Vello Virkhaus of Xitelabs on Xbox, Bryson Tiller, and the Future of xR
XiteLabs co-founder Vello Virkhaus is a native of Kalamazoo, Michigan. After graduating from School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Vello went on to craft a niche in the live events industry as one of the early pioneers of VJing. Creating visual content for some of the world's largest and most well respected festivals such as Ultra, Coachella, Outside Lands, and numerous others, Vello gained a reputation as one of the world's foremost VJs.
Through his first company V Squared Labs, Vello evolved his approach to include interactive technology, production design, and animation. He and his collaborators went on to produce some of the most influential immersive concert visuals and 3-D projection mapped experiences in recent years. These included Amon Tobin's ISAM, Blizzcon's e-Sports Starcraft 2, NBC's Heroes, The Skrillex Cell, Krewella's Crystal Volcano, Infected Mushroom's Pods, and countless other projects. Launching XiteLabs with co-founder Greg Russell, Vello leads XiteLabs' creative team both bi-coastally and internationally.
We caught up with Vello for our Liner Notes series to learn more about his musical tastes and journey through the years, as well as recent work he's proud of and admired.
Vello, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and now I live in Suwannee, Tennessee.
Your earliest musical memory.
I remember playing Beethoven, Bach, Chopin and Chokovsky with my dad. We always played new age and classical music.
Your first concert.
My first non-classical show was John Denver playing live at Wayne Stadium. I came for the music and I was there for the experience. It was a nice performance but the production was definitely somewhat basic. I think that might be where I started envisioning what it would be like if the production were more developed. Perhaps that early experience led to my career choice later on.
Your favorite bands/musicians.
I'm a big Bowie and Nine Inch Nails fan. I love people who push the boundaries. Bowie was wild, free, flamboyant and multi-talented. He brought so much to fashion and film, too. I love multi-dimensional artists. That's why I love Trent Reznor as well. I love that the Stones are still making great songs to this day. I love their whole vibe from their country rocks exploration to their big rock songs. I grew up listening to them and I finally got to see them perform live recently in Nashville. It's like country meets rock—everyone loves them.
How you get your music these days.
I'm constantly discovering new music on Spotify.
Your favorite place to see a concert.
I love the front row pit of a big stadium show, but I also love the intimate vibe at an amphitheatre. It's great to see a concert center stage in a comfy table at the Hollywood Bowl.
Your favorite music video.
I love Daft Punk's "Around the World." I'm also a big Michel Gondry fan. Spike Jonze is a great director, so is Chris Cunningham. Björk's music video for "All Is Full of Love" is definitely also one of my favorites.
Your favorite music-focused TV show and/or podcast.
I don't watch much TV or listen to many podcasts. I love audiobooks.
A project you worked on recently that you're proud of.
Xbox's 20th anniversary event, because the environments we designed for the stage bring the different eras of Xbox to life. They were very complex with lots of movement, depth and ingenuity. I truly believe it's some of the best xR we've ever done because it felt like we got to a milestone of technology and style.
Also Bryson Tiller's livestreamed xR concert celebrating the anniversary of his album "TrapSoul." It was the longest and most complex real-time project our team has worked on to date. I truly believe that it's one of the most ambitious xR music shows that has ever been developed. We got to create six different unique worlds, and fans were thoroughly impressed by the magnitude of this concert. I consider this a massive milestone for Xite.
Someone else's project that you admired recently.
Meow Wolf really inspires me and I love what they're doing over at Area 15 as well as some of the NFT artwork. Also, looking at the NFT Foundation app has been very inspiring for me. It features amazing art from different artists.
How musicians should approach working with brands.
I truly believe that we're in the golden age of music video and tour production. There are infinite possibilities to weave in new technologies that help make artists' visions spectacular. Artists should approach forward-thinking brands who can help them achieve something that's never-been-done before with music and technology—whether it's a metaverse virtual concert, an xR-based music video or creating their own unique fully immersive virtual world for their next tour.
How brands should approach working with musicians.
By tapping into artists' creativity. Fans will appreciate and engage with a branded music experience more if it has elements authentic to what they love about an artist—especially if it utilizes breakthrough technology to engage with the artist in a new or unique way.
What music can do that nothing else can.
It moves the heart and connects to spirit and love unlike anything else. Music is the universal language.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in the music world.
I love that we're moving more and more into experiential xR with metaverse entertainment. I truly believe it's the future and I couldn't imagine myself doing anything else at this exact moment in time.
Liner Notes is our weekly interview series, publishing every Monday, where we chat with folks in the music industry about their creative inspirations, their favorite bands and musicians, and generally what music means to them. For more about Liner Notes, and our Clio Music program, please get in touch.