A new documentary is poised to take what looks like a personal, thrilling look at the UK turntablism revolution.
The film is “The Man from Mo’Wax,” a documentary set to premiere at the end of August, with a full digital release (disc and download) on September 10.
The film centers on James Lavelle and his label, the pioneering purveyor of trip hop, alternative hip hop, and other things involving vinyl. And because of Mo’Wax’s seminal role in the 90s UK music scene, you get Lavelle’s story, but a lot more. DJ Shadow, Joshua Homme, Badly Drawn Boy,
Robert Del Naja (3D), Ian Brown, Futura, Thom Yorke and Grandmaster Flash… you name them, they’re in this picture. And it’s a coming of age story about Lavelle, who launched his DJ career at 14 and the label at 18 – all the ups an downs.
And of course, a lot of what sampling and beat-driven music is today is connected to what happens in this film.
How you get to watch this – apart from the YouTube trailed we’ve embedded here – is also rather interesting. Via something dubbed ourscreen, you can actually order up a screening at a participating local cinema… erm, provided you’re in the UK. For the rest of us, of course, we can just wait some extra days and microwave some popcorn and make every crowd around our MacBook or something.
The real fun will be for Londoners on the premiere date:
On Thursday, 30 August at 20:30, London’s BFI Southbank will host a premiere launch screening alongside a live Q&A with James Lavelle and the filmmakers. The event will also feature a Pitchblack Playback of an exclusive mix from UNKLE’s new forthcoming album. Plus, join us for an after-party with a live DJ set from Lavelle. The Q&A with James Lavelle will also be broadcast via Facebook Live from the BFI.
Given the subject of the film, of course there’s also a lovely limited edition record to go with it:
Technics assembled The Philharmonic Turntable Orchestra – an ensemble that features only turntables & mixers – to celebrate Japan’s Record Day. The Philharmonic Turntable Orchestra performance reconstructs classical music, using a variety of turtablist techniques. Here’s a behind the scenes look at the ensemble:
Splice Sounds has released the third volume in the sample pack series by DJ Shiftee, offering some more boom-bap for your beats. The pack includes 145 loops and one-shots including drums, percussion, 808s, synths, bass, chords, fx, vocals, and more. Shiftee is a legend in the world of turntablism, and has taught courses at NYU […]
There’s something counterintuitive about it, right? Plug a USB stick into a giant digital player alongside turntables. Or plug the turntables into a computer. What if the USB stick … was the actual player? In the age of rapid miniaturization, why hasn’t this happened yet?
Well, thanks to an open source project, it has happened (very nearly, anyway). It’s called PiDeck. And it radically reduces the amount of gear you need. You’ll still need an audio interface with phono input to connect the turntable, plus the (very small, very cheap) Raspberry Pi. But that’s just about it.
Connect your handheld computer into a turntable, add a control vinyl, and you’re ready to go. So your entire rig is only slightly larger than the size of two records and some gear the size of your two hands.
You have a rock-solid, Linux-based, ultra-portable rig, a minimum of fuss, essentially no space taken up in the booth – this all makes digital vinyl cool again.
It works with USB sticks (even after you yank them out):
And you can scratch:
Their recommended gear (touchscreens these days can be really compact, too)
A recent Raspberry Pi (only Pi 3 model B tested so far) and power supply. First generation Raspberry Pi’s are not supported, sorry
Touchscreen (single-touch is enough), or a HDMI monitor and keyboard
Stereo, full-duplex I2S or USB soundcard with a phono input stage, or line input and an external pre-amp, soundcard must be supported by ALSA
Micro SD card for the software, at least 2GB in size, and an adaptor to flash it with
Control vinyl, Serato CV02 pressing or later recommended
USB stick containing your favourite music. FLAC format is recommended (16-bit 44100Hz format tested)
Non-automatic record player that can hold speed, with a clean, sharp stylus. It helps scratching if the headshell and arm are adjusted correctly
Slipmat, made from felt or neoprene
Sheet of wax paper from the kitchen drawer, to go under the slipmat
Previously from this same crew (more just a fun proof of concept / weird way of DJing!):
Developer Daniel James writes us with more details on what this whole thing is about:
Chris (in cc) and I have been working on the project in spare time for a couple of months, here on the Isle of Wight. Chris built the hardware prototype and did most of the work on the custom Debian distro.
The idea behind the PiDeck project is to combine the digital convenience of a USB stick with the hands-on usability of the classic turntable, in a way which is affordable and accessible. The parts cost (at retail) for each PiDeck device is currently about £150, not including a case or control vinyl. There is no soldering to do; the hardware screws and clips together.
I used to run DJ workshops for young people, and found that while the kids were really happy to get their hands on the decks, a lot of them were put off by having to use the laptop as well, especially the younger kids and the girls. The teenage boys would tend to crowd around the laptop and take over.
Then there’s the performance aspect of real turntables which some digital controllers lack, and the sneaking suspicion that the computer is really doing the mixing, or worse still, just running through a
playlist. PiDeck doesn’t have any mixing, sync or playlist features, so the DJ can take full credit (or blame) for the sound of the mix.
We’ve deliberately put no configurable options in the interface, and there are no personal files stored on the device. This helps ensure the PiDeck becomes part of the turntable and not unique, in the way that a laptop and its data is. This makes the PiDeck easier to share with other DJs, so that there should be no downtime between sets, and should make it easier for up-and-coming DJs to get a turn on the equipment. If a PiDeck breaks, it would be possible to swap it out for another PiDeck device and carry right on.
Although the DJ doesn’t have any settings to deal with, the software is open source and fully hackable, so we’re hoping that a community will emerge and do interesting things with the project. For example, multiple PiDeck devices could be networked together, or used to control some other system via the turntable.
Yeah – this could change a lot. It’s not just a nerdy proof of concept: it could make turntablism way more fun.
This video, via sircut1200, introduces Syntablism, which he describes as ‘the art of using a turntable as a musical instrument to create and/or manipulate sound with a modular synthesizer.’ Here’s a technical overview of his Syntablism setup: Check it out and let us know what you think of the concept of Syntablism!
Master turntablist Shiftee has posted a sharp routine. It’s a clever product placement for Razer’s laptops, but – well, it’s more than that. It’s an ad for laptops in general, at a time when DJing has increasingly come to mean “showing up with a couple of USB sticks.” And it’s sort of an ad for being DJ Shiftee. So, we asked Mr. Shiftee to show us what was going on.
Shiftee’s background is clearly as a performer. He’s an award-winning championship turntablist, so he’s no stranger to making playing records into a musical instrument and competitive sport.
That said, if you think of the DJ as playing live as a sort of “rhythm section,” there’s no reason to constrict the field of view to the turntables.
And that’s why I say Shiftee makes a good argument for the laptop. Look, it’s obvious that a laptop loses if it’s asked to do the same things as dedicated hardware. If you’ve got crates of vinyl and you don’t mind carrying them, the laptop ceases to make sense as a pair of record players. And if you’re just doing synced mixing of MP3s, a laptop isn’t a great alternative to a pair of CDJs.
But here, we see the laptop as an efficient way of doing a bunch of different things at once.
It’s turntablism, obviously (taking advantage of Traktor to avoid the aforementioned crate lugging).
It’s Traktor with custom mappings set up with Maschine for control (enabling stuff you wouldn’t find in either standalone hardware or the default DJ hardware/software combinations).
And it’s live synths, hosted in Ableton.
Here’s a tutorial video where he shows a bit of what he’s doing (three more are coming via Razer):
I’ve seen people use Native Instruments’ Maschine synced to a DJ app, but here it’s used a a controller. So I was curious about the mapping. Sam tells us:
MASCHINE – bold used in routine
8 pages of mappings – all color coded via Controller Editor
1 – cue points 1-6 decks a/b + loop active on/off + sync on/off 2 – cue points 1-8 decks a/b
3 – remix decks c/d slots 1-4, w/ gated and ungated playback 4 – hybrid routine mode – cue points 1-8 deck a, cue points 5-8 deck b, remix slots 1-4 deck c (let’s me trigger multiple decks w/ 1 hand)
5 – pitch page – let’s me take my most recent cue point and pitch it up and down
6 – Deck c/d Mixing Mode – first 3 cue points deck C/D, EQ kill HIGH MID LOW decks C/D, sync decks c/d, play/pause decks C/D
7 – 16 remix deck slots deck C 8 – 16 remix deck slots deck D
The term “controllerism” is one I hear less these days, so perhaps it’s better to look at it this way – as opposed to the stock digital interactions on the market, this is about a custom approach to what the DJ should perform.
The keyboard is also Native Instruments kit, but here it’s just acting as a generic MIDI keyboard controller, allowing some synths lines. But cleverly, there are still more macros mapped, so it’s not just about synth soloing:
-section of keys for playing synth in ableton
-macro keys for switching settings & loading tracks (e.g. one key does: Traktor: snap mode off, load selected to deck A, load next deck C, set loop values to 1/4 for decks A/B, Ableton: Turn reverb send to 100%). Also have a key for toggling reverb send from 0 to 100% for synth in ableton. All color coded via Controller Editor.
Shiftee is posting more tutorial content to the Razer site – we’ll shout out an update when it’s all there. But in the meanwhile, I convinced him to share some screen grabs showing us how these mappings come together.
That’s one tropical Maschine there.
Split-screen showing Ableton and Traktor at once.
Komplete Kontrol S25 keyboard. While not used with the accompanying NI software, here the encoders and displays still show current MIDI CC values (for controlling another synth).
MIDI mappings set up in Traktor.
Komplete Kontrol S-series keyboard mappings, for playing a synth, controlling Ableton Live, and triggering Traktor macros.
Maschine MIDI mappings, for controlling Traktor.
Let me say for the record I am not involved in any way with Razer. I kind of want a new laptop to run TouchDesigner on, though … (I was going to complain about the green lighting, but Shiftee points out – those are actually mappable RGB colors. Interesting.)
That said, mostly what this makes me want to do is … practice. And that’s a good thing.