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Go BackVIDEODRUGGING - Eminem, Coca Cola, Hollywood & Zenith Ibiza have all benefited from VJ pioneer Micha Klein's pharmaceutical twist

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VJ pioneer Micha Klein discusses the Dutch influence, artistic inklings, ‘Metadreams,’ playing with Tiesto, ‘Videoflux’ and so much more.

"We should never forget we are free however, to create our own reality and value systems, which is what a lot of early house culture was all about" says Dhr. Klein existentially.

Producing ‘new media’ art for our sake, Micha Klein was born in Harderwijk and now resides in Amsterdam (Netherland). A digital artist and vj pioneer, music loving Micha graduated art academy - one of the first with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Computer Graphics, in 1989 - embracing computer technology, which in turn accepts all art. Klein fast became regarded in Holland and beyond as ‘Club Love’ architect and high priest of the professional ‘Club VJ,’ with his large-scale events taking place as far back as 1988.

The prolific Klein has since continued to be more than productive; he’s founded his own company ‘Metadreams’ (with Rik Arends) and created his own 3D VJ software titled ‘VideoFlux;’ Micha also brought ‘VideoDrugs’ to warehouse parties and live vjing to Ibiza for the first time. Meanwhile the Groninger Museum (NL) has honoured Micha Klein with a ten-year retrospective of his art, and Eminem has used Klein's ‘Pillman’ character on tour. He’s exhibited in London, New York, Tokyo, Milan and San Francisco (to name a few locations) and these days his zealous clientele include Coca-Cola and Hollywood.

Always classic, but with a pharmaceutical twist and considerable reference to (art) history and popular culture, Micha is continually providing ‘Art for the People.’ Klein’s contemplative work persistently evolves and questions our very existence – what could be more important? Therefore as this art of the zeitgeist and club vjing currently expands, gaining in popularity, we decided to speak with the momentous master…

Hello Micha, you graduated from the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam; is it fair to say that the surrounding liberal Dutch culture had an impact on your early artistic inklings?
MK: “Of course for young Dutch artists Amsterdam is the place to be. In the time I was studying at the Rietveld there was still the squatter movement - there were many possibilities for showing your work, getting together in alternative spaces and for artist run initiatives. This was a time with space for underground culture and that was very inspiring. The liberal mindset of that culture was a good breeding ground for art that was rebellious and free.”

You had a dream of contemporary art that was way ahead of its time in the late 1980s and obviously poured this vision into your own company (Metadreams) in 2001, did you also envisage your success at that time?
MK: “No. Although every artist probably wants to be successful, wanting to be successful should never be the main drive of your work. I was just happy doing what I loved, so I could put a lot of energy in my work. In the end if you love what you do, and do what you love it will always pay off. It can take a long time though, so you’ve got to be patient too; it took ten years since I left Art Academy before my first commercial successes in the art world.”

You are a vj pioneer! How does it feel to know that a major talking point of the WMC in Miami this year will be the first dj deck that allows manipulation of video, the Pioneer DVJ-X1? (You were doing this back in 1988) Do you imagine djing will become more interactive and dazzling in the next year or so?
MK: “It's great to see how big vjing has become over the years. Really cool also to see that companies are coming out with new equipment to facilitate a bigger growth. We are living in a multi-media age, so we can't live on music alone anymore. Visuals will become an integral part of electronic culture, and in the future djs will become media jockeys. It’s wild to have been at the birth of this development and to witness its growth.”

How has vjing evolved for you from the psychedelic ‘summer of love’ type graphics with day-glo trance music as accompaniment; and are you still playing events?
MK: “Vjing has become massive. Last year I did an eight-hour set with 'Tiesto in Concert' - the world’s first stadium concert for one dj. There were 20,000 people there and I was working with a huge LED screen that’s as bright as the lasers. For these big events vjing is an important communicative element to bring the people together. In terms of style, things get more sophisticated. Because of faster computers more complex 3D animations are possible, and the usage of our own software mixer 'Videoflux' (which we’ve developed in the past five years) makes the mixing so much more advanced. It's now much easier to switch and mix through various clips, so the interaction with the music becomes much tighter and the shows look a lot better.”

In your work topics of peace, love, icons, idols, cartoons, fetishes and people deal with our cultural obsession with physical beauty, manipulation and the result of a new religion utilising fake values and entertainment. Your messages are compelling – do you think our society is sick?
MK: “Yes our society is sick. But that doesn't mean we have to be. From the media and the governments there seems to be a constant pressure to conform ourselves to be mindless consumers and tax payers, to pray the mantra of capitalism. We should never forget we are free however, to create our own reality and value systems, which is what a lot of early house culture was all about.”

What happened during your ‘Blue Period,’ were you inspired by Pablo Picasso or was it something to do with the lady Claudia who appears in your art?
MK: “The 'Blue Period' obviously refers to Picasso's series that he painted as a young artist. As a sort of joke as well, I made that series around 1990, and it has a very limited pallet in blue hues. I was working as a commercial paint box operator in the day time to be able to work with the most advanced computer of that time, and did advertisements all day. Constantly making things more beautiful then they are, and telling lies for the advertising industry. For my free work I wanted to stay away from that aesthetic at the time. The works from 'Blue Period' are very layered and moody. Composed of samples of 'cultural fall-out,' the series combines images from very diverse cultural and historical backgrounds. Like an image of Claudia Cardinale ripped from a cheap TV guide, combined with ancient rock drawings taken from a art history book… It was the time of the Gulf War and financial crisis. The dark techno of the time and the moodiness of this series reflect that.”

Your clients have included Coca Cola, McDonald’s, Swatch, Heineken, BMG, Marlboro, ID&T, Samsung, Phillips and loads more. Is it ever difficult to mix business on this scale with true art derived from the heart?
MK: “It can be really difficult, but then again, I don't just take any assignment that I'm offered. Most of the time these brands come to me because they want to relate to youth-culture. So then I can push the envelope and inject some different content in their identity. I also try to talk to them and tell them they should transform their strategy to become a 'good' company, to be closer to their consumers and do community projects. Give back to the people instead of shamelessly enriching themselves. I think in the future, companies will be judged on that. For my first Coca-Cola commercial I managed to put in a guy wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt, a girl in a 'Make Love, Not War' T-shirt (just before the war in Iraq) and girls licking each others faces. The commercial was sold to twenty-five countries, a lot in South and Central America too. It's fun to stretch the image of a company in directions they never would imagine, to sort of pile your own layer of meaning on top of theirs. Also by doing commercial assignments I can finance my own art and am not dependent on government subsidies, which gives me more freedom.”

You have a rare combination of philosophic and creative elements together with a scientific, mathematical mind to apply this artistic flair to software programs and so forth, can you be a natural at both branches of learning?
MK: ”I'm a really 'alpha' type of guy, never good at math and physics at school. But slowly I learned to understand the computer and software by working a lot with it. Now I think you should never limit your idea about being alpha/beta. It's very interesting to try to combine and develop both sides.”

What artists (past or present) visual and/or audio wise can you personally relate to?
MK: “I really like the early days of modern art when everything still had yet to be discovered. This was a time of such innovation. I like the Surrealist and Dadaist painters for their attitude and playfulness; particularly Max Ernst, Picabia and Man Ray. I also like Dali, whom I think was the first 'Pop' artist; Andy Warhol for further integrating art and everyday life; Joseph Beuys for his idea of a 'social sculptor' and Nam June Paik for his playful technology. People from the sixties, like Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary and Terence McKenna also inspired me. I was inspired by the do-it-yourself ethic from punk and early house, and I’m always inspired by music which is a great passion in my life.”

What do you think of our kinky taste (in the UK) for shock art (a la Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin) over the past decade?
MK: “Although I really like some of the 'Brit Art' and think it's sincere, I also think it's one of the best marketed art-movements in the history of art. Charles Saatchi [the advertisement mogul] managed to completely hype and market the scene with money, acquisitions, press and shows. And it seems to work! The attempt to push it into the 'eternal value' sort of range, like he’s doing in the set and setting of the new Saatchi museum on the Thames doesn't do the work so much good sometimes. It seems a bit over-important in contrast with the content of the work.”

You’ve previously said that nightclubs are “where the new spiritual background is and where art is happening now, instead of the church it's the club. The house of love”. Should we therefore be turning the Tate into a nightclub and/or clubs into galleries?
MK: “I certainly would like museums to be more swinging and clubs to be more arty. Clubs should try harder to keep the spiritual background, since everything seems to be about money too often."

You first brought vjing to Ibiza in 1997, have you been back since?
MK: ”That year was so incredible; we were in Ibiza for the whole season doing gigs in Pacha every Tuesday with Zenith. Afke and me had just got together; it was the summer of my life! J After that we went back every year. Sometimes for a short trip with some performances (Privilege, Amnesia) or sometimes for three months like in 1999 when we were organising ‘Club Love’ at KM5 for the whole season, doing projections in the garden and djs inside. Although clubbing gets more and more commercial in Ibiza, like anywhere in the world, it’s still a great island with a great vibe and great people, that I love visiting again and again.”

Do you have any more projects or exciting new stuff to mention here to our readers?
MK: “I’ve been working on a big Hollywood movie as the designer of the animated transitions and titles. It’s coming out the 16th of June, and it’s called ‘Around the World in 80 Days.’ My friend Frank Coraci who’s also an Ibiza regular directed it. Also ‘Videoflux’, our vj mixing software will be released this spring and available for the vj community from - I’m really proud how good the program has become and how it will enable young vjs all over the world to do better vj shows. I will be working on a new series of artwork, and of course I will be in Ibiza - J CU there J Micha!”

Some Micha Links!

Words by Lisa Loco