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A Voyage of Discovery: Hexstatic’s audiovisual odyssey!

Crowned world number one in DJ Magazine’s Top 20 VJs poll of 2005, over a decade has passed since Hexstatic first set out mixing music with moving images. Quite a journey: DJSounds.com caught up with Warren Hill to find out more about their past, present and future AV escapades.

Why do you think the convergence of audio with visuals is important in the 21st century?
Warren Hill: “For me, it is just a natural progression of the visual arts and electronic music scenes. I have always been into both music and visuals and so I put these things together. I did kind of drop music for a while to concentrate on visuals, but returned to creating AV material when The Big Chill started. I hooked up with Coldcut and we started experimenting in the studio with music and video. That’s how Timber and the Natural Rhythms Trilogy came about and that’s almost 10 years ago now. I am looking forward to making some more stuff like that since technology has improved and things can be made much faster.”

Salvador is perhaps a more recent ‘natural rhythm’ and won the award for Best Music Film at the Portobello Film Festival in 2004. Was creating that track a lengthy process?
“I shot all the footage in Salvador , Brazil , and then took the sounds from people on the streets, who were playing instruments, capoeira dancing, singing, shouting and so on. I made the track in collaboration with Organic Audio using samples from the video. For the video I had to painstakingly cut out all the characters, frame by frame, using After Effects. This all took several weeks, but I was really pleased with the result.”

Can you spill the beans on your new album, Pick ‘N’ Mix?
“It’s a mixed bag of stuff from Sanctuary Records’ archives. They allowed us to go searching around their extensive back catalogue – lots of reggae, rock, and all sorts of amazing things. From there, we plucked out our favourite bits and dropped in a few of our own pieces as well. Pick ‘N’ Mix is an audio mix CD and so Robin has been leading the way with this project because he is more the DJ part of the duo.”

How do you and Robin work together?
“Basically, we both make music and we both make visuals, as we did on our last AV album, Master-View. However, I think when it comes to our live shows Robin is more the DJ and I am more the VJ.”

You use the groundbreaking DVJ-X1 DVD decks, which you helped to develop with Pioneer. Can you reveal more about your live set-up and work with the DVJs?
“It really is a next level thing. Speaking with Pioneer a few years back, we explained that we needed a tool to beatmatch our AV videos – because we were unable to do that until the DVJ-X1 came out. At that time the CDJ-1000 decks were available and we wanted a similar digital tool but for video, where you can pitch shift and even scratch sound and images in sync. It took several years, but I think the DVJ has been really well developed – just imagine all those gigabytes of RAM in there to buffer the video for one. As a tool for triggering and mixing our videos, the DVJs work superbly in our shows. We don’t do that many fancy tricks but I am excited by what some scratch DJs are doing with them. We are touring with DJ Kentaro from Ninja Tune, who along with Coldcut is doing some very cool scratch stuff with the DVJs right now.”

“Before the DVJs came out, we were just using our G4 laptops, running VidVox software. But now we use two DVJs with a visual mixer as well as the laptop set-up. Obviously, it is far better to be using DVJs because of their capacity for higher quality audio/audiovisuals. Hardware is also a lot more solid than laptops running software and doesn’t crash. In fact, I am thinking of ditching my laptop and just using decks – live AV mixing with four DVJs could be pretty exciting all round!”

What advice would you give to DJs or VJs who are just discovering the AV convergence and are maybe looking at using the DVJs as a creative tool? “Relatively speaking, AV is a whole new medium and the DVJs are brilliant because you can DJ CDs with them, VJ with them or perform a spectacular AV show with them using DVDs. There are so many things that you can do content wise, but the main thing is to try and be original. Do something new with them, something no one else is doing. I would also perhaps suggest targeting different avenues of music.

“It takes time but clubs are definitely catching on and installing them. The ideal scenario is that you turn up to perform and the DVJs are already installed, set up and ready to receive your DVDs. We’ve always been about using technology in ways that it wasn’t really intended for. I used DVJs in part of a video we made for Mylo, scratching sections and then editing that footage into the cut for Doctor Pressure.”

People have certainly re-recorded their attitudes to ‘VJs’ in the 21st century. What are your views on the differences between visual and audiovisual artists – are VJs artists who work only with visuals?
“This is a funny one really, I wish I had a definitive answer. The way I see it is that the VJ or visuals scene was very small when I started out, around the time of the first Big Chill. Many of us began as VJs doing visuals at events, standing hidden away at the back while the bands we performed with took all the glory. I was responsible for running the visuals side of The Big Chill and managed to involve many of the top artists around at that time. Matt Black from Coldcut was there VJing as was Xavier Perkins from Exceeda, people who progressed and moved on to working in an AV way.

“As a scene it is still young but it is sure to grow and gain more recognition as people catch up. I think at the moment we are in an interim stage, but over the next five years there will be more and more people crossing over: DJs making visuals, VJs making music, and DJs and VJs getting together to create a new thing. It’s all merging.”

Speaking of the future, the 3-D approach has been very popular, but what kind of AV future do you envisage – enveloping audiences in 360-degree screens, sensational body suits… sampling smells?
“I have always wanted to do that! I actually think it is really important because it is all about amplifying people’s experience, in a club or wherever. Whenever I walk into a venue these days and don’t see suitable visuals I find there is less overall impact. Even putting some projectors in a room at a house party enhances the experience. The 3-D approach is another extension, a way of giving people a different experience. It’s something that I have thought about for a long time. Our own work in 3-D has been pretty crude so far, but it is the start of something. I think if we do any more 3-D projects they will be of a much higher level.”

The guerrilla gigs on the streets of London drew attention to the context of your performances, among other things. How do you see your work fitting in between art galleries, cinemas, festivals, and clubs?
“Doing our guerrilla gigs was exciting because of the freedom. It was very liberating. Essentially what we do crosses lots of boundaries. We have played at huge raves in Japan to 10,000 people and at the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao , but we also play on the streets. We did an official outdoor gig at the Thames Festival for thousands, but then played in a pub on New Year’s Day. At our show on the river Thames by the London Eye our Distorted Minds single worked incredibly well. Video was projected on to a huge 45x25m water screen and a black background made the ghostly image of Juice Aleem appear as if his face was floating above the Thames – it was really powerful! Crossing the board in this way is very interesting and I am looking forward to completing some more large-scale outdoor gigs this year.”

Have you any other Hexstatic news at this time?
“We did a Solid Steel mix CD a few years back, Listen & Learn, and are hoping to do another one soon – only this time we want to mix a DVD. It will be an AV mix with all our favourite Ninja Tune videos and some other bits we like. After Master-View, we are also thinking about starting our next album as something completely fresh for the future.”

Hexstatic’s new album, Pick ‘N’ Mix, is released 24 April on Sanctuary Records.
For further details please visit: www.hexstatic.tv.