Sonia Vera, aka Oddscene, is a Spanish visual artist, VJ and animator, based for the past twenty years or so in London. Her highly distinctive work has covered live visuals, stop motion and digital animation, installed artworks, portrait prints, film titles, motion graphics and special effects too.
Well respected for her unbounded creativity and tireless enthusiasm for her craft, Oddscene has spent the past few years dividing time between several personal and collaborative projects, as well as preparing new material and performing at events such as the Glastonbury Festival and London’s Movimientos parties. I caught up with her to reflect and project, as it were…
Tell us a little more about the background behind Oddscene – How and where did Oddscene begin? Why the name?
Oddscene began in London in 2004. I met Helga (the other Oddscene) in 2001, when she DJ’d as Elkha at the first squat party I organised in London – a great friendship has ensued since! We started doing visual art using slide projectors and tulle screens at various underground parties around London. From there we updated to digital with analogue video mixers and laptops, as we became resident VJs for the Miss Behave events in London bars and squat parties. We then hooked up with the wider London scene and legendary squat sound systems such as Ugly Funk, Club Neurotica, Coin Operated, Headfuk, Earwax … the list is long – basically, we became the party VJs from dusk till dawn!
I remember VJing for hours, losing track of time immersed in the visuals and the tunes. We loved to meet up and produce content for each event, always looking for a story to explain through our visuals. Being influenced by surrealism, abstraction, Dada and photo montage, we started with old movies and our own footage, filming the streets and the urban surroundings, news and adverts from TV and animating Helga’s drawings. We were explaining the absurdity of the world using this form of expression, with photography, graphics and film as medium.
The name came about thanks to a friend of ours. He described it this way: “your imagery or scene is odd and obscene. Therefore; Oddscene”. Genius! Ha-ha. Thanks Ben for such a great name.
I know you often use the name under partnership with Helga (Elkha), who’s now living back in Barcelona – how does that work?
At the moment, Oddscene is mainly myself, as Helga is currently taking a graduate course in History in Barcelona. On special occasions, we still collaborate on artwork and play at some events – the last one we did together was Glastonbury 2015, on both the Shangri-Hell stage and the Brainwash venue. However, our brains and taste remain very connected, no matter the distance between us!
Do you think the influence of living in London for so long shows in your work? What made you decide to base yourself in the city?
Yes, of course it does! My surroundings, my crews, the events I go to or I am involved with, my interests – everything is an influence on me. But I am especially influenced by the art and music of the underground scene, as it’s where I found the right space to grow and express myself. I have travelled to many cities around the world, but for me London has the best underground scene – extremely experimental and versatile – everything mixed up – a space for random creation – no boundaries! I came here in 1997 and lived through what I consider to be a golden age of wicked squat and other underground parties. The scene was in full bloom.
How does living and working in London differ from your experiences at home in Spain?
Well, in Barcelona I was involved in the underground scene of the time, although it was much less electronic. It was more punk rock, hip-hop and reggae nights held in bars and warehouses. I experienced my first electronic party in Amsterdam, but when I came to London it thrilled me. I felt I had found ‘the’ place to be – the music was the best, the randomness was irresistible and with all this chaos and possibility, how could you get bored?! London was the change I was looking for and I’ve now lived here for twenty years…
Nowadays, I still go to Barcelona a few times a year to VJ as Oddscene at events, for example at the Moog and Insert clubs. I’ve also played at the Gay Parade in the historic Plaça Universitat, as well as a few squat parties. The music is different; the tendency is for hard tech, minimal tech, trance and cheesy tribal techno. Not to my taste! Maybe I am too spoilt/ influenced by the range of the musical artists and producers I’ve worked with! But regarding VJ and video projections, Barcelona is very pro – more so than London. Catalan artists use visual art as their main medium of expression, producing and organising large mapping festivals. I think Barcelona is better visually, London musically.
You’ve been working incredibly hard for these past few years, as a recurring feature at Brainwash and Shangri-La at Glastonbury, your residency at the Movimientos events, Music Day, various squat parties, etc. What have been the highlights for you?
Glastonbury is always a highlight, it is an incredible experience – sometimes even traumatic! – it is not a cosy festival and it’s hard work. But it’s very emotional once I’m settled in and up there on the stage playing my visuals. When you perform alongside a ‘big’ band you’ve listened to all your life, words can’t describe it! Not to forget the other, more underground part, with all your crew there, having the best fun despite the mud.
I’m lucky to be able to express another side of my work as Oddscene as a resident at the Movimientos events, which are more involved in the Latin American popular music and underground scene. I feel very close to this culture and love the vibe of euphoric colourful psychedelic happiness! I love to produce and play visuals for both these and the related Love Carnival events – a particular favourite was performing at the London Remixed Festival at the Rich Mix.
What’s your basic setup when VJing? How do you approach sourcing and performing live material in this field?
At present, I use a MacBook Pro laptop with a MIDI controller or two, for example one of the Korg NanoControls. Small enough to pack in a backpack! I use digital video mixer software triggered by the controller, giving me more freedom to manipulate the mix via the knobs and faders during my performance.
Previously, I produced visual content with all sorts of material and imagery. My main style is a blend of digital animation, motion graphics, digital photo montage and stop-motion. I think of a narrative and a theme and then I will search for suitable material to transform, or else create my own from scratch. Then I just work from there!
Have you a favourite venue or festival memory?
Lots! For example, The Roundhouse Theatre in London when we performed an orchestrated live piece for cinema, ‘Seavenseals’ (previously performed on the beach in Benitatxell, Spain) – it was very emotional to be in such a legendary venue, where the likes of The Doors once played! I’ve played there several times; the second was as part of the Bitches on Bikes project, with Polish artist Voice Controller Kristi.
I’ve also really enjoyed my appearances at London’s Kinetica Artfair events (where I’ve performed and lectured as part of the Musion das Hologram Showcase), Berlin’s legendary upside-down night bar Madame Claude’s and on the main stage at the Gay Pride parade in Barcelona.
Some of my favourite festival experiences have been VJing at the wicked Bloc Weekender at a holiday resort in Hemsby, on the main Shangri-La stage and the Brainwash venue at Glastonbury too.
You have been a member of the Music Day UK organising committee for several years now, can you explain a little more about the group, the events and what it is all about? Why did you decide to get involved?
Well, I’ve known and worked with many of the people involved for a while, as the core of the group was basically formed from the Random Artists crew and others involved with events such as the Hackney Wicked Festival. I would say, briefly, that our aim is to bring free music to the streets and for the whole country to join in celebrating the international Music Day, also known as La Fête de la Musiqué, originally started in France and held annually on the 21st of June each year.
We organise a series of fundraising events throughout the year to support the main annual one-day festival, where different spaces host all types of music for free. We organise the flagship event, originally held at Old Street’s legendary Foundry venue, most recently at the Scoop at Tower Bridge. I love to VJ for Music Day, with Oddscene becoming a regular feature at the flagship and other fundraising events held throughout the year. My personal favourite event was in Springfield Park – a total success! – three stages and an amazing variety of well-known bands. It was high-quality and people still talk about it!
What kind of opportunities would you like to see more of for independent visual artists, either in the UK, or elsewhere?
More funded projects so that we can get paid fairly for the work we do! We work long hours, driven by passion, but we get paid very little compared to the amount of hard work that we must do. Artists are still struggling for paid work – there’s little money for the arts, but a lot of unpaid work opportunities.
What is your preferred medium and why? Are there any other disciplines that you would like to use to explore your creativity, but have yet to do so?
My preferred mediums are photography and stop-motion animation – to catch and paralyse the moment of an action or a scene – it’s like painting, but instant. Stop-motion is the origin of the motion picture and I find it to be a very cinematographic form. Every detail, scene and movement is created by a photograph and so, as in traditional still-photography, the composition is very important! I have a deep love for old cinema and Russian puppetry and animation and my work has been greatly inspired by people like Georges Méliès, the Brothers Quay and Jan Švankmajer.
Right now, I’m also experimenting with metalwork and building puppet automata myself as a new discipline. I would like to explore digital 3D animation and sculpting 3D characters in Z-brush or similar software too, as well as do more work using mapping projection. To this end, several of the projects I’m currently involved with involve a greater emphasis on mapping and set design.
The imagery you create is very psychedelic, especially those making use of ultra-violet lighting. Would you say drugs and the surrounding cultures are a conscious influence on your work and if so, how?
I am sure they have had an influence on my creativity! I have found that sometimes people describe my work as being very trippy, reminding them of visual textures they’ve experienced while on drugs. It is like shamanic painting; you recreate what you see. Although, I am greatly influenced by the textural style of old cinema too – especially the textures of the vintage film reels themselves, all velvety-grunge and distressed. The other huge influence on Oddscene is the lighting of eighties sci-fi movies, with lots of neon and pastels, combined with the amazing vibrant UV colours of nature’s coral reefs.
What is your favourite music to accompany your VJ performances as Oddscene?
As a music lover I am very open-minded in my tastes – there are too many wonderful composers and styles around the world to be content with just a few of them! I love variety in everything I do and hence my artwork and production techniques are adaptable to each specific performance. I enjoy working with all kinds of bands and performers, from more traditional genres through to abstract electronics.
I particularly love to perform to weirder experimental music as I find it to be a perfect fit for my visuals, being very engaging and inspiring improvisation – like playing a visual jazz! I was very much involved with London’s noise/ improv community for several years and am now a resident at regular AV-performance lab Crux. Another genre I find rewarding is classical orchestration. Consequently, I’ve collaborated on projects with various orchestras and string quartets (in several churches and at the Roundhouse Theatre), notably including the recent ‘Requiem’, a small opera production with the TeaLeaf company at the Conway Hall Theatre (for which I was both visual designer and concept director).
Can you tell our readers a bit about your ongoing ‘Barbiturikas’ project?
Oh yes, the Barbiturikas project comes from my passion for art doll and puppet making. I think dolls are great subjects to work with; small humanoids which can be transformed into any character I imagine. As I hope you can tell from my stop-motion creations and VJ work, animated character creation is one of my favourite processes – Barbiturikas is the creation in 4D of 2D animated characters, if you like!
I am making a collection of one hundred modified Barbie dolls with the intention of an eventual exhibition – each is themed, inspired by classic horror (think Hammer films), sci-fi operas, classic Hollywood epics and world mythology. They’re still a work in progress right now, as the work is extremely detailed and so it takes many hours to complete each doll. While I’m still in the process of creating the whole collection, I am also making portraits of the dolls, selected of which have been made available as limited-edition prints by the Bad Sekta label. We’ve broken even now, so any sales from now on go purely to help fund Barbiturikas! When I have completed the one hundred dolls I will look for a suitable partner gallery in which to exhibit them – feedback so far has been very positive, so I know there’s an audience.
I’m using Barbie dolls as they’re an icon of pop culture and hence a good symbol that can be used to reach the audience on many levels. They represent perfection – the perfect doll – the perfect humanoid to give a soul. My intention is to give each character a unique personality and to photograph them as if they were really alive. I just want to be the Puppet Master!
You’ve collaborated with a lot of crews around Europe over the past fifteen years; what were some of your early affiliations? I remember realising we’d been at lots of the same events in the past when I first met you, e.g. old Club Neurotica, NFA and Ugly Funk events…
I started collaborating with Helga and another friend, Toni, as a visual artist providing the decor for and projecting live slides at many squat parties. From there we met up with various other sound systems and rave collectives, with whom our work proved so popular that Helga and I officially formed Oddscene. Early gigs included at events put on by MissBehave, Ugly Funk, Club Neurotica and Coin Operated, Headfuk, NFA, Noise=Noise, Pokora, Synthetic Circus, among many others (sorry for not mentioning every single one – the movement is big and at the time so many raves and so many sound systems were active!). Having massively enjoyed performing at these and larger events such as the UK’s wicked Bloc Weekender Festival (2007/2008/2011), Helga relocated to Barcelona…
With Oddscene continuing as a solo project by myself (but with the occasional appearance by Helga), I decided to explore the Audio-Visual Arts field, which led me to the first of several performances and a continuing relationship representing Musion das Hologram at the Kinetica Art Fair – my first being with Polish artist Voice Controller Kristy as part of a collaboration for the Cybersonica AV lab. Kristy and I then collaborated as Bitches on Bikes, going on to tour Germany and Poland and to also play as part of Barcelona’s Gay Pride parade.
While remaining active on the underground scene, producing a lot of visual contents and organising events, we (Helga and I) performed our project ‘SeavenSeals’ at the Roundhouse in London – thanks to my crew from TAA, Random Artists and MissBehave. The event was so successful that it ran annually for another two years, with me performing at all of them.
I have been involved with the Random Artists and Temporary Autonomous Art collectives for a long time now, which all started at squat parties where I met up with great artists and music producers. We’ve organised and produced a wide range of events over the years, which I am very proud to have been a part of. Collectively, we have ventured into larger-scale projects such as Music Day UK, the Brainwash and Shangri-La venues at Glastonbury and the Hackney Wicked Festival. Recently, I’ve expanded into more tropical collaboration with Movimientos and the Love Carnival collective, where we showcase every two months. Further indulging my love of performing alongside electronic music, I’m resident at the bi-monthly Crux events in London and some other experimental gigs.
I know you also have a general background in the squatting community and are still involved with projects growing out from that (e.g. the Random Artists collective exhibitions) – do you think this reflects in your approach to creative projects? If so, how?
Being a part of the squat party scene has allowed me to learn a lot through experimentation, for example, gaining live event skills through getting stuck in. I am proud to have a background in the underground and am very lucky in that this has allowed me to express my artwork without boundaries, supported by open-minded and appreciative audiences who allow me to express myself fully and inspire me to create and to collaborate! If it wasn’t for squatting and other open-access events I wouldn’t have developed my skills so broadly, having been lucky enough to work on many ambitious and rewarding projects with many talented people!
Many known artists have emerged from the underground scene for the simple reason that their artwork is both innovative and original. If you have a big imagination and don’t fear experimentation then you can go truly beyond with your creative work! The squatting scene gives you life skills and encourages adaptability to any environment or situation.
We held the last Random Artists exhibition a few months ago, which was for me one of the best so far! Our theme was “Home” and so we transformed the space (a large building) into depictions of different homes and ways of living (including favelas, slam cities, abandoned spaces, cardboard homeless shelters, refugee camps and squats). I designed and built the stage, creating a chaotic bedroom, with all the furniture and objects spread out onto the wall. As the back wall was white, I performed live projection mapping onto both this and the stage dressings. If you’re interested, you can see the design featured as part of Hot on the Wire TV (2 November 2017 show).
For the last two or three years you’ve been collaborating with the Spanglish film crew Inferno Mortal, notably on the impressive short films ‘Locale’ and ‘Have a Good Trip!’. What’s that involved and what have you taken from the whole experience so far?
I first started working with Inferno Mortal on ‘Have a Good Trip!’, after meeting Luis Solarat (the director) at a Crux AV event in the squatted Victorian Haggerston Baths. He loved the venue and wanted to use it in the film. Having enjoyed my VJ set, he approached me to create the graphics for the short film, as well as some other post-production tasks. From this original collaboration, I ended up becoming part of the Inferno Mortal team, along with Bluemission lighting (whom I’ve often collaborated with on other work). The great thing about working with them is that everybody is very talented, ultra-professional and well-equipped, resulting in very slick work with thematic content that resonates with me personally. I’ve also really appreciated the chance to expand my knowledge of working with more narrative cinematic projects, as this is an area I’ve wanted to explore more fully for years.
For ‘Locale’, the second short we’ve made together, I was promoted to being art director and props designer, also continuing with post-production and visual effects assistance, on which I worked closely with Luis and Bluemission. We filmed at an unusual place with a creepy background – an abandoned wolfram mine in Galicia in Spain, built in 1945 and recently restored. A very spooky and alien-looking location accordingly ideally suited to the film’s theme of travelling from one world to another via astral projection! We’ve also recently produced ‘Absence of Proof’, a video promo clip for the rave-metal band Tribazik. For our next project, we’d like to make a stop-motion horror tale…
What inspires your work as Oddscene?
Oddscene draws inspiration from everything that I see, read, watch… My main themes are the cosmos and the deep, wild life and mythology, eighties horror films and old cinema, animation and classic Russian stop-motion and puppetry. On occasion, my work becomes political too, when I believe it is necessary to speak loud and spread a message.
Abstract and surreal painting is also a big inspiration. I use the techniques of photo montage inspired by the Avant Garde and Dada but have a strong punk influence too, so whatever I speak about has a unique post-punk style. Some of my narratives are based loosely on books I’ve read as well.
Got any recommendations for us?
The list is long, but here’s what comes to mind now: I love the work of the Brothers Quay, Amon Tobin’s AV mapping projects are breath-taking. ‘The Devil’s Candy’ and ‘It Follows’ are good horror films of recent years. Always Jan Švankmajer’s ‘Alice’. Neon cult films ‘Liquid Sky’ and ‘Café Flesh’… Jeremy Narby’s book ‘The Cosmic Serpent’. Pablo Amaringo’s beautiful Ayahuasca paintings and Joel Peter Witkin’s gorgeously decadent photography…
How can we find your work and where can we catch you performing?
You can see Oddscene VJ regularly in London at every Love Carnival at the Bussey Building, the Tropicalista New Year events at the Rich Mix, the London Remixed Festival, Crux AV Lab and more! Check my website for event dates.
Discover more of Oddscene’s world online via www.oddscene.com