A few years back I used to DJ. Simple stuff – two turntables, a mixer and a bag of records. I was never that technically accomplished but I could beatmatch reasonably well and do a little scratching. Later on I started using CDs and I had a bit of a play with Serato Scratch Live. That was about it though.

It’s fascinating to see how far the tech has come on. For example, check out this video with James Zabiela showing off his DJing tech and techniques:

(That video’s just the highlights – the full hour is here)

The basic skill of beatmatching is pretty much redundant now – it’s a mundanity that’s best taken care of by a machine. In fact, the decks themselves are almost an afterthought – James spends most of his time in the video talking about Ableton, 3rd party plugins, his Kaossilator and how he uses his iPad as a midi controller over an ad hoc wifi network. He uses CDJs but doesn’t use CDs in them – “even those are a bit old school now” – the tunes come from an SD card or directly from a laptop.

I showed my Dad Traktor at my parents’ house. I said “Look at this dad, you just push this button and you’ve got four decks and they all play instantly”. And he just looked at me and said, “Isn’t that cheating?” I said “Well yeah, I guess so, but you have to then make up for that”

And that’s the point. As if to illustrate it, there’s a bit where he messes around with the effects unit and Kaossilator, taking a few seconds to improvise a track on the fly using samples. He says of the effects unit, “It was never designed to do that but that’s my sole purpose for using this in my sets”.

Much like I don’t expect the people who came up with the Akai MPC ever expected to see AraabMuzik using one like this to create a live set from Skrillex tracks:

Anyway, the point is, it’s a good example of how creativity responds to the tools available and how technology has (in some cases) given musicians and artists more time to spend on the creative elements of their craft.

Published by Chris Unitt

I work at One Further, doing digital projects with cultural organisations. Follow @ChrisUnitt or find me on LinkedIn.