJing is, literally, as if you were CDJing, and is just as simple. I believe it is very accessible as a form of art. Some DJs will obviously push it by using the looping, Hot Cues and other manipulation tools from the DVJs, as at the end of the day it’s about a performance. A DJ and a VJ can work together, but with the DVJ you get a true reflection of the DJ/DVJ’s intention and inner vision concerning the tracks they have chosen to play. To some extent you may argue a DVD track is a pre-planned thing, as it is recorded beforehand, but if a DJ/DVJ has had the foresight to create an intense visual accompaniment that works in the club then that’s still a great talent. After all, DJs play pre-recorded music from CDs and often have rough sets planned out… And it’s not a problem if you want to play something spontaneously from vinyl that doesn’t have a visual already, you just use some visual loops that you can beat-match and improvise with for that duration. Another important point about DVJ tracks is the fact that they are unique to you as the creator, and that itself can create a buzz. With a DVJ track, you can change people’s perception of tracks by juxtaposing the music with unrelated visuals; it’s certainly a lot of fun and is essentially another channel of communication. In a market saturated with good DJs, it means you are offering something different and it allows to get your own character across without undermining the music.”
Ok, regarding the Pioneer Pro DJ DVJ-X1, briefly how did you get involved in its development to become one of their testers and DVJs?
“Well, I was DJing with G-Club and the Pioneer product planner for Europe wanted to meet ‘the man who had made ‘Guitarra G’’, so he came to one our gigs at the Vibe Bar (in London) and really liked what he saw – returning to our party for the following two sessions! He was impressed with how I was using the equipment to enhance our live show, and we got talking… The first piece of kit I tested was the CDJ-1000 MKII and then, about 18 months ago, I went to the product-planning meetings for the DVJ. From there I performed at various trade shows, did a load of dates as part of G-Club in Ibiza last year, then the Space closing this summer, and that brings us up to today.”
So, are clubs and promoters doing enough to nurture this new breed of DVJ?
“There are more and more DVJs out there, and I believe the art form will grow and develop alongside technology. So many venues now have projectors and screens, but the quality of these are so important. Like a club needs a fantastic soundsystem, to make a real impact if you’re going to do the DVJ thing you need a good a set of projectors because to make a real impact as a DVJ the visuals need to be thoroughly encompassing. The ideal situation is not simply showing your images on a plasma screen covering part of a wall; it’s having huge screens covering all four walls of the club! Like smoke machines, strobes and lasers, projections add atmosphere to a club’s environment allowing your DVJ performance to come across in the best possible light – if you pardon the pun.”
From a graphic design point of view, and being a DJ, is this the best of both world’s then – your dream machine?
“Previously I have always kept my design work and DJing separate. I spent three years completing my fine art degree, persistently trying to combine my love of music and my passion for art. Attempting to marry the two became increasingly frustrating because they were seemingly so disparate. So it’s really ironic that four years after graduating, this machine comes out that allows me to do just that; and to use my understanding of colour, composition, light etc, but with music and for a format that is universal in the sense of nightclubs! It’s exciting that this art is taking place, not in a gallery, or a museum, but in nightclubs where you are able to reach many more people. As this conceptually complex machine is so unique it did take me a while to fully realise and understand the possibilities and even now I am still trying to get my head around the enormity of it.”
Tell us how you use characteristic visuals (you create many yourself) to reflect individual sets, and maybe something about what that involves technically?
“When preparing content you could start out by sampling and stealing footage/content from TV, DVDs etc; but to be honest I am happiest using my own original footage and editing it together myself. Lifting stuff is fun but can rely a little too much on the novelty aspect. It’s always about enhancing the music first and foremost. Technology wise, I use an Apple 15-inch Powerbook G4. I edit video in Final Cut Pro, the text effects in Live Type, and then other effects are done in After Effects. The footage I shoot is captured on a small Sony camera. It’s very portable and handy to carry around with me, which is very important. Then I compile the DVDs in DVD Studio Pro and use the Edirol V-4 Video Mixer to mix the video from the DVJ’s.”
What technical facets of the DVJ-X1 are set to stun and blow user’s away the most?
“I think what’s going to astound people the most is actually understanding the whole concept of DVJing, because the DVJ-X1 is literally a CDJ for visuals; but the larger picture will thrill the masses, not just the people using the equipment. To get a little technical, features like: the Loops, Hot Loops and Hot Cues (where you can jump from any part of the DVD into a loop or to a cue point), the memory card, and the scratch and reverse additions are all useful, but the bottom line is that Pioneer make equipment that works and is rock solid. They don’t put extra features on for the sake of it; they just give the user the tools to be creative!
…Before you had DVD there was VHS, and before you had CDs there was vinyl. The old media formats were really unmanageable, but as soon as you get into the digital realm you can easily manipulate and work the two together. Video editing itself has also come of age – the fact you can now buy a consumer Mac for under GBP 1,000 with video editing on it and a cheap camera is amazing for people wanting to get into the art. On the more commercial side of worldwide clubbing there is a huge market for the DVJ-X1 from clubs that play ‘popular’ music, as they can just play pop videos. And for a generation that has grown up on MTV, these clubs have just reached their logical conclusion! However, so many other scenes, from the underground up, can potentially benefit from this boundless technology. Plus I think it will really shake up the different generations of DJs out there, but will hopefully make the parties better!”
As a graphic designer, the process of creating visuals for your music must be relatively easy, but what about those DJs who have fewer visual skills?
“I have thought about this and there aren’t that many people around, firstly who are a DJ, and secondly that have good visual design skills. Yet I think making music is far more complex, and there are plenty of kids out there making tracks on packages like Cubase and Reason. People get their heads around these complex systems, so it can be the same with audio-visual art, ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way.’”
So, you obviously see the DJ’s future as a very visual matter then?
“I think there are two facets to this: the underground DJs will use visuals to enhance their sets and give a unique show, while commercial DJs will play pop videos. The future of underground dance music singles may furthermore be linked with video. Previously not many of these have been made, but nowadays it seems the obvious thing to do if you are promoting a track. The costs of producing an audio-visual DVD is far less than a full blown pop video, as you are producing visuals to accompany a track in a club not a music video for MTV! Also for a time, while this technology is new, it will make your track more attractive to DVJs who can play the track immediately.”
Do you imagine a new breed of artist will emerge, or do you think the art forms are so complex individually that they will remain separate concerns for the majority of DJs and VJs alike?
“Some DJs will be interested in making visuals for their music; others may still be playing vinyl in 10 years time and not even care, so it depends on the individual. I do hope though that technology helps maintain the high standard of creativity and ‘finish’ to these art forms. However I think a machine, or software, is just around the corner that will splice and mash up any video for you in time to any music at the touch of a button so even a kid could produce visuals!”
Dan, have you any other news on productions etc?
“My studio partner Tom Noise and I have just finished a track called ‘360 Days’ for which I’ve, of course, produced a DVJ track. Reactions have been great for so far. Tom started the track after attending the closing of Space last year; 360 days later and I was playing it at the closing party!”
So, you have a unique selling point here in being a true DVJ… How do you propose to use these special powers during the next few months?
“Well, I am playing a DVJ set at the House Music Awards at Neighbourhood in London on the 4th November, so that should be very interesting. An industry gig, it is quite exciting that these people may have only just heard about the DVJ-X1, and not yet seen it live in action. I’ve also got gigs waiting to be confirmed in Kuala Lumpur, Moscow and Dublin.”