King Kobra
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King Kobra

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"King Cobra Interview"

Honed through his love of percussion, funk, rock, and a broad passion for world music, King Cobra's patch-driven house beats and high impact VJ collaborations are turning heads on the Winnipeg scene. Paired with live bass and electric guitar at this year's Winnpeg Fringe Festival, King Cobra - aka Tony Ustel, has already been featured in Sonic Weekly alongside VJ Mrghosty, and both will play the Break Your Band competition coming up on September 27th.

In addition to their upcoming Battle of the Bands gig, King Cobra and Mrghosty are also getting set to take over the Lo Pub in Winnipeg this Friday September 4th. In preparation for the show, which promises to be another trance infused visual throwdown, King Cobra took a moment to chat about what it's like to be a busy up and coming VJ collaborator on Canada's electronic scene.

Can you introduce your musical history, and how you got to where you are today?

At a young age, my attention was turned to the rhythm of music. First playing piano, I later picked up the drums. During High School I did the classics, got into bands and played drums in music class, and later I decided to move to the City.

Playing in Funk and Rock bands in Downtown (Toronto), I found it frustrating that the city was too big and too many other bands were doing the same thing; playing shows all over the area and not bringing in the crowds - so I quit the band thing for a bit. Still wanting to play, I found an African drum group that used to practice on Sundays in a park near my home. After a few visits watching the hand drummers move, I was hooked.

I played in this group for about three years, then My Master decided to fund me to experience the real life of African rhythm and sent me to Johannesburg, South Africa. I spent three months there, learning why these rhythms are played, and learned and loved a new appreciation for the culture.

Later in life I moved to Winnipeg, hearing about its great Art scene. Playing in drum groups and picking back up the band thing, I found that people in the Peg sure love music. It didn't take long to have the public support any Act I was playing in, they just loved it. I thought, since this city enjoys music so much how can I separate myself from the acts and do a solo career?

Enjoying all types of music, these electronic thing was starting make itself known to all the kids in the city. So I started listing to it a little more, rather then just when I was out dancing with friends. I did some research on how it was made. Most use software, but some were using hardware and to me, making patches with hardware was the way to go, while still using my experience of rhythm. King Cobra was now formed.

How would you describe your sound?

My sound is best described as a Disco House, getting most of its sound from the Paris Scene which is coming to North America with a bang. King Cobra brings Kaoss pads and the same style patches as other great electro band like Justice and So French Records.

What has been the most rewarding thing about making music?

To me, whether it's playing on stage or busking on the streets with any style, I play knowing that those people are dancing to my grooves. It's what makes it rewarding; it's the best high.

You're known for setting up guerilla-style outdoor performances... Where is your favourite place to play?

There are some great venues in Winnipeg, but I think I enjoy The Academy the most. They have amazing sound tech and some awesome projectors, which make it easy to put on a show with my VJs. The capacity is large but not too big, so that filling the house is practical. I would recommend it to anyone out of town.

Describe your typical 'fan' - if that's even possible!

With King Cobra, the typical "fan" is not what is thought of as typical. Yes, there are some of the hipsters and even some of the old rave kids that come out to see the show. Then there are the other fans, the preppies who come out and even the hippies that enjoy dancing... Winnipeg just loves music and when there is an act that does well, everyone comes out to enjoy.

What brought you to

Actually a friend in the city passed me your way, said this way more real then MySpace and that people will pay attention. So, I looked you guys up and made a profile to see the reaction. To my surprise it's had more hits in the last few months than my MySpace page has had all year!

For local acts and for those who are just getting started in their musical career, I would recommend to everyone!

What's your technique for music promotion?

Best technique in this harsh industry is to network, promo, network and promo; only you can sell yourself.

Who would you most like to tour with?

To me touring with any act is always a good time, but if I had to say any act - even the most mainstream - it would have to be Daft Punk or Justice. Other more Local acts I would enjoy tours with are MSTRKRFT, Vitaminsforyou, or even local act Lebeato.

Who are you currently listening to?

Some of the tunes I've listened to in the last little while are 8-bit Boy, Fresh Kiss, Data, Lebeato, Get Famous, Crystal Castles, and even old Chemical Brothers.

If you had to listen to one album on repeat for the rest of your life, what album would it be and why?

Well, it's not electronic, but Afro-Beat. Anything by Fela Kuti, just love anything that man did. I would dance to that groove for life.

Is there anything else that new listeners should know?

To all you kids out there who are tired of watching electronic groups and DJs play behind a laptop, then you need to come check me out. Only using hardware, I have no choice but to interact and dance just as hard as the crowd does because of the lack of shield (the laptop) to cover what I do.


Catch the stylings of King Cobra this Friday Sept 4th, 2009 at The Lo Pub in Winnipeg, MB. Doors are at 9pm, and the line-up includes Get Famous, King Cobra, and Dj Cookie Monstah, with VJ skills by MrGhosty.


"Sonic Weekly Artical"

The Future of VJing

Filed under: DJ Lab by Anne Stewart on August 14, 2009
Dim the Lights, Crank the Bass, Prepare for Total Immersion

Tony Ustel, an up-and-coming Canadian DJ who performs under the name King Cobra, remembers the first time he realized that he was watching a VJ at work. “I always thought that people used an edit program to make the images, then put it on a DVD synced to a beat timer,” he says, “then I started to really understand what the VJ was doing, creating eyes for the music.”

Creating eyes for music, windows into the soul of a beat, is an art that VJs are constantly trying to perfect. “There is so much development going on in the audio-visual world right now,” says VJ PO-MO, known by the light of day as Meghan Athavale, “The only limit at this point is the human imagination.”

Don’t worry wannabees! When PO-MO - who specializes in syncing her own animations to music - says that imagination is the only limit, she’s not speaking from a lofty place of unlimited liquidity. Rather, she’s saying that you don’t need a big budget to be an innovator.

VJ mrghosty - a colleague of PO-MO’s whose craft leans towards playing with found and manipulated footage - has been building his own rig for years using equipment found at antique stores and flea markets. “I was mainly using a bunch of VCRs running through a mixer, with my computer running clips that I could mix a little bit to the rhythm,” says mrghosty of his first setup. ”I then started modifying old analog gear like CED videodisc players so I could mix and scratch picture as well as sound.”

Mrghosty, a.k.a. Skot Deeming, now uses a considerably lighter rig - a dual laptop configuration run through a vintage analogue mixer - but his DIY approach remains intact. “I’m very much someone who tries to use what I have at hand,” he says. “I mod and hack the gear a bit to get it to do what I want, rather than spend the money on the very expensive gear that can be found out there for VJing.”

DIY Inventors

Although the market for pricy VJ gear is booming, the home workshop is the place where much of the development in audio visualization is happening. “Our programmer built a multi-touch surface in an afternoon using materials he found around his apartment,” says PO-MO. “I learned to make a huge back-projection screen out of $5 worth of wax paper. Skot has rigged up LED throwies and modified controllers made out of used and found equipment.”

“We’re also currently working on our own portable outdoor screen design,” mrghosty adds. ”On several actually. Screens are also really expensive. In a pinch hang a white sheet. I got a couple at a thrift store and bleached them. They’re handy to have around.”

Good to know you don’t need a fat wallet to be part of building the future of VJing. But do you have to be as scarily smart with technology as these VJs sound? “Patience is more important than technical knowledge,” PO-MO reassures us. “Technology inspires us to find ways to express ourselves creatively, and that forces us to add to what we already know.”

Audience Interactivity

So what does the future hold for idea-heavy, cash-poor VJs of varying technical know-how? “Adding elements that the audience can interact with rather than simply watching is something I’m very much interested in,” says mrghosty. ”Imagine that we could do our mix visually, but with elements of these visuals being controlled by the audience.”

PO-MO notes that this is already being experimented with at large-scale events like Shambala. “Motion sensors and other interface devices are being used to alter the visual show, so it’s different every time,” she says. And not surprisingly, DJs love it. “It gives the audience a full spectrum of delight,” says King Cobra, “and it gives them a bigger push to get on the dance floor. Since I started playing with a VJ, the floor dancers have doubled.”

Working with Environmental Factors

Another emerging trend is the development of technologies and visual styles that take advantage of otherwise inhibiting environmental factors. While VJs often complain about too much light or smoke in a venue ruining a visual performance, PO-MO uses these elements to add depth and texture to her show. “One of the things I’ve been playing around with is projecting into mist or fog,” she explains. “Certain colors in the spectrum seem closer because they reflect from those mediums better. If I animate a swimming fish and change its color and size gradually, I can simulate it moving in 3D through the fog.”

Evolution on a Budget
PO-MO’s description creates quite the mental image of a future when concert-goers may find themselves not only staring into the eyes of the music, but actually moving through the mind of the beat, displayed visually all around them. Looks like your mom might have been right when she said you don’t need drugs to have fun.

Blurring the Line between Audio and Visual

For his part, mrghosty envisions a future where audio and video collaboration blends. “The integration of audio/video sampling is a great direction to head in. Actually taking what we’re doing and adding music/audio samples from our end while we play would add an extra element of interactivity with whomever we’re playing with. This has been going on for sometime, with older a/v performance groups like EBN (Emergency Broadcast Network), Coldcut Crew, and some others. When a show becomes integrated with picture and sound being produced by everyone on stage; well, I think that’s an incredible thing.”

That would make for some interesting sounds, but what do musicians think of VJs contributing audio? King Cobra, who performs regularly with mrghosty, doesn’t feel threatened. “Skot and I are more like collaboration. He has been my only VJ; he has based all his images to what I play. I think they call it band practice,” King Cobra laughs. “For us, the set-up is easy and so far, I’ve never felt crowded onstage.”

Noise and Light

Can you picture it? A future where going to a concert or club is like stepping into a virtual reality of synchronized sound and color; a ghostly neon creature slithers past you at shoulder-height; a palm-sized LED light given to you upon entry projects tiny birds onto the ceiling that swoop and flutter in time to your dancing; onstage, the performers call to each other in waves of noise and picture like marine mammals seeking each other out across the ocean.

The pressure of creativity pushing up against budget and technology is fueling the evolution of visual performance. But are there limits? Will concert-goers rebel as traditional forms of entertainment morph and shift? Will musicians balk against become part of, rather than central to, a live performance? At Sonic Weekly, we’d love to hear your thoughts on VJs and the directions in which visual performances are headed. Have your say in the new VJ section of the Sound-Off Forums… - Anne Stewart

"They put up a parking lot of art"

A downtown parking lot will become a temporary people-friendly green space tonight.

It’s being called a "Guerilla Art Event" for the lot beside the Princess Grill, near the corner of Princess Street and McDermot Avenue.

Partyers are asked to bring their own chair or any object they think belongs in a good public space in order to participate in the re-interpretation, re-conversion and re-thinking of an outdoor urban space in Winnipeg.

Live video mixing and interactive digital graffiti will be provided by Hello World and DJs king cobra, kasm and found dead will also be on hand.

You may also have your picture taken with Winnipeg’s largest knitted haybale by artist Kristin Nelson. - Winnipeg Free Press: Staff Writer





With over 14 years experience as a percussionist and live performer,King Kobra is taking it
digital with Live PA tracks both original and remixed. Using a variety of midi controllers, gizmos
and gadgets, his sound crosses through several genres including, funk, electro, house and
dark disco. King Kobra's live show is a feast for the eyes as well as the ears as he can often
be found performing with friend and collaborator mrghosty; a VJ and media artist from Winnipeg Manitoba.