VJ Kobra’s first visit to the state of Colorado was as a runaway.
With an idealized dream to head anywhere new, she climbed into a packed car with friends, left her home of South Dakota, and headed West. A few days later, she would be returned home by police, jettisoned back to the mundane locale that thwarted her youth and creativity.
Several years later, on a lone trip in the fall of 2020, she would return on her own accord. However, this time around, she was one of the most topical visual artists in the electronic music space.
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." This classic opener of A Tale of Two Cities poetically summarizes what was a polarizing, yet somehow career-defining year for many visual artists in 2020.
With electronic music’s rise over the last decade, live performance production has grown congruently, both in importance and impact. Mind-bending LEDs and immersive visuals are often associated with the musicians themselves, but more often than not there is a fellow artist—known as a VJ, or visual jockey—orchestrating what’s happening onscreen.
Prior to 2020, these performers—outside of legends like Android Jones—were largely overlooked, but then the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Music streams and digital festivals became the sole source of "live" music, and the need for visual artists hit an all-time high.
Originally from South Dakota, VJ Kobra didn’t grow up around electronic music. In fact, country music was the resident soundtrack of her youth, a byproduct of her surroundings in Rapid City, SD. After a visit to Orlando, Florida in the summer of 2015, she decided she’d not make an escape, but a full-time move South in a familiar pursuit of something new. She quickly connected with friends, who would eventually introduce her to the EDM scene. Dazzled by the production at events like EDC Orlando, she began to vaguely visualize ways to create similar experiences for others.
"Moving from South Dakota to Florida was something I had always dreamed of when growing up," Kobra told EDM.com. "When it actually became my reality, it was a huge adjustment. South Dakota doesn’t have much of an entertainment scene so being able to attend real events with high-quality productions really woke me up to a whole new world of possibilities."
As she began to dig deeper into her appreciation and understanding, tragedy struck. Her close friend who had introduced her to EDM, Kaitlyn, suddenly passed away. In mourning, Kobra began shuffling Kaitlyn's old SoundCloud account, engrossing herself even further into electronic music. In part ode and part self-realization, she began to dedicate herself to actualizing her dream as a visual artist while simultaneously living out the passion of her friend.
Soon after, Kobra booked a gig at Orlando's Henan Contemporary Center, a venue 136 miles away, but one that afforded her the chance to explore this newfound career. After working her shift at Mercedes-Benz, she'd immediately drive two hours south to VJ for the opening act. She was receiving very little in terms of payment and recognition, but the opportunity to perform fulfilled her enough to keep pushing.
"Driving two-plus hours for those gigs was exhausting but some of the most impactful moments of my VJ journey," said Kobra. "In my eyes, those gigs were my shot to get my foot in the door and gain the knowledge I so desperately needed."
Then, last March, the impact of COVID-19 threw a wrench into everything. The year's music festivals were effectively quashed, as were the clubs and venues that were giving Kobra her sporadic bookings. Within a month, livestreams began to populate the Internet and finally, visual artists like herself were primed for the spotlight.
Over the span of a few months, Kobra went from VJing infrequent club bookings to prominently being featured in Electric Hawk’s "Harmony" stream series, SummerEyes Music Festival, Cabin Fever Festival, Wormhole Wednesdays and Cyberdelic New Year. Moreover, she went from working with local openers to "swapping pixels" with her favorite artists, including Shlump, DMVU, and SubDocta. While her former gigs usually confined her to the sound booth and shadows, the new livestream format catapulted her into a position of recognition and much-deserved appreciation from the industry at large.
"I thought it would be at least a couple years before I would even get the chance to work with the artists I listen to regularly," said Kobra. "The fact that I was able to do so so soon made me realize my potential even more and made me work even harder."
While the industry still remains largely devoid of live events and its full-scale luster, VJs like Kobra have experienced newfound success and opportunity. Once a dream and dedication to her late friend, Kobra’s passion as a visual artist has mutated into full-time career.
In 2021, fans, musicians and visual artists alike are all hoping for a return to normalcy, but that doesn't imply any regression for Kobra. With her new platform, she’s routinely championed for a continued appreciation for VJs and their place in the scene.
Traveling to Colorado for the second time, Kobra returned as a person with a far stronger sense of direction and purpose than her first trip. Not only has her VJ career afforded her the ability to travel, but it also gifted her the realization that she can manifest her dreams.
"I feel optimistic and hopeful for the future," said Kobra. "I’m starting to realize the immense amount of opportunities that are out in the world and that all it takes is some hard work, preparation and passion to make your dreams a reality."