Remixed Before Your Eyes: Eclectic Method

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The art of remixing and sampling has been around for decades, and DJs have long been considered rock stars themselves (witness: DJ Hero). But all that has largely been an audio experience. In 2007, technology allowed some enterprising entertainers to manipulate video in the same way DJs ply their trade with audio. Pioneer released its SVM-1000 video mixer which built upon the brand's already popular DJ tech offerings, fundamentally changing what DJs were able to do with video in a live setting. Enter Eclectic Method.

Eclectic Method at E3
Eclectic Method at E3
Comprised of three Brits, Jonny Wilson, Ian Edgar and Geoff Gamlen, who split their time between London, New York and L.A., Eclectic Method is considered one of the best VDJ acts in the world, performing shows in such ... er, eclectic locales as Glastonbury, Cannes, Sundance and the Playboy mansion. In addition to the live shows, the group has worked with commercial clients such as Apple, Blackberry, MTV and more. Most recently, they were commissioned by Activision to perform at E3. And their remix of a Stephen Colbert interview with copyright lawyer Lawrence Lessig, prompted The Colbert Report host to air the video and dub them "DJ Jazzy Jerks."

We spoke to all three members of Eclectic Method about the evolution of VDJing, their creative process and more.

How did you guys get together?
Jonny: We basically got together through mutual friends. Ian and I met in Bosnia in 2002 and then later that year we met Geoff because he had built a studio with equipment to do live A/V performance. So we started developing a live show together and out of that just came all the ideas of remixing stuff.

What's the creative process behind your remixes and live shows?
Geoff: The main thing to distinguish between the live show from the studio stuff is that the live show is completely improvised. So it's a different show every time we play. A lot of times there isn't even a preconceived skeleton plan, we just improvise on the spot, and respond to what's being enjoyed. Every set of circumstances requires a different performance, really.

Jonny: One night it might be a completely chilled out set and then sometimes we play to big clubs full of people expecting big room house, then other times it's a really experimental set. We've also played for particular clients and the content we use is constrained to fit their needs. Like for E3, we used stuff from Activision's games with limited music and videos from their Guitar Hero series. A lot of times, even though those kinds of shows feature a more limited amount of source material, the process as a whole is more difficult because we've had seven years to work on our regular live show but had only a few days to prepare for something like the Activision shows.

What made you guys want to get into VDJing in the first place?
Jonny: When we started we were doing video, albeit in a simpler form, working off laptops. We found the response from the crowd was huge and the more screens you had the bigger the response. So obviously there's some sort of a/v effect that when there's video it's easier for people to get down to it. Our style, as opposed to the traditional VJ style, is that anything you see onscreen is producing a sound you can hear. For some reason, I'm not sure why even after all this time, that seems to make people even more crazy. When you drop some Michael Jackson, like early Michael Jackson, there's something about his attitude and the 1970s that's a cultural reference point you're vibing off. And when you can see him on a screen, it just adds another cultural reference point and gets people more excited. Or Bon Jovi's ridiculous hair, which adds to the experience of the hilarious cheesiness of "Livin' on a Prayer."

How do you organize the video content you're going to use, from both a creative and technical standpoint?
Geoff: Technically, it's organized in the SVM-1000 because we're basically using different sources for basic instrumental material and a cappella video material, so all that feeds into the SVM-1000.

Ian: We also organize it by tempo because obviously some things don't speed up that well or slow down that well. So we work within, five or six set tempos – a hip hop tempo, a jungle tempo, breaks tempo -- so we can group everything and we all know where everyone is at, roughly.

In terms of the studio stuff, like the Tarantino Mixtape, how long does that take and what's the process like?
Jonny: For the Tarantino thing, what took the most time was going through all the films and trying to pick the key moments. Once we have the key moments, you can use those as notes, as if you're playing an instrument. It's also very difficult to judge how long the jamming process will take. Sometimes it's a matter of hours, while others it can go on for days. Tarantino took about six hours of jamming with the clips after about 15 hours of going through the films.

Ian: With content, the concept of watching the idea of cutting and mixing are blending into one thing. For example, we're watching "I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here" and there was this perfect little clip of Spencer and Heidi that's an incredible little A/V sample that will work great on scratches. You just start watching everything with a view for random a/v nonsense.

Geoff: Working that way also allows for a very rapid response (from the audience).

How do you guys split the various A/V duties up?
Jonny: Everyone does everything but Ian and Geoff are better at scratching than me.

Geoff: I don't think that's true at all! But I do think we tend to gravitate to the things we like doing.

How often do you guys do commercial projects?
Ian: We've done quite a few. We had a show back in the day for MTV Europe, which was a themed show using current music videos. We did a TV channel launch and they actually got what we do, so they gave us tons and tons of material from TV shows they have on that channel, which is completely our style. Then sometimes it's about working in a logo. When we do the good ones, they give us their content and let us be Eclectic Method about it. We've been pretty lucky in that sense, with people hiring us to be ourselves.

Jonny: We live in this really weird world where we're not a band, we're not a production company. I think we exist outside of anything like a record deal where we'd have to follow what management says. We exist in this new world where the internet and the way people consume media has literally changed overnight, which is massively to our advantage.

Have you been confronted with any legal issues, in terms of what you use?
Ian: If you ask a lawyer what should happen to culture, they'd say stop and don't do anything. That's why we don't ask them. All we do is generate pay checks for them. But seriously, I guess some of the stuff we do might be considered illegal, but for example, when Motown saw our remix they hired us. We play the music because we like it and it's not meant to steal money from them.

Geoff: We're just DJing, really. People want their music played.

Jonny: Historically, our story has been that we've tested the waters in terms of what we could get away with and it ended up that we didn't just get away with it, everyone we've "copyright infringed" has then employed us to do stuff for them. So that pattern where we've done something technically illegal then followed it up with something official. It happened with MTV, Fatboy Slim, U2 and Motown. I think we just came out at the exact right time to do what we do. People were just getting ready for this to be legit, with YouTube and things like that.

Eclectic Method at E3
Eclectic Method at E3
How do you see your work evolving?
Jonny: Well, while the system to promote and distribute traditional bands has been around for a long time, even the technology to do what we do has only been around for about three years. So the technology to distribute our stuff is just coming around now.

Ian: Creatively, we've been looking at experimenting more with narrative. Our usual stuff is like a maelstrom that, if it did have a theme, would be all media played at once. We'd like to do some more themed stuff that has a vague point to it. So we're working right now on a show about money, the history of it, the recent crash and all that. So that's a direction to go in, we're not sure how long we'll go with it, but it's something to play with.
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