Behind every great DJ there's a great VJ - Aaron Kulik on celebrating the inner weirdo
We met Aaron Kulik backstage at Awakenings after being enamored by the visuals he created for Seth Troxler. During his time in Amsterdam for ADE, we managed to catch up with Aaron and also had the opportunity to show off our Amsterdam Film Museum Eye. Explore our videos for a better impression of Aaron's personality and creative style, both of which are appreciated by many artists, DJs, and, of course, our fellow partygoers.
This scene is so much more than the drugs. It's connection, it's community. When I discovered dance music and finally got to meet some of these crazy people, I finally felt like home. These are my people, they get me, and I get them. This scene allows me to celebrate the inner weirdo in me; but like cool weirdo, not creepy weirdo.
It's great to feel that you belong, so what about your recent move to Berlin? Started to feel as comfortable as at home in America?
If you want to find the most comfortable way of doing something, talk to an American. We master that shit. And comfort is nice, but it's also the killer of invention… Moving to Berlin four months ago has not only been a career-thing, it's been about moving forward in life and trying to better myself as a human being. And I think in Europe people are more willing to explore, when in America we master comfort.
What did you do before getting into this adventure of being more and more professionally involved with the scene?
I was busy working as an editor on car commercials at an ad agency. And there was a certain level of creativity, but there was always a cap. The client wanted a car commercial. So if I wanted to put a unicorn in the car commercial, it was probably not going to happen. Realizing that this scene gives me the most amount of creative freedom was the "aha" moment.
Speaking of creativity, how would you describe your style?
I have a pretty unique style that I have developed with Seth that has worked really well for us. It is organic and spacey, out of this world, or on the contrary, explicitly human. And then there are also the Big Tittie Surprise productions and videos - with a bit of a twist towards the weird edge, just like "what the hell did I just watch?". Seth and I always joke, "Keep 'em guessing. You never know what's going to come out of camp Troxler."
My visuals are very "afterparty-vibe". Some of the best conversations I've ever had were at these kinds of parties. People would be dancing and then some dude with these crazy eyes would come up to me like, "What are you doing here?" And I'll just tell him, "I'm doing the visuals - let me show you how it works!" And those, to me, were the best gigs.
Every job has its advantages - definitely there are things you look forward to - but are there also some challenges?
Being on tour is probably my favorite part of the job. I remember being a kid and thinking I want to see the world and see all these places. But on top of touring, trying to find time to be in the studio and take all the inspiration from all the parties and music and people you meet, and being able to transition that to sitting your ass down and making visual content, that has been the challenge - and still is. But it's an exciting one.
There are only a handful of people in underground dance music who tour with video artists - you are one of those few.
Yes, that's true. The general method is that DJs will hire a visual artist to create some content and they will tour with this content on a flash drive and give it to the resident VJ at a festival like, "Here, can you work this in?" And it's all fine and good, but there are more people out there who are probably more technicians rather than artists and they don't always know which visual is best to play for the piece of music or they don’t think about the right color aspect. The wrong kind of visual at the wrong time can throw a net on the vibe of the party. But when it's done right, it's amazing and you can take the party to a whole other level.
People see the value of a good video artist and a good DJ putting together a show. And frankly the only way to do it right is by DJ's and artists working together. I think that is key: having people to collaborate.
You are both artists, working together but using different mediums to tell a story.
For me one of the key things is that I don't ever want to take away from the music. I don't ever want to tell you how to interpret the music. One of the things I love about dance music is that it has so many layers. A good piece of electronic music can give you a variety of emotions all at the same time. And that's always what I'm aiming for with my visuals. I want you to feel a variety of things and let that take you to another place.
It takes a lot of hard work, and even those people who do work really hard sometimes don't ever get there. Any words of wisdom from you to your fellow artists?
Before Seth officially hired me, I was very close to giving up. So probably the biggest thing is: don't give up! And also check your motives. The DJ lifestyle can be very alluring: travel the world, meet new people, the drugs, the partying and all that kind of stuff. But deep inside, what are you doing it for?
If you do it for passion and love, good things will come. It's about going out, contributing to your local community, getting involved, giving back. There are all these people out there spending time and money. People who throw parties in Detroit - where I'm from - rarely make any money. A good example is my wonderful friend, Matt Abbott, who used to have a party called "Techno Owes Me Money". And it's true, all these motherfuckers have gone broke throwing parties in Detroit, but they do it because they love it; because they want people to hear good dance music. And I think that's why you see so much talent coming from Detroit.
And what about the Dutch scene?
If there's anybody in the world that knows how to do festivals, it's the Dutch. For sure, you guys are badasses. Before going to Europe I had only done 2 festivals, Movement and Wavefront. So when I moved to Europe, the first festival I did was Awakenings. They had a porter-potty right next to where I was setup, wonderful! All the other festivals that I've been to I had to stop what I was doing and navigate through the crowd. And now there was a fridge with cold beverages… FOR THE VJ! It's just so well thought out and it comes full circle around, the fact that people who love the music want to improve it and make it better.
Shall we now prepare ourselves for more of Seth Troxler & Aaron Kulik?
Maybe this is a bit cheesy, but I want people to associate forward thinking music and imagery and visuals with Seth & Aaron. I think we're such a really good team together. What we plan to do is really exciting. Without a doubt the amount of opportunity that has opened up working with Seth Troxler is huge. This is the first time in my life where I'm able to make a living doing what I want to do creatively. And it's so rare for that to happen; especially in dance music, because this is not a movie industry, this is a music industry.
Interview by Manal Aziz
Camera Denise Kim Mulder
Production Anna Bogomolova
Big thanks to Gabriel Bauer, Myriah Turner, Steve Park