I recently saw two great DJs, Dubfire and Funkagenda, neither of which had a single vinyl or even CD. Have you noticed that most of the headline DJs bring their own setup to the club nowadays? I remember being in Mission (Leeds) a few years back and Adam Sheridan pulled out a laptop. The guys next to me on the dancefloor said something like “Fucking laptop DJ!” and walked off. This is still a common attitude among DJs that think beat-matching is the important thing in a set, rather than taking the crowd on a musical journey. Most monkeys could beat-match, it really isn’t a difficult task.
I remember my vinyl purist days. I had over 1000 records and then people started using CDJs. “Pah!” I said, vinyl will never die, CDs are not as cool as vinyl. Then one day I saw Sasha’s set up with Ableton Live and his custom Maven controller. His sets sounded amazing, like a hybrid of a DJ set and live production. It was then that I realized it was time for a change. I remember thinking to myself, “where will DJing be in 20 years time?”, and the voice in my head didnt say vinyl, or CDs…
I always feel like I’m a bit behind, but this time it seems I’m not as behind as most. I picked up Ableton in 2004 and have never looked back (although I did use a vinyl-laptop hybrid setup for a while). I had CDJs but they just seem a little pointless – not the same pleasure as vinyl and not as much extra functionality as software. I predict they’ll be on their way out in a few years – especially now you have very little chance making it as more than a small-time DJ if all you do is fade CDs into one another.
There are essentially three elements to a DJ set: creativity, consistency and performance.
Your set must be creative – otherwise what separates you from all the other DJs out there? There are many ways of doing this… interesting/long transitions, taking the crowd on a journey, crossing genres, adding samples, personal remakes.
There needs to be consistency in your set – If you’re beat-matching then you need to have it down – if you keep clapping beats then unfortunately you lose the energy in the crowd, and the respect of your peers. Also, dont get too carried away with being creative, people like to hear something they know, not two hours of you mangling sounds together. Dance music is about freedom within structure, otherwise it sounds like an industrial assembly plant or a contemporary arts festival. On the flip side, big hit after big hit is not the way forward – unless you want to make a living spinning in cheesy bars.
The biggest problem with laptop DJing is the performance. For some reason a DJ stroking a piece of vinyl is seen as more technical then clicking a mouse – possibly because everyone knows how to do the latter. You are the focal point of the event so should look like you are performing. Some do this by jumping around, others are much more understated, but still look busy. Midi controllers have solved this problem for the laptop DJ. However, I still think a digital DJ needs to look busier than someone wielding vinyl to get away from the “checking their email” stigma.
Ok, so I hope that helps those of you that are wanting to make it in the DJ scene. Now here are a couple of pictures of setups used by Funkagenda and Dubfire…
Funkagenda @ Beta, Denver. Using Ableton Live with the Akai APC 40, and also the Pioneer DJM800 mixer. It looked like he was using this as a midi controller for Ableton Live for the output channels and fading, leaving the APC40 free for effects and loops.
Dubfire has one hell of a setup… two macbooks, one running Ableton Live and one running Traktor, the NI Maschine drum machine, two NI X1 kontrollers (for traktor), A&H xone:92 mixer, and what looked like a mini guitar fx pedal (out of view) hooked up as an external effects unit.