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.
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!
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.
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 :)