Club mix at The Drum, Birmingham, UK (1999)

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - design | 14 October 2010
This review first appeared in Sculpture magazine, 18(9), November 1999, p. 71-2.

While publicizing an event as a “collaborative head-on ‘clash’ between the contemporary inner-city club scene and the chi chi world of the art gallery” may sound grand, it only begins to describe the powerful sensory feast of Club Mix. With lights, multi-media, sound, and action—along with a dancing crowd—the participating artists interactively combined and intuitively responded to visual and sound stimuli—making the process and product difficult to record. Organized by Gary Stewart, Head of Multimedia Projects at the Institute of International Visual Arts (inIVA), the Club Mix collaboration brought together artists, DJs, and VJs: Keith Piper, RGB, DJ Swami, and Hallucinator.

While music played, four large-scale projections displayed flashing, digitally created imagery around the club crowd, often permitting viewers a fleeting glance or short-term flash. Within this multitude of ever-changing images, digital artists RGB (Pervaiz Khan and David Craig) included a segment that took viewers on a selected world tour of cultural icons— hieroglyphics, mosques, the Easter Islands. The flashing juxtapositions suggested the disorientation of three-day-per-city globetrotting— or alternatively— satellite-TV channel surfing.

Meanwhile, inIVA commissioned Keith Piper to create 50 loops (each 10-15 seconds long), which consisted of images similar to those in his multi-media installations—policing and surveillance, black masculinity, the media, and street culture—which were remixed to address the dance-floor site. In comparison to Piper’s multi-media exhibition at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery (1998), the Drum’s club environment made the images more dynamic, more complicated, and, in a way, more subversive. Adobe Photoshop, After Effects (a time-based digital image manipulation program), and Premiere were used to create images, while Arkaos xpose facilitated playback and could be mapped out on computer keys or a representation of a musical keyboard. Therefore, like music, images could also be “played.” Artists worked with low-resolution images to facilitate spontaneity and speed.

For sound, DJ Swami, a collective of DJs and musicians produced by Simon and Diamond, contributed to the collaboration. According to Diamond, the biggest issue was interacting with the visual screens and looking for inspiration. “When visuals were more organic or more ethnic, then I was playing more (South) Asian-oriented material. When it got more futuristic and up-tempo— then I mixed in faster drum loops and electronic stuff.” Meanwhile, Hallucinator (Eddie, Trevor, and Anna), which is involved in making records, films, art installations, and contemporary dance collaborations, played instruments, tracks, and offered visuals influenced by Mark Rothko and Symbolism, as well as deconstructed faces and images.

According to Gary Stewart, “We’re looking for a more intimate relationship between the VJs and DJs and a dialogue between these elements— and creating a framework for it. Fortunately, the DJs we’ve been using so far are very open to the collaboration,” says Stewart. “As you can imagine, some can be very concerned about their program time and see it as a compromise. Obviously, they might be used to total control over their audience.” While the framework can be used in an art gallery, the energy from the club environment feeds not only into the music, but the visual selection and stimulation as well.

Coinciding with other sound and imagery experiments that are changing year 2000 club culture, Club Mix is low-cost to consumers, while it offers an income-generating format for artists. Officially launched at the Drum in Birmingham, a Club Mix test run took place earlier in Nottingham and later in London, slating influential band Asian Dub Foundation.