|Mike Mazzotta/Videopunks 3/01/2016|
Your name, name of project, collaborators and age (if thats cool)
Mike Mazzotta, Videopunks, 30. (Videopunks is a one man Video Shit storm!)
What is the mission of Videopunks? What do you do exactly?
Well, shit. You're not going to make this easy, are you? I've been trying to redefine what "VJing" in a club setting is. There was an article in a DJ magazine 10 years ago about VJing, and the writer of the article quickly shut the notion of a "Touring VJ" down, saying that nobody buys tickets to see VJs. I think that's bullshit. A good VJ is just as talented as a good DJ. . . So, why can't they be a draw? Why not tour? Part of the problem is VJs themselves. . . There's been a glut of Art Students with cracked versions of software hitting spacebars at gigs, and then schmoozing. . . and those that's a bit of the status quo, it's also boring as fuck. I've gone out of my way to build an All Analog Video Rig, without any "Auto-Spazz" buttons, or presets, to give my the opportunity to have the most dynamic Video Performances as possible. I want to be able to get in a Van with 3 of my friends, and play Punk Rock Electronic Basement shows, and rock that shit the fuck out. That's the immediate focus of Videopunks. . . to show people that video jamming can be just an dynamic, and interesting, as any musical performance.
The secondary focus of Videopunks is this VHS label that I've been running for the past 6 months. While playing shows, I've been constantly meeting really interesting Video Artists. Whenever I ask them where I can see their work, they always sorta shrug. . . Usually, it's Vimeo, or the odd gallery show. I started doing VHS releases through The Basement Labs as a way to give Video Artists that I liked something they could hold in their hands, and call their own. Personally, I think handing someone an object, and saying "I made this" is one of the most powerful things an artist can do. The VHS label has been focused on small runs of limited editions, but the idea is to give video artists a stack of tapes free of charge, so when they play shows, or perform, they'll have things to pass out, sell, or do whatever they like. I've tried to stay focused on this DIY Punk Cassette Label mentality, but with VHS tapes. People seem to dig it. Fans are buying tapes, Artists are approaching me about releases, and I'm having a fucking blast doing it.
A byproduct of those two sides of the Project is I get to direct music videos for folks that I really dig. So. . . Videopunks is all over the place.
How long have you been doing video and media work?
I'm a Film Editor by trade, and I cut my first shorts (on linear S-VHS systems) in 2003. I moved to New York to pursue a film career in '07, and have been here ever since. As for VJing, I've been DJing as a hobby since '03, and always wanted to find a way to DJ video the same way I was able to DJ music. I knew there was software out there, but I've always been a fan of analog video, so I really wanted to find a way to work live with analog gear.
I linked up with Zoog von Rock from Angelspit in '10, and we would walk around The Village for hours, talking about video as performance, treating video like noise, and the best way to approach an all Analog Video Jamming rig. Finally, after a couple of months, he told me that if I could figure it out, he'd take me on tour. . . So, I figured it out, and I was a touring member of Angelspit for a couple of years.
I took a break after leaving Angelspit, but in the Fall of 2014, I linked up with Hex Taylor, and started Videopunks. Hex & I split up about 6 months into it, and here I am.
How has has your video art evolved since you first started?
When I first started jamming with Angelspit, I tried to be as High-Frequency, and Visually LOUD as I could. Angelspit is very much one of those bands. Zoog would describe us as 'Bang Bang Clang Clang Fuck You', and I really tried to embrace that. Now, I try to be a little more subtle, and really focus on Dynamics. Fading to White, Fading to Black, trying to find interesting polyrhythms to grab during a performance. All of it is Improv, but I'm constantly trying to find ways of refining it in dynamic ways. When I started, it was Visual Grindcore. . . All Blastbeats and Static. Now, I'm trying to hit this Visual Free Jazz vibe.
What are the main themes or topics for your work?
I'm not sure if there's a main theme to the CONTENT being projected. . . but there's a definite theme to my performance of it. Everything is live triggered. There's no laptops, or midi controllers. I try to have everything as analog as possible, and as manual as possible. If you're seeing it onscreen at the show, that's because I put it there.
What music/art/media art did you grow up listening and getting into?
I was extremely lucky to have a couple older folks in my life who were really hip, and would feed me really great music before I was really ready for it. '97 was a really great year for me, because that was the year I got into Dance Music, and weird Metal. I'm a huge Tool fan, and was definitely listening to those records probably before I should have been.
I was also really into Electronic Music. I stumbled across an episode of MTV Amp, and picked up the AMP Compilation. That hipped me to Aphex Twin, Atari Teenage Riot, and Underworld. Between that, and getting hipped to Nine Inch Nails, The Chemical Bros., and all sorts of other folks. . . There was just all this great music happening in '97, and it really kinda fucked me up. I'd have my walkman with me, and would just be jamming out to the weirdest stuff.
What video and/or media art past and/or present has influenced you the most up to this point?
The Broken Movie, by Peter Christopherson, for Nine Inch Nails. The Director's Label DVD of Chris Cunningham's music videos. ALL of the Playback scenes in 8MM. Fight Club. There's this common Grittiness to all those things, that I feel was pushed against super hard in the Early 2000's. . . Everything after '99 was super glossy, and really futuristic. . . but I was a fan of hard, grainy shit. Also, The Sci-Fi channel had a show called "Exposure" that was pretty tremendous.
What's the first electronic visual you remember seeing that really sticks in your mind?
I caught a Super Late Night rerun of MTV Amp once, and it really broke my shit. That would kick around my head for a LONG time, and that's what really got me thinking about Performing Video live. I think I just missed the kinda First Wave of Club VJs, so when I started going to parties, it was a lot of Hippy-Trippy-Fractal Bullshit. . . So, I was always super disappointed that there weren't more Scratch Video vibes at Raves. But it seems like a lot of that stuff is coming back around, which is nice.
What got you into making 'analog video/media projects' (fill in what you classify your art as) in the first place?
Well, I'd been working in Film for a couple of years, and was starting to miss DJing. I worked with Daniel Sevelt over at AR Productions (back when it was Aspect Radio) for a couple of years, as a Roadie, running around the Rave scene in New England before coming to NY. I was starting to really miss that whole world, and then once Zoog told me to figure it out, it really clicked pretty hard for me.
When I was growing up, my Dad ran a couple of TV repair shops, so I've always been super comfortable handling all of this old Analog Video Gear. Also, I never really had a lot of money to throw towards gear when I was a kid, so when I was building my little home recording setup, and later moving into The Basement Lab (which was Employee #6817's home studio/hangout spot where we did all of our early weird shit), I got really good at figuring out the best way to put together cheap consumer gear to do kinda pro stuff.
It all just sorta started out as bullshitting because it's fucking cool. It's become less bullshit, and more cool, as time has gone on (I hope).
Are your videos deliberately composed, is your work abstract, or a combination of both?
Definitely both. I try to perform a lot of the Videopunks stuff, with minimal overdubs/edits as possible. . . Some of the Music Videos/Projects that I've done as Videopunks have been first takes. They might not be perfect, but they have a really LIVE feeling to them, that i'm really trying to convey.
Could you briefly describe you media-making process?
It's all about the Videopunks live rig. I'll feed media into it, perform with the rig, and record out of it. Usually visual assets will start their life in Adobe Premiere, and will get fed to the Rig, recorded out to tape, and then captured back into Premiere. . . But the idea to be able to perform as much of it live as possible.
Are you constantly cranking out new stuff or does it take time to get it right and done?
I've been trying to keep a steady release schedule. I've had a VHS release every Month so far this year, and have releases lined up until January 2017. I've been also cranking along on a couple of music videos so far this year, and I'm trying to get back in the habit of making Vimeo Mixtapes. Those are tons of fun.
But, yeah. Just trying to keep putting stuff out.
Where do you produce your work?
I used to work from home for a long time, but it was starting to bum me out, so i've been renting a little office space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn for the past year and a half. It's in one of those Workshare spaces, so it's Glass on 4 sides, and there's a lot of Brogrammers and Weird, Corporate-y Production people there. I'm definitely the weirdest dude on the floor, by a longshot.
What can you tell me about your gear?
Vintage. NTSC. Hardware. Lots of Cables, adapters, and weird shit.
I'm currently in the middle of completely re-outiftting my live rig. For the past Year or so, it's been an Edirol V4, with a Pair of iPad 2's as VTRs, all run through BMPC Glitch Gear. I'm in the process of trying to add more Video Synth hardware, as well as more Live Cameras, So i'm moving to an Edirol V8, with some other dope stuff.
What made you choose the particular devices you use?
The Edirol V4 has a Crossfader, and some really interesting expression knobs, etc. . . I started mixing records first, so I've been trying to treat the Video Playback aspect of that a lot like Djing. I started buying BPMC glitch gear because it was small and cheap. . . but quickly fell in love with it HARD. Drew Pauper is a fucking WIZARD. I like iOS devices because they're pretty cheap, well made, and will give me native composite video out, which is cool.
I've always worked under the assumption that all this gear has to tour, so it has to be above a certain threshold of Hardiness, has to be under a certain weight, and has to be able to fit into the rig case that I'm unnaturally attached to. I've had the Pelican Case for the Videopunks live rig for more than 15 years. . . it just kinda showed up at my Dad's shop in the 90's, and I've held onto it ever since.
Are you subject to any kind of brand loyalty or will you play with whatever you come across/what is available?
Oh, man. . . Yeah, I'm totally a brand guy. I really dig iOS devices. . . they're well made, the older models are quite cheap, and the operating system is really solid. I love BPMC glitch gear. . . I've played with some other gear that people have built, and there's something about Drew's designs/hacks that just really click for me. I'm not saying other folk's gear is BAD (Tachyons+ Gear is the FUCKING JAMMY, btw), but I really just dig what Drew is doing. I live Edirol Video Mixers because they're laid out a lot like DJ mixers. . . Not as much as my First Video Mixer, which was a Numark AVM02, but close enough where it legitimately feels like a Video Instrument. A lot of Analog Video gear was designed for studio use, not live use. . .but I feel like the V4 and the V8 were always meant for live venues.
I know you do live performance as well as studio. Do you rehearse or plan your performance in any way, either in your head, on paper or in a studio, or do you just wing it when it comes to performing and recording?
Depends on the performance. If i'm booked for a show where I'm going to be playing for multiple performers, I'll try to think about different ways to break up my content/effects, so each Performer will have visuals that feel slightly different. . . but other than sorta blocking things out into rough chunks, there's not a lot of thought. In that context, I usually have never played with the performers before, so I just try to stay fluid.
When I'm playing with a Performer/Band on a regular basis, I'll create a setlist. That's what I've done with Angelspit, We are Temporary, Machine Girl, and some other bands that i've played with a lot, either as a hired gun, or a member.
I've really only once had 'rehearsals', and that was for the Videoterror performance with Sean Kelly's MAN KID project. The MAN KID stuff is a lot of Drumming over Live Feedback, through effect pedals. . . It's as much Jazz as it is Noise, so when we were putting together the Videoterror performance, I really tried to figure out some techniques to use to make each of the three pieces stand apart from each other. Ultimately, it ended up being the First Piece featuring External (Camera) Feedback, with the second piece really featuring Internal (To the mixer) Feedback, and the third piece being a combination of both techniques. I thought A LOT about that one, and I hope that it kinda shows.
Can we see a current photo of your live/performing rig and could you let us know what's in the photo/what you're using live?
Where have you performed?
As a member of Angelspit, I've performed all over the country. . . From New York, to LA, Chicago, Seattle, and everywhere in between, with the exception of most of the South East, for whatever reason. As Videopunks, I've played all over New York, with a couple of tours in the works.
What are your favorite and least favorite venues?
I really dig Palisades in Brooklyn, NY. . . I've played a couple of shows there, and the Projector Screen is most of the size of the stage, against the back wall. . . It's really commanding. As for Least Favorite, pretty much any venue that doesn't have a projector, or Visuals are an afterthought. I've had to put projectors on top of speaker stacks, or project onto bedsheets, more times than I care to admit.
Most embarrassing experience? Most awesome?
The thing about Analog gear is that it's Temperamental. Sometimes, no matter what you do, things just won't turn on, stay on, and work. That's usually super embarrassing. . . You show up, ready to rock, and nothing goes your way, and you have to just kinda call it. Some of this stuff is easy to troubleshoot, but more often that not, it's just not manageable in a big, dark room.
Best? Getting the last minute call to Jam for Merzbow for the Redbull Music Academy at Output. All night, Hex Taylor and I had kept the visuals really minimal, with brief flashes of intensity. There was a LOT of fog in the room, and the LD was really working it. Halfway through Merzbow set, the Smoke Machine ran out of Juice, and the LD just started screaming at us from across the booth to really go for it. . . So we did, and definitely melted some faces.
Equally as awesome was my first BIG show with Angelspit. . . It was a Fetish Party in Scottsdale, Arizona. . . and the Screen was easily 30ft by 40ft. HUGE. It was a sold out crowd, and people were just going fucking nuts. It just felt really awesome to be out there, doing this shit.
Have any hobbies like stamp collecting or knitting?
Do you play any instruments or make any other kind of art besides what you do with Videopunks?
For a long time, I was making Ambient/Electro-Acoustic Triphop stuff, playing bass over Samples & Breaks, and self-releasing as "R." through The Basement Labs label that Employee #6817 & I were running. I'm not a particularly GOOD Bass Player, but I'm a competent producer, so some of the stuff was pretty good. I sorted shelved it after a mishap led to losing all the sessions for my second LP around 2005, but I've been going back through all the old Demos, and I feel like there's some really cool stuff on some of those old tapes. I'd like to take a stab at maybe doing a full length A/V release as R. eventually, but right now I'm trying to focus on Live Shows, and the Label.
Do you collect anything or are you a minimalist?
I've got a really tiny, but really TIGHT record collection. The beginning of The Basement Labs really centered around #6817 & I going out crate digging, then coming back to the Lab, smoking a bunch of shitty weed, and listening to all the weird shit we were able to find on Vinyl. My collection has definitely slimmed down tremendously over the past couple of years, but there's some really great LPs in there that kinda don't exist in Digital Formats. The only way to hear some of this stuff is on Wax.
I also have a thing for Robots. . . I can't wait to have a space long enough to really put them up somewhere.
What are you cooking tonight?
Tapes for the March 1st NO EYES x JPEGSTRIPES VHS release on VXPX/tBL.
What did you eat today?
叉烧包, on the REAL REALS.
What's your favorite food of all time? Favorite drink?
San Gennaro-Style Sausage & Pepper Grinders (the ONE TRUE NAME, get the fuck outta here with that 'hero' bullshit). Blue Jolt in the old Battery Cans (RIP).
If you had to eat one food 7 days in a row, what would it be?
Chicken Nuggets, no question about it.
What was the last book you read?
I've been working my way back through Nothing Is Inflammable by Simon Logan. It's a collection of self-described Industrial Short Fiction. Simon Logan is the fucking MAN. . . Serious Post-Cyberpunk Vibes, without all the Cybery Macguffin Bullshit. Just Gritty, Hard Folks doing Gritty, Hard shit.
Do you watch TV or listen to the radio at all? Any favorite shows or broadcasts?
Not as much as I should. . . I don't have a lot of time, between hustling Freelance style, playing shows, and Running the label.
Where do you go to discover new sounds/music? What are you currently viewing/watching/vibing to?
Spotify, and Facebook. . . If i'm looking for stuff to DJ, i'll go through the top charts on Beatport, find a tune I like, and then check out everything they've ever put out. But. . . To be perfectly honest, the last new sounds I've really been vibing on are stuff that my friends are putting out. NO EYES out of Atlanta is a fucking BEAST, Machine Girl is my Favorite band playing shows right now, all of the 3Teeth demos I've heard recently are fucking TERRIFYING, and the new Darren Keen record is amazing. . . It feels really good to have friends that are doing stuff that just really excites you.
Been to any good shows lately?
I saw Machine Girl open up for Dreamcrusher and Dälek at Trans Pecos in Brooklyn, and it was AMAZING. Probably one of the best live shows i've ever seen, full stop.
Describe a day in the life of Mike Mazzotta.
Wake up later than I want to, travel to my office longer than I should, stay in my lab far later than is healthy, stumble home. Sprinkle liberal with Coffee, Cigarettes, and Noise Complaints. Rinse. Repeat.
What does your family think of your art and do they support you?
My folks have been super supportive of me since I've moved to New York. They're both really into movies, and TV, so I think they really get a kick out of me working in that industry. On my first Angelspit tour, we played The Webster Theater in Hartford, and they got to see what this whole thing was about, and they were pretty into it. All things considered, I think they're digging what I do. They might not fully understand it, but I think it's weird enough for them to be like 'Hmmmmm. . . That's kinda neat.'
Do they have any idea what you do or what your project is about?
I'm not even 100% sure I have any idea what my project is really about.
Any advice for people who are starting out creating video/music/noise/art?
Creativity is a reflex. I believe this 100%. Make. Make lots of things. Make lots of things often. The more you do something, the easier it will be to do good work. Not everything has to be perfect, but everything should be finished. A Good thing that's out is infinitely greater than an Amazing thing that never gets finished.
Just constantly make things. Every time you make a thing, it will get cooler.
Something else to consider. . . try to make every project about learning something. Find a new technique, or a new piece of gear, or a new approach, and make the thing about THAT. Then your body of work will keep building.
You don't need fancy shit to make things. Use what you have. Embrace your limitations. Rock the Fuck out.
Any upcoming shows? New recordings or projects?
I've got a TON of upcoming shows. . . I'm always posting details over at Facebook.com/Videopunks.
Also. . . For the rest of 2016, I'll be doing a VHS release a month. They're always out on the first of the month, sell out quickly, and are available through http://vxpx.info. Keep an eye on it.
Any parting words or pearls of wisdom you'd like to share with whoever's reading this interview?
I've spent a tremendous amount of time thinking about what I would be doing, if I was doing things. It's a lot easier, and much more fulfilling, to be doing stuff. Just do it, finish a project as quickly as you can, and move on to the next thing.