DIGITAL DJing

Manalogue touched on this topic a bit in his nifty post here.

In it he makes a concise summary of the direction that DJing is taking with regards to the use of laptops for live DJing.

At the moment we have 4 different ways that DJs will deliver their tunes to the dance floors: Vinyl, CD (without laptops). 3rd is time-coded CDs or vinyl records with a laptop running Traktor, Serato, Torq.

4th is what this article will focus on, a setup that eschews turntables completely, this setup uses only a MIDI controller with or without a built-in soundcard.

The two greatest practitioners of the completely digital method, are also two of the world’s best known and most popular DJs – Sasha, and Richie Hawtin.

Sasha switched to a pure Ableton setup around 2004, and Richie Hawtin has been using ableton and various versions of native instruments traktor products for years.

Sasha was using Ableton Live in the studio for the production of his mix album INVOLVER. He had show to do to promote the songs from the new album, and chose to demo the new material via Ableton Live. Having Ableton handle the beatmatching functions gave Sasha more freedom to get creative with his trademark seamless transitions by incorporating additional software based FX in ableton as well as incorporate clips across multiple channels that was previously not possible when he was using the the Pioneer CDJ 1000s or vinyl TTs.

DJing only with a laptop and MIDI controller however, is a two-edged sword. On the plus side, you can bring your ENTIRE collection of tunes, without a need to carry a CD book, or vinyl records, and you’ve freed up valuable seconds to create nifty loops, load samples or play with FX, by not having to beatmatch. On the negative side, there is often something lost from the perspective of the audience when observing a laptop only DJ without turntables – you probably won’t see them working as hard as DJ with turn tables, they make look less involved. If they have the laptop on a stand and that stand is positioned directly in front of them (shown below) you might wonder – ‘Are they just checking their email or on facebook?’ Of course we hope not, but they very well could be!

Hey you! Are you checking your email or what!?

Last summer Winnipeg hosted the first ever Manitoba Electronic Music Exhibition (MEME). The Saturday show at the Academy FDM featured duo from Boston called VOODEUX. They do LivePA via Ableton. On the night one of them used a laptop (not on a stand) connected to a MIDI controller, while the other had an bizarre looking integrated MIDI controller + laptop. I’ve seen plenty of DJs perform with only laptops, but their performance was by far the most impressive, they looked at their screens for only a few seconds at a time, then it was back to manipulating the currently loaded sounds via their MIDI controllers. I’m assuming all of the core Abelton functions like browsing, FX, and clip loading and looping were all MIDI mapped, so they don’t have a need to ever use the keyboard/mouse. This is ideal for any DJ who uses a laptop/MIDI solution. Using the mouse and keyboard is slow and cumbersome, and let’s face it, it just doesn’t look as cool as manipulating a MIDI enabled mixer or controller.

When Sasha first began using Ableton Live for his DJ sets, he used a UC-33 midi controller, it suited his needs for a time, but eventually he decided to have his own custom MIDI controller/sound interface built. Thus the MAVEN was born. From the pix you can see that it’s geared to allow for completely free hands-off laptop use. It includes buttons for triggering clips, and FX, as well as well as 6 channels.

This ain't no christmas tree, but it sure has a lot of pretty lights.

Think of all the laptop keyboard time you savin' with this MAVEN.

I’ve read plenty of articles on the subject of digital DJing, the message is always the same: Use the technological advantage you have to achieve performances that would not be possible with regular CD or vinyl turntables alone. I still do gigs with regular CDJs and/or timecoded vinyl/CD, but my most memorable gigs have been where I’ve been using the internal mode of traktor and controlling it via my BCD 3000 unit.

I’m a HUGE music fan, and whenever it’s right for the gig, I’ve always tried to mix it up genre wise. One of those gigs was opening for Dr. Funkinchunkin & Mr. Sofalumpkins at the Academy this March. Here is a recording I made based on the live set I did. The set was inspired by Sasha, and features a mix of breaks, techno, house and electro, all mixed together in a seamless fashion. Here the advantage of me using TRAKTOR, was that it allowed me to view the beats-per-minute across a massive list of tunes, so I could structure my set based on speed, starting with slow breaks, filling the middle with tech-house and electro, and ending with louder more banging breaks in my last 10 minutes. It worked great. Despite my early time slot of 10-11 pm, I won the crowd over, and got a great dancefloor cookin’ for the DJs that followed me (Chris Bassline and Dave Lee).

I used to use a laptop stand for all of my gigs where I was bringing my macbook, however after about a dozen gigs I realized that wherever I put it, it was obstructing my view of the dancefloor, so i’ve started to keep it off the stand, and out of my forward view. Overall, it helps me to focus more on the audience, and keeps me from locking-in on my laptop.

I’ll end the article with a recent mix from Sasha, recorded at the DJ Mag awards this year. This is Sasha at his finest, blending together songs and clips across a few genres to create a fantastic fluid mix, great for the ears and the feet :)

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I am a lover of ALL music, not just EDM. That will be reflected in my posts on this blog. I also regularly post on the local EDM forum www.mixhard.ca, under my real name, 'Owen' :)

Comments

  1. CITYLIMITS says:

    Hope everyone enjoys the article and learns a few things!

  2. ed says:

    Good post. just recently moved from straight vinyl to a controller ( traktor s4 ) and so far so good. The reason I went with the S4 was because of the fully integrated approach. I only have to glance a my laptop when I’m selecting tracks and because of that I keep it toally off to the side and out of the field of vision of myself and the crowd. It’s such an important connection that it seemed silly to ditch it just to be digital. I think these integrated controllers are a great addition to the scene and your gonna see some people do some rad stuff with them. just watch Ean Golden and you get a glipse of future.

  3. I’m a big fan of Ableton as a DJing environment. Beat matching, shmeat matching.

    I’m eventually going to be dropping in soft synths and drum loops to give some beef to my sets, they get a little boring when I am mixing a to b

  4. Cyclist says:

    Good article! Definitely agree with the idea that the laptop needs to be out of the way. All it takes is a setting up your set properly and rehearsing a bit. I designed my live set in a way that I don’t need to look at my computer at all…I put it on the floor and out of the way.

    I think it also depends a lot on what type of DJ you are. Constant manipulation and looping doesn’t work for everyone. I like some DJs specifically because of good song selection and because they let the song play.

    1. CITYLIMITS says:

      Thanks!

      I find I have a lot more fun the less I look at the DVS program, in my case it’s TRAKTOR. I’m learning ABLETON, and i’d like to use it live when i’m more proficient, if I do, i’ll make sure to have maximum MIDI mappings to avoid ‘SCREEN LOCK’ syndrome. Stop checkin’ those emails digital DJs!

  5. Anthony Anthony says:

    This is great! I had no idea..haha
    Jack, I want to play too…set me up!

    1. manalogue says:

      Ha. This isn’t my post though…you can thank Citylimits!

  6. wolfie says:

    If you’re going to use a photo of me, at least send me an email. You know, so when Im on stage I can reply to you. You can’t see it in the photo, but for those interested, I use a vestax vcm 600, which is similar to that maven style midi controller.

  7. [...] you look at this Maven on (http://manalogue.com/2010/12/07/digital-djing/) you can see how brilliantly this thing is laid out. Looking at any one of the 6 channels we can [...]