For those of you who have been to smaller electronic music shows or even a larger-scale festival, then you understand how essential it is to have astounding visuals. These visuals are not created to take away from the music, but rather to enhance the musical journey. When you see a massive LED structure encompassing the main stage at an event like Ultra Music Festival, how could you not get the chills? Do you wonder what goes into the making of that structure? Are the musicians the only “artists” that make up these massive events? No. Some of the most important artists serving music festivals, tours, and nightclubs are in fact the VJ (video-jockey), 3D animator/artist, and the visual designer. These artists are also some of the most overlooked and underrated. However, thanks to the success of visual production brands like V Squared Labs, the work and experience they create is changing the face of Electronic Dance Music, and V Squared Labs is in the center of that change.
For more than 20 years, Vello Virkhaus, founder and CEO of V Squared Labs has been paving the way for aspiring visual artists. Growing up, he always enjoyed making art and studying the work of artists in their mediums. His grandfather was a painter, art teacher and gallery owner, which led to Vello’s interest in fine arts. When he was young, he inherited his grandfather’s VHS camera and started making video feedback experiments. In addition, during high school and college, Vello would make VHS visual party mixtapes that he would carry around with him. He even volunteered doing videography for a cable access TV station before moving to college. He first got into 3D animation in 1992 when he was enrolled at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. He obtained his bachelor’s degree and instead of moving to Los Angeles like most of his friends (who went to work for the likes of Pixar and Digital Domain), Vello decided to remain in Chicago instead to focus on post-production. For those who are unfamiliar, post-production takes place after filming or recording has taken place.
While in Chicago, Vello co-founded a visual art company called Optique Video Tek (OVT), which became part of many early electronic music events in the United States. OVT performed for numerous artists, promoters and music events such as Drop Bass Network, Rabbit In The Moon, and Zen Fest. According to Vello, they would gather large quantities of film projectors and project film and video loops during musical performances. Brien Rullman of OVT had a roommate that worked at Rush Presbyterian Hospital. The hospital was going to throw away their antiquated library of 16mm medical films and donated them to OVT. He says, “It was like 1,000 reels of the strangest stuff from surgeries and other medical procedures. We freaked out a lot of people in Chicago.”
Later in 2000, Vello and his friend Ariel Martian decided to make the bold move to Hollywood, California. This is where he decided to build his first studio, called V Squared Labs (VSL). Around this same time, Vello was introduced to founder of Insomniac Events, Pasquale Rotella, through OVT. He was able to form a strong relationship with him that would later lead to many significant collaborations.
To top it all off, these early years mark V Squared Labs’ two major film projects with the legendary Korn – Korn: Deuce and Korn: Live (DVDs). VSL produced all of the visuals for both films. Korn: Deuce reached #1 on the Billboard charts and Korn: Live was viewed in theaters across the country. At the time, rock music produced larger shows and had bigger budgets than dance music. However, Vello still maintained his relationship with Insomniac and continued working with both genres.
Fast-forward to the present and you will see that VSL is no longer just a blip on the radar in the electronic music world. VSL welcomes both internal and external collaboration. Internally, the VSL team has grown tremendously with over 10 in-house staff and rotating interns from nearby colleges and universities such as Cal Arts and Gnomon. Externally, they are collaborating with some of dance music’s biggest names including Steve Aoki, Krewella (Get Wet Tour), Datsik (Fire Power Tour), Infected Mushroom (Fungus Among Us Tour), Ultra, Coachella, Electric Daisy Carnival, and HARD to name a few. In addition to conducting 3D project mapping and building LED structures for these tours and events, you will often find one of their VJs in the front of house (area usually at the back of the crowd designated for production personnel only) at concerts and festivals.
Vello is the leading 3D visual artist and live music event visualist in EDM. There are many other young producers coming up in the field, where you can see they are influenced by Vello’s cutting edge and pioneering visual effects. The influence of VSL can be seen worldwide in other formats he has inspired. Vello is extremely passionate; he enjoys collaborating and hopes to eventually collaborate with some of the biggest companies in the business. It drives innovation and in order to stay ahead, sometimes you have to work with instead of against your competition.
Not only does Vello have to focus on building and developing a lasting brand, but he also has a six-and-a-half-year-old daughter that he has sole custody over. With the help of several nannies and his mom, he has been able to figure out a balance between work and being a father. He says that he has two options: figure it out or get out. He doesn’t want to stop being a father and doesn’t want to give up VSL so he has learned to do both well. Both roles require a lot of work and can be very taxing on both his mind and body. Everyday is an up and down. However, when he gets to spend quality time with his team or with his daughter, he sees that all of this is worthwhile. He is stubborn, which is a good and bad quality. Without being stubborn though, he would have never pushed through all of this difficulty. When he walks around the studio, his team’s innovation, stories, and talent inspire him to keep growing. He tries to do the same for the others within his office. Visual art is his emotional outlet. It is his escape. Therefore, he plans to continue building his company for the value of visual art and merge this art form with music to create an immersive entertainment experience.