This month we got the chance to speak with prominent Seattle-based VJ Jayson Esguerra. VJs are artists who use video clips and effects to create mesmerizing displays to complement a DJ’s performance. We asked Esguerra about his journey to becoming a VJ and what it’s like working with one of EDM’s biggest performers.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
My name is Jayson Esguerra, I’m 27. I’ve been living in Seattle for a little over two years now coming up on three, but I’ve been in the Pacific Northwest for the majority of my life since I was about 7. I’ve been going to shows since I was 16.
What would you say your role is when it comes to music and video production?
I have a bunch of different roles depending on the venue or the artist or the situation so I would say my bread-and-butter definitely is VJing, and that gets often confused with a lot of different roles. I think people hear VJ and think “oh so you’re amazing at graphic design or rendering,” and at its core VJing is really just the video version of DJing. You’re taking tracks or clips that are usually pre-made and mixing them live in a way that matches the energy that you’re trying to put out. So my job usually as a VJ is to make sure that whatever is on the screen is matching the vibe of the rest of the room and making it look good. I always have to correct people and make sure they don’t think that I’m some [Adobe] After Effects expert or something like that.
How did you get into this job?
I always like to say that my path into this was that I’ve just always wanted to put on a light show in one form or another. The very first show I went to was Rusko in 2011 at the Showbox SoDo, and for me, Rusko was the first artist I had ever listened to in electronic music. At that show, they were selling some LED gloves. So I picked up a pair and I started messing around with those at home and then I fell in love with that for a long time.
Then for whatever reason, I kind of fell out of it and moved more to spinning poi and that kind of stuff, and then I got really interested in visuals. After that a friend of mine, Jeremy Jones, got me onboarded to his company and put me on as a resident VJ at Foundation Nightclub two or three times a week. So I really went headfirst into that. It was a really good learning experience too, because that space was so diverse. It had great lighting, great video, and big artists performing every week. For me, it was like a dream in terms of a place to learn.
Would you say there is a large community of people involved in this side of music production?
I think it’s larger than people might think but yet at the same time, it’s a new industry and still growing. I think when it comes to video specifically it’s a pretty new field. There’s still a lot of growth that’s happening here so I would say it’s definitely new but there are a solid amount of people in the Pacific Northwest and across the industry. It’s small enough that as you tour around you start seeing the same artists and places so you can really get to know some of the community.
What is your favorite kind of show to VJ?
I think the favorite gigs that I do are the small intimate ones where I get to do something kind of crazy that you don’t really see very often. I also like the larger ones like the Paradisos or the Beyond Wonderlands, where I get to do my thing in front of a bunch of my friends out in the crowd and it really warms my heart. I love providing some sort of show that I can like help fill that space as best I can with visuals that represents what we’re trying to communicate.
Are there any notable or unusual shows you’ve performed at?
One time I was working on this barn stage out in Northern Washington. I don’t remember exactly what event it was but the original plan was going to be an LED wall. That fell through, so they tried to have some big TV, but that fell through too. I just ended up showing up with my projector and my laptop and we ended up projection mapping the whole barn that they were using, and people loved that because no one was expecting it. I thought that was really fun and was just a fun way of expressing visuals and that affects that’s not just your boring rectangular wall.
Are there any big artists or events that you would like to perform with/for?
First off I think I got super lucky with the artist I work with right now, G Jones. It’s sort of a dream gig right off the bat for me. But I think another artist I would want to work with would be Rusko just because it would be very full circle for me. Also because what we do for G Jones is mostly time synced, whereas the majority of my other work, especially locally, is busking, where I’m just hearing music as it comes to me and I’m doing my thing and making sure it looks as good as it can, which I think really captures the essence of VJing.
What is it like working with an artist like G Jones who has such a great aesthetic and precise approach to his shows?
He is very particular about making sure things are aligned properly and making sure that we really put that extra time and thought into all of these things that we do that are super important to him, which is great to me. With most artists, they will tell you “this is sort of what I want to do” and the VJ will take that run with it, which is great, but a lot of the time I think what that means is that the artist is sort of handing the keys over and they want them to take care of it. Working with (G-Jones), he really cares a lot about every detail, and all the effort I put into it really feels valued.
Would you say there is still a lot of creative freedom when performing a time-synced show?
In general, I would say yes there is. A lot of artists the way they have it set up is you have some sort of master visual that will run and on top of that you can be doing other things like bring in a camera view or use overlays on things, or adding some effects on top to kind of sprinkle some extra magic in their. G Jones’ show is extremely dialed in and is very planned out. Meaning I spend anywhere from 30 to 50 to sometimes 80 hours just putting stuff together. Lost Lands was like an 80-hour show.
What would you recommend to people who are trying to work as a VJ?
Just always put your best foot forward. I think creating tension where there doesn’t need to be any can only really hurt you in the long run. It comes down to connections a lot of time in the industry. I found myself very lucky in knowing the right people to get connected in certain ways. I think it comes down to the right place right time and having the right skill set when the right person approaches and having references that can back you up.
It also comes down to really just being a good person and being reliable. Being reliable is one of the most underrated skills in any industry, especially here. If you don’t show up to a gig or you show up late or unprepared, they don’t want to hire you again. It comes down to it building that reputation for your own skillset, so when people call on you they know they can trust you.
Anything you want to promote or say to readers?
I don’t have a lot to promote right now. I think I’m trying to keep my head down working on working on a bunch of things I can’t quite announce yet but I’m really excited for. But if I could give two shoutouts. Id like to first shout out Jeremy Jones, who launched my career for me. He gave me my first opportunity when I had no skills in this industry and I just I asked him. He gave it a shot and I feel like I’ve done him proud in a lot of ways I hope.
My other shoutout would be to Christian Jackson — any lighting designer in the world knows who he is. He’s a local here in Seattle and I feel like I’ve earned his trust in a lot of ways and he’s helped me out a lot. I would not be where I am today without them.
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