Patricia Johnson

Music News, Reviews, and Interviews

The Silent Maestros: Competition Celebrates Visual Artists of the EDM World

“VJs in general … we’re kind of like pirates,” says Jon Bonk, local visual artist and head of the Together Boston VJ Competition. “We just swoop in, set up our own equipment, stay late, and no one really knows exactly what we’re doing but they kind of like it.”

Electronic music has taken over the mainstream, and millions of ravers are piling into stadiums and festival fields to see their favorite DJ play the latest bangers. Unfortunately, watching a dude sporting a studio tan hover over his laptop doesn’t exactly make for a riveting show. Enter the VJ, the maestro behind the scenes who provides a visual performance to complement the DJ’s musical selections, turning the show into a multi-sensory spectacle.

Visual installations are not limited to big name EDM acts; artists like Squarepusher, whose music is striking enough on its own, make use of stunning visual displays to upgrade a typical concert into an unforgettable experience. Smaller-scale club shows also experiment with visual components and often allow VJs more room for creativity.

Bonk has been a visual artist for over a decade. His work has brought him and his exceptional visual productions across the country for Shpongle, Steve Aoki, and the Identity Festival. He currently works with Boston-based visual design firm Zebbler Studios and is the resident VJ at weekly drum & bass night Elements in Cambridge.

For Bonk, VJing is all about creating atmospheres: “Music is important and it sets the scene in your head, but when it syncs up visually as well, it creates a much stronger image.” Bonk takes cues from the mood of the music and the venue to live mix and edit premade clips, stock images, and his own original content. New technologies have introduced more exciting visual effects such as image mapping, which allows VJs to project onto objects of all shapes and sizes (think deadmau5’s giant cube that appears to transform with the music), and iPad apps that enable audience interaction.

VJs must have both the creativity to construct unique visuals and the technological skills to master the equipment. A successful VJ will design imagery that transforms the concert into a multisensory, immersive experience—certainly no easy task. And yet, despite their importance and increased demand, VJs don’t earn much mainstream attention.

This is what Together Boston aims to change with its annual VJ Competition. Now in its second year, Bonk’s goal for the competition is to spotlight the growing world of visual culture. Talented visual artists from across the country apply to be one of ten or so finalists to perform live during the festival, and Bonk expects to be amazed.

Judges include the legendary visual artist Brian Kane; last year’s winner, Proto; and established VJs Ghostdad and Shawn Faherty. Bonk and his fellow judges will evaluate contestants on content, tech setup, and crowd interaction. Based on the success of last year’s event they have upgraded to a bigger venue, more projectors, and hopefully an even higher caliber of talent.

“The whole point of this is to spotlight that the visual culture is coming on hard,” says Bonk. “And we’re ready to show them what we can do.”


(Read original post; also in print 5/7/14)