For London-birthed act the Eclectic Method, live visuals are an essential part of their live show. But don’t call them VJs — it’s a request echoed by their 2005 DVD “mixtape,” called, well, We’re Not VJs. Rather, the trio of Geoff Gamlen, Ian Edgar (a.k.a. Cutswift) Cutswift and Johnny Wilson (a.k.a. B.R.K.) see themselves more as complete audiovisual assemblage artists, and they generally refuse to separate one element from the other.
The DVDJ is now a fixture in clubs worldwide. But Eclectic Method were, nearly a decade ago, among the first wee-hours performers to play gigs that cut and pasted songs along with their corresponding video. They were also among the first to release these audiovisual mash-ups to the Internet, which has repeatedly put them on the wrong side of the copyright police.
Now based in Brooklyn, Eclectic Method has finally released its first audio-only single, “Outta Sight,” an electro-flavored boom-bap banger featuring Chuck D. To promote it, they’ve reunited with the hip-hop legend for recent live performances, including on the popular American TV show Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. Billing themselves as the Copyright Criminal All-Stars, they also got a little backing musical help on the show from friends like the Roots and Clyde Stubblefield. We caught up with Edgar and Wilson this spring in Miami at Ultra Music Festival for the scoop.
Song Revelation: Why did you decide to incorporate visuals into your show from the start?
Johnny Wilson: When we started, we were really into stuff like Fatboy Slim, big build-up dance floor stuff, but we thought of adding a video element to that so you could see the buildup. And unlike most video people who would VJ animation and graphics, we’re doing video where you can hear what you see. So if you hear Missy Elliott singing, you can see her on the screens. People have a real connection to that, because people can connect more when they hear and see it.
You released a DVD mixtape several years ago called We’re Not VJs. What, to you, is the semantic difference between what you do and what a VJ does?
Ian Edgar: At the time, there was a big VJ culture in the club scene where we were, and there was a certain — Id on’t want to put anyone down who’s a VJ, we weren’t trying to say that. We were just trying to say that what we do, the audiovisual thing, if you call it VJ, you probably misunderstood it, because we were so different.
Now I think people call themselves VDJs and DVJs, so they’re trying to work in something and say it’s not just the video, it’s audiovisual. So yeah, we were just doing something that wasn’t considered “VJing.” Also, there was a lot of argument in the scene over what was considered a VJ, and we were just saying, “Forget about us, we’re not even in it.”
What was so different about what you were doing versus VJs were doing at that time? Was it that they were doing just visuals as opposed to integrating sound?
Johnny: Yeah, they were doing just the visuals, and it was more about nice-looking art than rhythm. We refuse to VJ. We’ve been asked by many big DJs to VJ for them and we pretty much always say no.
Ian: I think with VJs, they have to be really, really smart, and good at syncing what they do on the fly to the DJ, so they know exactly when it hits. If you’re hearing a big build-up, and when it drops, there’s no change in the visuals, they’re really not complementing the dynamics of the music. So I think the main difference is that when we play a video, there’s always audio playing. There’s never just a visual playing.
How long have you been in Brooklyn now, and what prompted the move?
Johnny: We’ve been in Brooklyn for four years, in Williamsburg. What prompted the move was media. We were in the dance scene doing a lot of festivals and club parties like this, where we really wanted to get further than just playing parties. So America in general is very important to us.
When you see yourselves going beyond that, what’s your ultimate goal?
Johnny: What we’re doing now, movies and commercials and making pieces of art.
Your debut single with Chuck D just came out, but obviously that’s audio, where someone can download it and just hear it. So how does that tie into your larger artistic vision, because it seems like you were saying the film and audio were part and parcel.
Johnny: Well, the video for that tune is very important to us, because it’s all about mobile devices interacting with each other, so the whole video is a really A/V remix concept. Chuck D is in the video, and we did a proper day shoot with him. Then we made a video where that appears on many different iPads, and the camera’s in four different angles, and they all make a picture together. All the mobile devices are kind of bashing off each other.
Why did it take until now to make a proper debut single?
Ian: When we first started, our style was considered a bit dodgy, almost, like you weren’t allowed to do that. There were people getting in trouble for playing The Jungle Book at some big event. So we were kind of coming at it from quite an illegitimate, punk angle.
We still are. We still upload all kinds of illegal stuff and get YouTube takedowns all the time, even though we’re doing corporate shit, big-name shit. But we’re still doing little videos here and there. We’re coming from an unreleasable standpoint, just crazy, sample-based music. So I guess Chuck is a big reason. When Chuck D writes some rhymes for you, that’s a pretty amazing thing.
What do you have in common with him as far as your stance on copyrights?
Ian: Fight the power, man!
How would you feel if someone were to illegally download your new single?
Johnny: Ha! Fine!
Ian: I think our opinions on copyrights are too complicated. We used to spend a lot of time, and still do, in copyright conferences, legal conferences. We represent a kind of style of art, or entertainment, that doesn’t have any respect for copyright at all, it’s just going to do it anyways.
Johnny: You were asking, why release a single now, and it’s because we always intentionally stayed away from the music industry. One of my first music jobs was with Brian Eno, and on the first day, he said, “Do you want a record contract?” I said yeah, and he said, “You’ll never have a career if you want a record contract! You’ve got to go beyond that and think about everything else that doesn’t involve signing a deal with a big label.”
So then, how do you keep this project going, just from gigs?
Johnny: Touring, and people pay us to do video remixes.
Ian: We do a lot of commercial work. We’re very lucky that people employ us to be Eclectic Method. They just give us a bunch of content and say, go remix-crazy.
It seems funny that you do these corporate projects, but you’ve made your reputation from not respecting those brands.
Ian: Yeah, absolutely. We played for Getty Images, and their entire business, they don’t produce a single thing. Their entire business is rights management, and there’s us playing a huge event celebrating everything we stand against. But we were there representing a kind of whimsical take on it that seems right for right now.
Johnny: But we’re not like, copying people’s songs and selling 50,000 copies of it. Everything we use is on the Internet where you can grab it and take it, but if someone has a problem with it, we’ll take it down.