Junkie XL (Tom Holkenborg) shared a new video, a breakdown of a dance music collab with Sasha, Breezer (2003).… Read More Junkie XL + Sasha ‘Breezer’ Song Breakdown
The death of 28-year-old star producer/DJ Avicii comes as a shock to many. It’s also easy to reduce to another example of party world excess, or to say it’s just about big-money EDM and pop. But it should be a bigger wake up call than that.
To me, the most alarming reaction I’ve heard from the electronic music world is, “oh, who’s that?” – not from people who genuinely don’t know, but from those who are making a show of pretending not to know. And the reason that should be unsettling is, it allows people in the larger industry of electronic music to try to separate themselves from their own connections to this story.
Some of the warning signs that we got from Avicii are relevant to all dance music – including the bits that like to style themselves as underground. Some relate to the dangers of the industry around music, and its priorities. Some are personal ones, for anyone working in music and creative arts. And some of those speak on a pretty basic human level to asking ourselves what we’re doing with our lives. These are not questions any of us should be somehow “above.”
They’re also relevant to music technology, because our business is fueled by the music industry, because we’re personally often involved in this other world, and because we have self-care challenges of our own.
But, okay, let’s back up. If you genuinely don’t know who Avicii is – which in today’s heavily fragmented musical world is very possible – here’s a quick review. (Yeah, Wikipedia is your friend, too.) His real name was Tim Bergling, hailing from Stockholm. While he wound up with a long string of blockbuster hit singles, he started out making music with more of the profile of a lot of typical readers of, like, this site. He was posting remixes in forums at age 16.
You either know his music, or you’ve heard his music without knowing it – even the most disconnected from popular culture can do a quick YouTube search now and go, “oh, that song” with a few of them. He’s one of a handful of people who made dance music as big as it is at the moment, especially in the US market. And he had that sort of magical talent with both sound and hooks that I personally think is tough to argue with (even if people do out of some reflexive snobbishness). It’s immediate; it reaches people.
But whether this is your music or not, watching this kid play around with a Game Boy and smiling in front of a DAW arrangement – of course, this is us. You might not be a guy or white or Swedish or Grammy-nominated or played in front of huge crowds in Vegas or even know how to operate a CDJ. But I know if you read this site, you know that feeling of being excited about some new music well enough to start to tear up even for the passing of a perfect stranger.
You can bet that a lot of discussion this week will center on Bergling’s health.
Mental and physical health are about more than just party culture. One of my personal heroes growing up was Jim Henson of The Muppets fame, who’s about as far from Ibiza as you can imagine. I even met him as a kid in Indianapolis and took a photo with him. And part of what I loved about Henson was his endless devotion to his work. And as a kid as well as in adulthood, I’ve always been able relate to this desire to be consumed by creating things.
I was just twelve when Jim Henson died, but part of what I understood at the time was that this drive also took his life. (He was in production at the time, and even delaying seeking treatment seems likely to have advanced the course of the bacteria that killed him.)
So, when processing the news about Avicii, the first question we ask I think shouldn’t be “is this the sort of music I like?” or “is party culture too much about excess?”
I think we should ask, “are we taking care of ourselves and other people, in terms of their health and their happiness? Who and what are we working for, first?”
As I write this, there hasn’t yet been a discussion of an immediate cause of death, but Avicii’s health problems have been public for several years now. Billboard has an overview:
Heavy drinking at least appears to have been a factor early on. That is itself significant, because both in his native Sweden and in my native United States where his career took off, prohibitions in the music scene have focused on the drug MDMA (or even, perversely, marijuana) but largely ignored alcohol. That’s something that has been criticized by many health advocates. (Without stepping into the ecstasy debate, it’s worth checking out the cannabis debate – as its history in the USA is beyond bizarre.)
But that’s just one factor, if an important one. Touring itself seems to have been a culprit. And there are many more signs something was wrong with Avicii and deeply troubling about the world around him that advanced his decline.
If you want to get fairly depressed, you can watch the documentary True Stories that came out last year for a vivid picture:
This was a message that Avicii the artist wanted to get out. He was even brave enough to actively promote segments from the film that put him and his promotional team in a pretty bad light. From DJ Mag in November, you can watch some utterly chilling moments with his doctors and with his publicist:
This isn’t just about whether someone was drinking too much at one point. In this segment, it’s clear that Avicii and his team sometimes chose keeping up appearances and continuing work at the expense of getting complete medical treatment or recovery.
That is an important, important point. Lots of people can abuse alcohol or drugs or engage in self-destructive or suicidal behaviors. But – coming back to my Jim Henson example – it’s also possible for any of us to get sick and then fail to get treatment. Sometimes a few hours’ delay getting to a doctor can be fatal, even for a health adult with no history of substance abuse.
So, what does it mean if we’re part of an industry, or talking to professionals, who actively encourage us to do something that harms us? What does that mean about musicians – or fans? That motivation can be as much about money as it is about something like substances. It’s not to ignore the substance question (someone’s making money on that, too, ahem), but to try to understand a deeper sense of what this is about.
As I write this, Avicii’s site hauntingly still shows the text posted as he announced his retirement from live shows and touring:
WE ALL REACH A POINT IN OUR LIVES AND CAREERS WHERE WE UNDERSTAND WHAT MATTERS THE MOST TO US.
For me it’s creating music. That is what I live for, what I feel I was born to do.
Last year I quit performing live, and many of you thought that was it. But the end of live never meant the end of Avicii or my music. Instead, I went back to the place where it all made sense – the studio.
The next stage will be all about my love of making music to you guys. It is the beginning of something new.
Hope you´ll enjoy it as much as I do.
But it’s what he said in an interview in the Rolling Stone that I find most telling. And it’s actually not so much about his physical health per se as you might expect.
First, about partying, what he describes is more about personal relationships than about substances (even though the magazine’s question related to ecstasy, the pill):
“Parties can be amazing, but it’s very easy to become too attached to partying in places like Ibiza. You become lonely and get anxieties. It becomes toxic.”
Reading through this, it’s clear how traumatized he was by the experience. He also talks in the interview about not standing up to the people who told him to keep going, as seen in the documentary clip above in DJ Mag. But the part that really gets to the point in my mind is this one:
“I needed to figure out my life. The whole thing was about success for the sake of success. I wasn’t getting any happiness anymore.”
Bob Dylan has the song Gotta Serve Somebody. This whole story can speak to that: we all have some questions about who and what we serve. That’s relevant to who we serve in our music, and for those of us making part or all of our living in music (including music technology), who and what we serve in those jobs.
The press and social media present an image of touring that is, oddly, devoid of both its real pleasures and perils. (And there are pleasures, too. I know people who really do love touring, and people who can be miserable stuck in their studio.)
Just don’t think for an instant that this doesn’t have anything to do with your corner of music.
In supposedly “underground” techno (check William Morris), in experimental electronic music and art-y festivals, there are now plenty of big agencies. Five figure fees are standard stuff on even that “adventurous” or “experimental” side of things. Do the math, and you have enough of an industry around touring artists – at the same time that recorded music is collapsing – that a lot of people serve that financial stream more than they do any particular feelings about music or the humans making it. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing; it only becomes one if you aren’t aware of the potential conflict of priorities. What makes money in a tour is not always what takes care of the artist – as Avicii says, “success for the sake of success.”
It’s also easy for those of us in music technology and musical instruments to pass the buck over to the music industry at large. But we feed off those same economics and desires; we sell a lot of our tech to the people who dream of being Avicii. And we have our own demons and burnout to consider, too – obviously.
I also find myself constantly in conversations about making ends meet, about staying happy and motivated, and indeed about this question of touring and keeping up with it – or just keeping up physically with demands in general. There’s a natural human tendency to ignore our own limits and mortality and even our own moods and emotional needs. Now we have social media presenting a continuous image that’s always young, always happy – a world without sadness or death. The bizarre thing is, attempting to live in that world will actually make you utterly miserable.
You make ask yourself a series of questions…
It’s so easy to turn this into prohibitions instead of self-reflection. And America is great at prohibition. So it’s great at cracking down on the “rave” scene or whatever it may be. It’s even just as easy to ignore what Avicii loved about his music career, while focusing on its tragic end. He did say that touring had ups as well as downs.
I think it’s better to ask some questions.
What does it mean for those of us who encourage music making that we make stardom its ultimate goal?
What does this stardom do to how we value music? To what extent are we weighing that music’s financial possibility rather than how it makes us feel?
Do we insist on presenting artists only in the positive sense, without talking about their struggles?
Are we purposely leaving out real discussions of health? Of mental well being? Of aging, even?
Are we placing all our emphasis on touring and not on other activities that can support artists?
Are we taking health and happiness as part of the goal of tours, of music careers?
Do we actively promote ideas that discourage mental health?
Are we stigmatizing mental health issues in music, even when music is often initially an outlet for people to find healing?
Can we reflect on the role of alcohol as the main revenue stream in so much of live music? What about other substances (including the impact of policies around both legal and illegal substances)?
Do we have accurate information for music-goers and event organizers of what health impacts of consuming substances or other behaviors actually are? (In the age of fake news and fake science spread via online communication and hearsay, accurate risk assessment seems essential, from infectious disease to alcohol to drugs.)
I’m certainly not claiming any kind of innocence either in behavior or intention, but – this is about asking questions, not just having answers.
Are we doing what we want to be doing? Is it making us happy? (Insert Underground Resistance here.)
Are we caring for ourselves and the people around us?
And how do we make music and musical instruments something that add to that care and that don’t just take it away?
Struggling with those questions need not be burdensome. I think it can be rewarding.
Remembering Avicii should be something all of us do. He’s been one of the biggest artists in 21st century electronic music, and what he chose to do was to make his personal struggles public. That isn’t easy, and we should be grateful he’s done that. And we should make sure that the questions he asked remain part of our conversation. Because just like last year’s chart-topping pop hit, the natural tendency of the music industry will be to simply move on – and we shouldn’t let them.
My deep condolences to Tim Bergling’s family, friends, and everyone who worked with him. I hope we can elevate the cause of health, happiness, and care that he worked to raise in the midst of his struggles.
I welcome any and all comments on those topics for music, creativity, and tech – this can absolutely be an ongoing conversation.
The post Yes, Avicii’s death should be a wake-up call – and not just for EDM appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.
This video captures a live performance of the Ace Of Base track, ‘Happy Nation’. … Read More Ace Of Base – Happy Nation (Live Cover)
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Just as mixes need transitions, humans need pauses. So while some of the divisions of time are arbitrary, we need moments to step back and recollect. So CDM asked a cross-selection of producers and DJs to choose music from 2016 to begin our year. Maybe now – as the vacation spirit is wearing off and task lists are looming – maybe now is the time we need those most.
This particular group of humans generally resisted the idea of making charts, as an empty exercise. But I suppose some of those individuals are the very people whose music selections I value most – because they actually reflect on this a bit and choose something meaningful. So, arm twisting where necessary, we got this. Several colleagues included moments of reflection spent over the new year’s holiday looking back across the whole year. Some even did their digging while preparing for New Year’s gigs.
Anyone who says they’ve got the “best” music of the year is probably out of touch with just how much music the planet is making. But here, we have an honest selection of music that moved people. And we get to meet some of the people making those picks. I hope you enjoy.
Alan Oldham to me is the embodiment of electronic music futurism as it has radiated from Detroit. Apart from being an exceptional DJ and producer (as DJ T-1000), he’s also a leading comic book artist and one of the most desirable people anywhere to design your record sleeve. This is someone who can illustrate electronic fantasies in sound or image. So his picks are a wonderful place to start.
From Silence – Delano Smith [Sushitech]
Distorter (Housemeister Remix) – DJ T-1000 [AYCB]
The World Through My Eyes Dub Versions – Jason Fernandes [Subfigure]
Dying Planet/Container – Zzino & Guss Carver
Landing XX – Ellen Allien [BPitch Control]
Social Housing – Marquis Hawkes [Marquis Hawkes]
These Are The Voyages – Detroitrocketscience [Detroitrocketscience]
I Woke Up And The Storm Was Over – Tropic of Cancer [Blackest Ever Black]
Dasha needs little introduction – the Russian native, Berlin-based producer and DJ does a bit of everything, from experimental to techno. She helms the beautifully unique Fullpanda, is brilliant in live electronic performance across genre, and has made appearances on the likes of raster-noton.
And I think Dasha came up with my favorite response to these. She chose just one track – one favorite from the past two years. And she said she doesn’t like the forced exercise of selecting charts and numbering them, or DJs charting their own music – all of which I appreciate. (Though in this case I specifically said to DJs, I was happy to see their own tracks in there, too – because I chose producers I love.)
But here’s her one track – and this one selection says a lot, and is worth some time. (The label is a favorite round here at CDM, Nordanvind Records.)
Korridor – “Somnolence”
Noncompliant (also known as DJ Shiva or Lisa Ess) is a powerhouse of midwest techno and a talent whose moment has come. 2016 was a prelude to what is yet to come, I think, with a Berlin debut and devastating new techno cuts. So apart from a deep insight into politics and unending oasis of empathy, Lisa is your go-to cat when you want grimy, powerful techno.
It’s also worth highlighting some of the picks here. The lose of Cherushii aka Chelsea Faith was not only personally devastating to many, but heart breaking because her music represented some of the richest possibility in the scene now. How that continues will be a topic to come.
Bas Amro – Imposter Persona [Wolfskuil]
LA4A – Dialup [Delft]
Alex Falk – Blazeit [CGI]
Adam Jay – Corpora LP [DetUnd]
Zeno van den Broek
I was fortunate to get to seek out Zeno for our new Establishment imprint, because I already knew and loved his music tastes. So drawing on his own rich experimental background and creative taste, here are some more experimental selections for our list. We’ll be talking more to Zeno this week about his own work, too. But of course, I’m especially fond of the Grischa Lichtenberger music here – see our recent interview.
Shifted – Flatlands [Hospital Productions]
Yannis Kyriakides – Gut Thoughts [Unsounds]
Lorenzo Senni – Rave Voyeur [Warp]
Grisha Lichtenberger – 003_0415_03_re_0112_re_0811_08_lv_1 [raster-noton]
Yves de Mey – Adamance [Spectrum Spools]
Codespira1 – Node #1 [Artefact]
Microseq – Fragments of Here
[Epilepsy warning – but otherwise, this video is amazing]
Bridging the Amsterdam and Berlin scenes and a regular ring-leader of some of the better appearances literally underground at Tresor, Esther is an unsung techno champion. And like the others here, she’s got a long battle history in labels, production, and DJing. I actually insisted that she select some of her own label and production efforts for that reason – you don’t want to miss them. And it starts with this beautiful, weird track by Jimmy Asquith, the man behind Lobster Theremin records.
You’re probably going to want a record player in order to acquire a lot of this, FYI. Esther’s meticulous personality also means she’s the only one who gave us catalog numbers.
Tom Hang – The New World EP (A1 The New World) [Where to Now? WTN49]
Plural / Hakim Murphy – Split EP (B2 Hakim Murphy – Tbanger) [Another Earth AE202]
Versalife – Selfreplication (A2 Scepsis) [Trust Trust027]
Heavenchord / Stan Soul / EA110 – Coba (A1 Heavenchord – Journey into the subconscious) [Tevol TEVOL001]
Worker Parasite – Druid (A2 Druid) [Electric Pressure ELP001V]
214 – North Cascades (A1 Miami Nights) [Frustrated Funk]
Various Artists – Real Wild Trax (B2 Vin Sol – Down for Mine) [Club Lonely CL003]
Myles Serge / Duijn & Douglas – Split EP (A1 Myles Serge -The art of shadow thoughts) [Another Earth AE101]
John Heckle – Tribute to a Sun God (B1 Mesopotamia) [Bedouin Records BDN010]
Esther, as I lack a meticulous personality, I’m not totally certain this is the right L.I.E.S. cut, but … it’s also too nice to share if not.
Meanwhile, here’s one of hers – delicious:
And quite fond of this whole John Heckle record:
Hayden Payne, New York-to-Berlin transplant (a phrase associated with NYC now much like “world champion New York Yankees) is one of the brightest up and coming techno acts. His now-regular sets at Berghain are deliciously gothic and adventurous. And I think his taste are a beautiful hype-free window into what’s happening in the international electronic scene, what’s driving the queues at these clubs beyond just hype, and what is genuinely fresh and enjoyable and new. And sure enough, he delivered a lovely reminder of some favorites of mine, ones I’m sure will appeal here.
Sawf – “High Zone” [Kafta Kafta001]
Ascetic – “Atheism” [Manic Depression Records]
Orphx – “Zero Hour” [Sonic Groove / Hands – see our interview]
November Novelet – “Ursa Minor” [Galakthorrö]
Alvar – “Diffuse Tomorrow” [Alvaret Tape Recordings]
Sarin – “Control” [A+W IX]
Schwefelgelb – “So Heisser Es Wird” [Fleisch 001]
Pure Ground – “Before Us” [Avant! – AV!043]
Unhuman – “Unterstüzung” [Amok Tapes AMOK008]
Source Direct – “The Crane (Function/Inland Remix)”
Apart from liking Grischa’s latest as much as apparently the rest of us do, Kyoka is a person whose live sets and music consistently come up when chatting with the others here. The second raster-noton inclusion on this list apart from Dasha, I added Kyoka because of her intelligence and enthusiasm. So, we’ll get some repetition, but I think well-deserved – these are tracks a lot of us couldn’t stop listening to last year, and may still look forward to savoring this year.
004_241 B – Grischa Lichtenberger
Bound State – Ueno Masaaki
Dark Barker – kangding ray
Twistet In the Wind – Frank Bretschneider
a1_entrance_m_v2 – Eomac
Cause to emit sound – DJ SODEYAMA
Just Face It – DJ Git Hyper
From Moscow to Copenhagen, Anastasia has emerged as a brilliant connector – she’s someone who manages to seem to be everywhere, know everyone, but then apply that social intelligence to greater musical depth. And I asked her here because her sets and mixes are diverse and not just cookie-cutter creations.
yen towers – bid II, posh isolation
ctrls – the wave, token
air max’97 – thrall, decisions
dreams – headhunter, nous disques
rx 101 – 101 reasons, saction
jamaica suk – Depth Between Waves, L.A.G.
melly – skip fire, where to now?
rommek – solvent, blueprint records
ken ishii – extra (7th plain remix), a-ton
imaski – hyperloop, (Establishment)
Susanne Kirchmyer just played a brutal set at about blank his weekend. To those in the know, she’s simply a legend – a foundation of the European scene. She’s also been active in transforming the face of the scene to come, through her work with Female Pressure.
Now, like Dasha, Susanne straddles experimental and techno, AV performance and dancefloor in her own work. Unlike Dasha, Susanne’s rebellion to “name five to ten tracks” was to go with more instead of less. But that reflects her collections, too, so let’s have at all of it!
10 chosen most significant:
Born In Flamez x Modeselektor – TBF [XLR8]
Perc – Ma [Stroboscopic Artefacts 026]
Monolake – Error (VLSI Version) [Imbalance Computer Music ML-032]
B12 – Core Meltdown [FireScope 003]
Rrose – Emboli [Khemia 002]
Adriana Lopez – En Ningun Lugar [Modularz 25]
Headless Horseman – Under The Earth [the29nov 001]
Annie Hall – Hyssop [Subspec 035]
Sky Deep – Woman & The Gun feat. Hevî [female-pressure – Music- Awareness & Solidarity w- Rojava Revolution]
Annie Hall – Herschel [CPU 00011100]
Other tracks that I wanted to be in the top 10:
Orphx – Blood in the Streets [Sonic Groove LP02]
Alhek – The Voice Of Cement Buildings [Mechanical Thoughts LP01]
Antigone & Francois X – Ready To Escape [DEMENT3D 012]
Scalameriya – Ambidextrous [Genesa 006V]
Angelina Yershova – Immersion [Twin Paradox 003]
Silent Harbour – Dock Operations [Transcendent LP001]
Shlømo – The Ritual [Wolfskuil LTD 029]
Kero / Gotshell – Samaria District [Blueprint 047]
More tracks that I really like:
Simo Cell – Away From Keyboard [Livity Sound 021]
Shifted – Clairvoyance Part II [Drifting Over 001]
Dimi Angélis – Dwarf Planets [Construct Re-Form 012]
Insolate – Renew [Out of Place 002]
Trinity – Orchard [Coincidence 074]
DJ Red – Sweet Silence [Electric Deluxe 047]
Klaudia Gawlas – Obsession [Credo 038]
Etapp Kyle – Ahora [Ostgut Unterton 08]
Actually, 2016 was a very good year listening to the music I collected
Kevin McHugh, aka Ambivalent, but impressing lately as techno act LA4A, is our consummate tasteful last entry here. I appreciate that Kevin actually said he enjoyed picking these for this task. And he’s worth quoting here, because I feel some of his music was the most underrated of the year – even though it was also widely selected by our group of contributors as some of our favorite.
Morphology – Vector Plant – DUM
Physical Therapy – 909 Reasons Why – Delft
Amotik – Terah – Amotik
Avalon Emerson – Glider Gun – Valence
Emmanuel – Masa – Enemy
Vernon Felicity – Defender – Delft
TAFKAMP – I Laf You – Paling Trax
Ambivalent – Whyou (Michael Mayer Remix) – Kompakt
Camea – Signs (Andre Kronert) -Neverwhere
Truncate – Wave 1 – Truncate
Now, this is my kind of New Year’s Resolution. Because listening to all of this makes me want to go discover more and make more music. Unlike those forgotten new year’s gym memberships, this is fitness that is addictive.
And I hope we’ll visit these friends here more throughout the year. That’s a resolution to keep.
The post Musical resolutions – hand-picked music to start 2017 appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.
Just in under the wire before Roland hosts their own product shindig next week, Korg are here with a new volca to announce. The latest handheld instrument in that blockbuster line is something of an outlier: called “kick,” it’s more specialized than the rest. But it does look like more than just a box for making bass drum sounds (though it’ll do that if that’s what you’re after).
Now, in my view, the best feature of the original volca drum machine, volca beats, was its enormous analog kick. But Korg is betting they can win us over with something still better. The volca kick uses the self-oscillating resonance of the classic MS-20 filter as its sound source.
That should give you plenty of bass drum variety, extending some of the possibilities to other drums (toms) and melodic lines (using it more as a sound source / synth generally rather than a “kick” maker in particular). And it can indeed be fun playing with melodic basslines that provide the function a kick drum normally does.
What might make you want to buy this, though, is that it’s a volca. So, you have battery power, loads of hands-on control, and a versatile step sequencer with touch control. That step sequencer now extends to a new effects feature which Korg don’t entirely explain but which sounds cool. Check out the rolls, though – while a “roll” doesn’t really make sense for a bass drum which you play with a pedal, the rhythms are set up to conveniently let you access basic polyrhythms and syncopation. (Sorry, if you want 1/32-note bass drum trills, you’ll have to resort to MIDI.)
This isn’t the first product of its kind. The Jomox MBase01 and MBase11 had more or less the same idea — make a small module that specializes in kicks. And as I’m imagining you might do with the volca kick, you can use the MBase as a melodic synth module, too. The Jomox has nothing like the Korg’s step sequencer, though, or the excellent volca hands-on controls – MBase users are either dialing up presets or controlling parameters via MIDI. But this might still be a horse rase: the Jomox sounds amazing, it might better emulate the 808/909 sound than the volca does, and it has a dedicated trigger input if you’re using it with something other than MIDI.
Given that Roland are dubbing their event next week “909,” I’m guessing there could be some connection to a drum machine there. Just a hunch. On the other hand, you wouldn’t expect anything remotely like the volca kick from any major manufacturer but Korg.
That said, I think the volca kick is an interesting entry and worth a look. And it was probably a better idea than the volca clap or volca cowbell, but… the night is young.
Also: that LED looks like it says hich. Oh well.
US$159.99 in October.
House music producer Deadmau5 is getting a virtual reality game. Deadmau5 (Joel Zimmerman) has teamed up with Absolut on the iOS/Android Google Cardboard virtual reality video game, Absolut Deadmau5. The game lets you navigate deadmau5 through a series of gameplay … Continue reading
Last week stirred up something of a fracas in the DJ community, as Los Angeles club The Cure and the Cause announced a ban on laptops in the DJ booth – the announcement of which then went perdictably viral. That much turned out to be brilliant publicity: club trolls DJs, magazine trolls DJs, “controversy” generates social media traffic.
Here’s the problem, though: once you get past the nonsense about “talent” and laptops, I think there should really be no controversy here. What The Club and the Cure said about laptops and controllers I think is dead-on – and hard to debate.
It’s long past time to face some of the issues happening in DJ booths head-on – and begin to work out just what to do about it.
First, some background. This all began when Magnetic Magazine picked up on the announcement in the club:
“Cure And The Cause ANNOUNCEMENT:
No more laptops in the DJ booth.
Unless you’re using it to control VINYL to do a turntablist type of set, a’la Jazzy Jeff type shit, or if you’re doing a LIVE thing where you’re actually programming shit on the fly. Keep your controller in your crib, dont come to work with training wheels. LEARN THE TOOLS OF THE TRADE already. Pioneer isn’t going anywhere any time soon, they ARE the industry standard, so brush up on how to use the CDJs already, get Rekordbox (its FREE) and buy a good USB stick for $40 that will store THOUSANDS of hours of music on it.
We opened this place to showcase talent. So, show us your talent.”
Of course, the reason I say this is trolling is, they focus the debate on “talent” and “training wheels.” And that’s an unnecessary dig at laptop DJing. There’s not really anything different in terms of technique using an automatically-synced digital player in the form of a Pioneer CDJ and an automatically-synced digital player in the form of a computer with a hardware controller. Also, the implication that using this hardware is an amateur move doesn’t hold water – because there are plenty of big-name DJs playing on laptops and getting paid high fees to do so.
Magnetic Magazine had an axe to grind here, making the assumption that anyone using computers to play bigger gigs looks like an amateur. I think the issue that argument doesn’t really hold weight is that they use mainstage DJ gigs as the basis for discussion. And to turn it around, if I see a tech who can’t handle something as simple as someone showing up with a laptop and controller and one stereo output, I think the tech is the amateur, not the DJ.
And please – let’s not talk about authenticity. DJing is a technique that arose from people misusing turntables and playing records incorrectly, in illegal parties using techniques they made up. The fact that we’re even talking with language like “industry standard” or “tools of the trade” shows how much things have changed. And as for how “real” a DJ set is, I refer to this (parody) article:
Works for me. (Actually, I do genuinely enjoy mistakes now and then, really!)
But this really reveals the whole problem: an absurd and artificial debate about talent or skill is masking a more serious problem.
Laptops and practicality
The easy retort to any of this is simple: there’s nothing better or worse about someone DJing on a laptop than someone DJing on a pair of CDJs.
Except, then there’s a problem: if there’s nothing different about someone playing on a laptop, is a laptop worth the trouble?
Finally, after getting roundly roasted online, The Cause and the Cure’s Kenny Summit explained what he really meant.
The entire issue is actually summed up by this one sentence:
“This ban on laptops is a more like a ban on the people who can’t bother to learn how to be a real professional and learn how to setup and break down their equipment without ANY disturbance in the night.”
There you go. This isn’t a discussion about talent; it’s a discussion about practicality. And there’s a combination of failures – human and technological.
Let me unplug this and break it down for you.
1. Laptop setups take up too much space. Here is the single biggest problem. Makers like Native Instruments, Numark, and yes, even Pioneer have made steadily larger gear in order to provide functionality and looks that lets them command premium prices. And bedroom DJs have evidently lapped those devices up. I have to admit, I’ve never seen one installed in a club. But when it comes to DJ gigs, they just don’t work. (Oddly, the one place you probably can make them work is mainstage gigs, where you can easily demand a few feet / a meter or two on your rider – which is why Magnetic’s article above makes no sense.)
2. Opening acts – the ones most likely to host beginners – are the ones that most need you to play a CDJ. Now, the next problem. DJ gear manufacturers, again even including (ironically) CDJ manufacturer Pioneer, are pushing beginners to use laptops. But the one time when you really shouldn’t show up with a laptop is probably the warmup act or the first-time gig. (One easy solution: use smaller gear, like the Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol Z1, or a Faderfox. Unfortunately, all the manufacturers seem to be going to impractical coffin-sized controllers instead.)
3. DJs don’t know what they’re doing. Now, a human failure. I’ve actually been hearing this a lot from clubs lately, and I’ve struggled with it first-hand. A DJ shows up and doesn’t know how to connect and disconnect a mixer. Problems ensue. But then, the easier solution is, just show up with USB sticks and use the CDJ – no re-connecting required.
4. Techs are lazy and easily annoyed. Not all of the blame here falls on DJs. With so many DJs around, you might wonder why clubs are booking DJs who don’t know what they’re doing in the first place. And likewise, of course, the reality is that a lot of techs can’t be bothered to connect and re-connect gear. Maybe, frankly, they’re not great techs. But that’s the reality. Again, the way to reduce friction is simply use CDJs.
5. Laptops are struggling to provide features that the CDJs don’t. For all the supposed controversy, I think laptops have easily established themselves as live performance tools. In fact, even as external gear has gotten more common (Elektron boxes, AIRA machines, and the like), you very often see them cropping up next to a laptop. But that’s live sets. As Magnetic and The Cause and the Cure concede above, some DJs do make impressive live performances on laptops. But most simply duplicate the functionality of a mixer and a couple of CDJs. And that’s the whole problem.
The fake controversy around this has led the opposite direction from the actual cause. The assumption is that laptops and CDJs are somehow fundamentally different. But the failure of the laptop is really that it often isn’t fundamentally different. Even as developers like Serato and Native Instruments have poured extra functionality into their tools, with sampling and remix features that effectively make for “hybrid” DJ/live sets, the rank and file DJ population has mostly ignored that functionality.
Connecting and re-connecting gear is in general no small problem, either. It’s tough to find good techs or supportive clubs. Even in big clubs, simple disagreements about whether to play CDJs or vinyl, or something as banal as whether to use a Pioneer or Allen & Heath mixer, have created trainwrecks of re-cabling and wasted space in the booth. A subject for another story is how even mixer use may evolve. As rotary mixers or the recent Richie Hawtin outing have demonstrated, there’s potential for new innovation in DJ mixers. But it’s unlikely many clubs will go to the trouble of supporting all that variety.
The elephant in the room: whatever you may read on the Internet, a lot of serious DJs are giving up on laptops in many situations. The reasons haven’t gotten much press partly because they’re so painfully obvious. It’s easier to carry to USB sticks than a huge controller and laptop. It’s easier to play a gig where you don’t have to connect and reconnect gear than one where you do. It’s safer to not rely on a tech than it is to rely on one.
But I don’t think that’s an entirely good thing. It’d be a shame if all DJing were defined by a single hardware player. And maybe what this should reveal is that there’s a difference between straight-up mixing sets and hybrid and live sets.
So, what needs to happen next if we’re going to see any progress?
1. We need more compact DJ controllers for laptops.
2. Software developers will continue to need to develop functionality that deviates from what you can do on decks. Though, since they’ve started to do that already, then —
3. The DJ community needs to be more supportive of hybrid sets. That isn’t easy, either – it requires DJs developing better skills, bookers supporting those DJs, audiences supporting those sets, and techs who can cope with the added technical overhead.
In the meanwhile, all of this explains why the CDJ has become that industry standard. On one hand, we’re all a bit lazy. On the other, those CDJ sets are perfectly fine – because mixing and selection is so much of the game at a party.
And none of that is likely to make this story go particularly viral. But it is, I think, something a lot of experienced DJs thought when they saw the debates.
And meanwhile, I’m ready to stage some sort of experimental DJing retreat where we go off in private somewhere, free of any club, and try to break as many rules as possible. Because, well, that’d be a party. For nerds, anyway.