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VJ Fader started his VJing career while he was studying art in California. Now he’s based in Berlin, working on a new marketplace for visual artists all over the world. Also, James compares popular festivals, shares his most memorable live mixing experience, and fantasizes about the nearest future of VJing. Don’t miss this conversation!
Lumen: How did you get into VJing?
VJ Fader: My first VJ gig was at a small dance club called Star Shoes (now closed) in Hollywood back in 2002. Around the time when I graduated from university, I went around clubs and asked if I could VJ at their parties in Los Angeles. I did not see much visuals at music events, and I can say the same even today in 2018, this one of the motivating factor for me to push VJing forward.
Lumen: You studied Illustration at the Art Center in Pasadena, California. How did it help you develop skills and vision?
VJ Fader: Art Center is one of the well known design schools on the west coast of United States. Unlike most colleges or universities in America, it is totally not a ‘party’ school, my fellow students often stay up and work all night trying to compete their class assignments. For me, I learned a lot of technical skills starting from the traditional painting and drawing to digital media. I spent a lot of the time in the media lab second half of my studies working on 3D animation, interactive and also sound design.
Lumen: There’s a common opinion that education in the art related fields is more useful for networking rather than skills. Would you agree with this point?
VJ Fader: This really depends on the school and the person. My feeling is with traditional Art studies, especially for Fine Art education in Europe, seems it is more about deconstructing and unfollowing any Art trend or style, where developing a concept is more important than say learning a skill. For me learning the fundamental subjects like art history, color theory, design, composition and animation was helpful in my career.
Lumen: Let’s talk about your Coachella experience. Sounds fancy! How to get there as a visual artist?
VJ Fader: I remember first going to Coachella when I was in college, that’s around the time when this festival first started at a much smaller scale. Today it has grown into a beast spanning 2 weekends (with the same acts playing the same sets for each weekend, no other festival is doing this), attracting hundreds of thousands of audience each say and completely sold out. In 2008 I was invited to do a mobile video projection and light installation called Lantern Coral, it was one of the first mobile art piece ever appeared there. In 2012 I got involved in two larger projects. One is a big scale art installation called ‘The Gateway’ involving numerous content artists including Beeple contributing animation for video mapping. The second is custom visuals and VJing for a dubstep producer Datsik performing at the Sahara dance tent. It was a lot of hard work for both projects and very rewarding at the end. You get to see and be part of a large scale commercial music festival taking shape with thousands of technicians and vendors coming together to make the festival go smoothly.
Lumen: What about Burningman? I saw that video where you walk through the crowd with projectors in your hands, creating trippy visuals on random surfaces. Breathtaking! But I’m still curious about organizational moments. A lot of VJs among our readers only dream to go to Burningman. So please, share the most important lessons learned there, from a professional point of view.
VJ Fader: Burningman is an entirely different beast’, meaning there is no other festival like it in the world. Of course every festival is unique in its own way, and I have tried to tell my friends about Burningman and my passion for it often. For someone who’s never been before, it is a difficult concept to understand. Burningman is very extreme in many ways, you are in a desert, super dry and dusty, burning hot during the day, cold at night, occasional sand storms, and you must bring your own food and water. These conditions help people to forget the comfortable every day life they left behind, and for a entire week you are submerged in an utopian bubble filled with music, art and party. One could really get lost and explore endlessly, meet new people and ultimately, find yourself. From the organization point of view, Burningman as the festival does not directly organize any art installations (except for the Man) or dance camps. Of course they do support the large groups through grants and infrastructure, but ultimately it is these camps or tribes that are operating independently that makes up the festival. Meaning if you want to participate as an artist, you should get in touch with one of the groups that is responsible or an art project, art car or a dance camp.I have participated at Burningman for 4 years in a row from 2005 to 2008, so technically it has been 10 years since my last burn. Because I am now living in Berlin, it has become a lot more challenging to go back. The distance and logistics is just too much. But for those who had never been, I always say ‘just go’. And for the first timers, you don’t have to do any ‘art’. It’s better to just experience, enjoy, and understand what is ‘Burningman’. Once you had taken the ‘red’ pill, then you will understand.
Lumen: Do you enjoy such crowded gatherings of people like Coachella and Burningman? Or it’s just for work?
VJ Fader: Some of my friends have toured large festivals only for work, for example go in for one day, do the show and then leave. I can understand when you are working you have a completely different mindset than say someone who’s at a festival for many days enjoying and having a good time. For Burningman on the other hand, it is a totally different experience because anyone who’s there are considered as a ‘participant’. If you do go, I recommend staying for the whole week, and not just 2 days.
Lumen: What was your most memorable VJing experience?
VJ Fader: One of my most memorable shows are at a small Psytrance festival in Costa Rica called ExistDance, where I designed their stage for video mapping in 2014 and 2015. The production was pretty much DIY. At both shows I really felt a deep appreciation from the audience as they come up numerous times and said how amazing it looked. In comparison at large scale festivals and commercial events, the audience are mainly just consuming and seemed oblivious to how the visual production was created. When you work at these big shows, you feel like you are just one of the nameless workers contributing to the light show. Large festivals should do a better job at educating their audience than just pushing the top 100 DJ names.
Lumen: Let’s move on! Among other talents and achievements, you’re the CEO of Neuromixer, a company that creates software for live visual performances. How did you start this business?
VJ Fader: I started building a video mixer using Max/Msp/Jitter mainly for my personal use, then slowly it grew into a commercial project where I am marketing the software under the company name Neuromixer. The company was launched around 2004 so I can honestly say it is one of the oldest names in the VJ business.
Lumen: Present the superpowers of AVmixer, your signature product! Which problems does it solve?
VJ Fader: The current version AVmixer Pro 2.5 is a simple 3 channel video mixer with effects. Think of it as a Traktor (Native Instrument) for VJs. I like the simplicity of DJ mixing hardware and software, my goal to implement these concepts to video mixing. This way the VJ or the performer is less thinking about software (tool) and more focused on the performance. The last thing you want to see on stage is someone looking like he or she is surfing Facebook live.
Lumen: How many users do you have throughout the world?
VJ Fader: This is a hard question, I would say about 1000.
Lumen: Your target audience mostly consists of VJs and visual artists. What are their main customer and personal traits, from the marketing point of views? Did you study your target audience?
VJ Fader: VJs are a relatively small community of people compared to say the DJ world. However I believe the VJ community and industry will continue to grow in time. Just because something is lesser known does not mean it is not as cool or interesting. Young people like to follow hot and new trends however they cannot follow something if they don’t know if it exists. As an experienced VJ, my job is to educate and impress new people so they can know about live visuals, video mapping, audio visual and stage design.
Lumen: What’s the concept of your new project AVloops?
VJ Fader: With AVloops.com, my goal is to establish a platform for creative artists to share and sell their visual content. In turn I want VJs and customers to easily find and purchase loops for their next show. The business was lunched Spring of 2017, so it is still relatively young marketplace with a lot of growing ahead.
Lumen: I’m sure you feel no borders due to endless work trips and international communication. But I’m still curious why you’re based in Berlin?
VJ Fader: That’s another good question, I wonder if we have any choice in where we end up living in life. Around 2013 I moved to Berlin and I’m still happy to call this city my home. Although most of my work is based outside of Europe, except for some workshops and running my business, Berlin is a really nice city to live, easy to go out, has a vibrant summer, and a dark winter. My last hometown Los Angeles is a complete opposite, it’s a massive suburb with thriving entertainment and tech industries. Instead of constantly running (or stuck in traffic), doing commercial gigs to pay my expensive rent, car payment and insurance, I much prefer to make less money, do less pointless jobs, and have more time for myself.
Lumen: What are your favorite unpopular places in Berlin?
VJ Fader: My favorite unpopular places are those basements of the bars which have no names (at least you don’t remember the names or how you got there). You go down a tiny staircase, it’s smoky, pitch dark and there’s techno playing with people dancing.
Lumen: What piece of advice would you give to an amateur VJ from a small town who wants to reach the highest peaks in VJing?
VJ Fader: First, move to a bigger town, haha. This might sound like a joke, my advice as I would like to quote from the shoe brand Nike, is ‘Just do it!’. Like most things in life, we stop following our passion because we get discouraged for some reason. The only way to find out if you are going to succeed, is to try, and try again.
Lumen: People like you create the future of media art. In your opinion, which trends and mediums will be most important in the next 5 years? VR? Other immersive practices?
VJ Fader: I believe the VR technology that has surfaced in the last few years will continued to evolve and advance. From a visual artist’s point of view, VR is an entirely new medium that has a lot of potential and needs to be explored further. Unlike the previous digital mediums like television, movies, mobile phones…, you are no longer looking through a screen or a frame, you are literally ‘inside’ the virtual space. I encourage anyone who’s curious about VR to try out Google Tiltbrush and The Lab (Valve) mini games. If you like shooting then you should play my favorite Robo Recall. With my recently purchased Lenovo Explorer WMR headset, I am able to play most of the Vive and Oculus titles on my VJ laptop with Nvidia GTX-980M graphics card.