It's 2:40 p.m. on the first day of the second weekend of Coachella 2013, and it appears that L.A.-based EDM producer and DJ Dillon Francis has made the first "Tupac hologram" joke of the festival, bringing a cardboard cutout of the deceased rapper on stage.
While the hijinks ensue on the stage of the Sahara tent, Vello Virkhaus is all business behind the laptops and lighting boards on the VJ platform, situated toward the middle of the crowd. The CEO, director, and VJ of V Squared Labs controls everything festivalgoers see on the screens behind, above, and to the sides of the DJ stand throughout the festival. Using three-dimensional image mapping, he makes illustrations, sound visualizations, and Francis' logo jump off of the video monitors.
The visual experience of an EDM set is every bit as important as the music. Without it, a rave or massive concert would be little more than a DJ standing behind a laptop and a couple of controllers. No one knows that better than Virkhaus, who has created visuals for some of the biggest names in electronic dance music, working with festivals like ULTRA in Miami and artists like Skrillex to Kaskade.
"We're definitely more spontaneous" than the talent on stage, he says. "It's closer to early DJing, rather than the presentational DJing now."
In the two weeks leading up to Coachella, Virkhaus and his team at V Squared created visual packages for most of the dance music artists performing in the Sahara tent. Some acts left the presentation totally in V Squared's hands while others wanted a customized experience.
"It's usually collaborative if they're available," Virkhaus says. For those who stay removed from the process, the "trust comes from what we've done and what we do."
Over the years, V Squared has accumulated a 10.5-terabyte library of images that allows Virkhaus to pull ideas for artists who don't have their own graphics packages or are looking for inspiration.
"We showed Moby a bunch of clips from our library. He gave us some ideas, some adjectives, and we ran with them," Virkhaus says.
The images accompanying to Moby's set made for one of the most visually stimulating performances of the entire festival. With logos, geometric patterns, swirling footage of starry skies and solar flares straight from NASA, and other images intercut at the speed of hyperactivity, the action on the screens matched the energy of the DJ. During his set, Moby ran around the stage, jumped up on top of the DJ platform, and took photos of the crowd.
"Getting here is hard work, and leaving is miserable," Virkhaus says of the massive desert festival. "But the three days in between are awesome."