Mike Relm and the future of Visuals

While we are on the subject, I felt like bringing back a part of this older article that I wrote for Remix magazine on the future of visuals in music. Mike Relm had some interesting things to say about his transformation from a turntablist to a visualist (?) Many people including Dj Kentaro, seem to feel that visuals are the next big thing:

Kentaro still believes that DVJ technology is the wave of the future. “DVJ and turntablism plus visuals equals neo-turntablism,” Kentaro says. “This could be a next thing, I think, but you need to have a good creator to create visuals that make sense. Just mixing and scratching movies is not turntablism; the visuals need to take a step up. This will be some homework for contemporary turntablists, for sure.” There you have it kids, you better save up for a pair of DVJs and start practicing for DMC 2012!

but as a few people wisely pointed out here on DJ TT, not everyone shares the same vision:

JAC said:

I was reading an interview with Matt Bellamy of Muse recently, and he was explaining that they are toning down their visuals heavy, over-the-top ridiculous show. The reason? Because with such an outlandish visual display, people would come to stand and watch, staring at the stage instead of participating and moshing etc.

I reckon a similar kind of thing could happen if Vj’ing becomes widespread in clubs. People will end up gazing at screens all night long, instead of dancin.



DVJ technology has enabled artists such as Mike Relm to turn their live sets into a visual tale with video as the storyboard. Once a top-level turntablist and ITF champion, Mike Relm has shifted his talents into the new realm of video DJing, leading to a position as the Blue Man Group’s opening act. Ironically, he compares video to the early days of turntablism. “Ten years ago when we were doing turntablist shows, that was new, and it took people a while to understand what we were doing,” Relm says. “There are all these intricacies you have to figure out in the first few minutes or you’re going to spend the entire hour trying to figure out what’s going on.” That situation was understandable with turntablism, given that you had to be a few feet away from the artist to really get a visual idea of what he was doing. Video DJ-ing, however, should be obvious, right? Not the case, Relm says. “It took people a while to figure out what I was doing onstage,” he says. “Ninety percent of the audience had no idea you could scratch video. I think that took away from the show because I would not get a reaction until halfway through it.” Slowly, Relm and a few other pioneers increasingly find success and great crowd reactions as they continue to incorporate more and more video into their sets.


As equipment prices come into reach and technology catches up with imaginations, more people may hop on the video bandwagon. The problem now seems to be content. Although most of the country boasts extensive digital audio collections thanks to P2P networks, hardly anyone has any decent video files lying around. In the end, it may not be video at all that opens the visual doors to DJs everywhere. Some people think we’re heading into a ’90s rave revival, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you start to see some computer-generated visuals making a comeback in clubs. The good news is that they won’t be cheesy, never-ending fractals, but incredibly beautiful 3-D art that breathes and dances in response to the DJ’s every action.

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  • Btown

    Go see Relm live and then talk.

    AVGJOe – I was hammered, the whole place was dancing, watching hanging on for the next twist to their favorite tune, and loving every minute. If you couldn’t get a girl in that atmosphere, you couldn’t get one anywhere.

  • DJ B-Naut

    "I?m really pumped for 90s computer-generated visuals to make a comeback. There were some really excellent technologies that never really took off?"

    Like LLCoolJ said, "Don't call it a comeback. I been here for years." That's the take I've had since I started adding video to my shows since 1999. Mike Relm is right. The audience takes a bit to register that the video feed is being controlled by the guy behind the turntables. Often I have had people tap me on the shoulder and ask, "Is that a DVD playing on screen? Where do I buy it?". Between the DIY Winamp AVS and pre-packaged computer animated DVDs, the general public hasn't been exposed to VJing as an on-the-fly artform (much like turntablism when it began). Those who aspired to become VJs in the late 90's often noted there was a big pricetag to go along with it, including another learning curve about video which some VJs-to-be backed away from. These are reasons IMHO why the VJ art kinda faded since then. It laid dormant and was left to develop and become bigger, better, faster, stronger.

    As last we saw our heroes of the bleeding edge of the VJ realm in the 90's, they have learned to grow and help develop the tech tools used while it remained not so much as an attraction.

    Fast forward 10 years to present day clubland. Technology has gotten less expensive. Gear is more user friendly with more bells and whistles available. The learning curve to use and manage said gear isn't as huge. The audience has wised up a bit to what is happening on stage with both the music and video being mixed and how it is done. Venue managers and event promotors are noticing that, yes, adding quality video mixers to the show is another attraction to get people in the door to help them enjoy another aspect of the evening.

    I agree that G-Force and Whitecap are decent for beginners. I used both early on and they worked well, but they resemble the canned Winamp AVS too much. I prefer ArKaos VJ 3.6. ArKaos is MIDI reactive-capable with full video, Flash, and still image manipulation with multiple effects and layers. Over time the ArKaos team has gotten better as the software has developed to become less hardware intensive and adding more capability with each version upgrade. I literally have done shows using ArKaos and had people grab a chair to sit in front of the screen and trip out. Roland has developed Edirol MDP1S Motion Dive .Tokyo, that comes with a USB controller, but I am not sure if it has the same MIDI or BPM recognition/triggering that ArKaos does.

  • nan

    Ok, I dunno about the rest of you, but the only reason I even check out this site is because I’m willing to take things to the next level. For that, nothing is required. It’s all about your ability and skills to be able to add your personal touch and taste that will get you to communicate something to an audience and share an experience with them. If your thing is applying new technology to your art, definetely visuals are a great option, but not the only one. It’s all about what you want to express and the kind of reaction you want to get. I’ve been to a lot of parties, visuals and no visuals, and the way it goes is that people who really wanna dance do so + people who wanna chill and watch the visuals do so = the result is, more options, and more people enjoying themselves. I think visuals mostly will be a plus and not a minus to your gig. Obviously the more control, the more work, and the more related you get them to be to your music will make that much your show better. In the end Dj’s will be Dj’s, Vj’s will be Vj’s and people that like do both, will get the results they want accordingly to the work that will support their performance. Fun a lot of times takes work, and great fun sure takes great work, when you are the one to provide it.

  • BentoSan

    I agree with Ean and think that the future of visuals is in real-time synthesised visuals. These provide(much like music synths) much much more control over the visualisation.

    Personally this would best be implementing into my setup by still continuing to keeping it all about music, nothing in my set would change besides the fact that each audio clip would also control a visual synthesizer that generates something relevant to that audio and effects smart-knobs would control parameters on what has been synthesised and/or add effects. The setup still remains focused on audio and an interesting side effect is some cool visuals going on in the background :p

    A part of this though is what music do you play, as visualisation syntheses i believe is more suitable to more electronic orientated music while if your mixing top-40 tracks you will probably be wanting to use the newest video clips.

  • Jimmymac

    I doesn’t float my boat particularly, I’m not keen on bars and clubs that have big TV screens, I have to turn my back, otherwise I just get sucked in and end up gawking at the screen instead of socialising and interacting with the people I’m with.

  • Alex Weber

    I’m really pumped for 90s computer-generated visuals to make a comeback. There were some really excellent technologies that never really took off…

    http://www.rabidhamster.org/R4/ is great, http://www.soundspectrum.com/ has G-Force, Whitecap, and more… hell, even Winamp’s AVS is excellent.

    Man… I used to love this stuff. Maybe it’s time for me to look into being a VJ again.


  • Anonymous

    I think it depends I went to a concert and in Nashville, it was DJ signify, black moth super rainbow, and headliner was aesop rock. All three artist had visuals. And I thourghly enjoyed black moths it was very entertaining it did not stop me from dancing at all.

  • weaponry

    toning down the visuals is good, but i think having people watching, listening and dancing is definitely the way to go. if your people are just watching it means your music isn’t live enough: music and lights should function complementary to each other, but also, the lights and music should also be complementary to dvj at the helm. if the visuals are stopping the people from dancing then it obviously means that the dj and the audio are not representing themselves as well as the visuals, but ultimately the dvj should have control all of it, or get out from behind the decks…and to get the argument out in the open, video gear should be independent of audio gear. the pioneer monster AV mixer is a novel a idea but serious dvjs will keep video separate from their audio, except for the vixid…maybe. does the vixid have word clock? or time code only?

  • average joe

    hmmm … sounds interesting.. but I don’t think this will be the future.. more like the turnpads that I saw.. being posted.. now that’s crazy.. being able to manage sound waves trough a pad…

    people go to clubs to dance not to watch tv.. clubs are about getting drunk getting girls and dancing all night.. that’s the club scene.. if i wanna watch tv I’ll stay home..