We look at how technology could change the face of dance music and whether it’s something to be looked forward to or dreaded…
Ever since Technics 1210s kicked off their own revolution, dj’ing has stopped being the hobby of the elite rich few and instead opened itself up to the masses. In modern day 2010, it’s possible to purchase a complete DJ setup for as little as £200. However, Vinyl has since been replaced by CDs & MP3 and since the news that Panasonic would cease production of the Technics in February this year, which was a shock but not a surprise, it is surely only a matter of time now before Vinyl is well and truly dead. This is big news for an industry which Vinyl practically gave birth to. But it is not just DJ’ing that has evolved in huge ways, production has to. Whereas 15-20 years ago you needed equipment costing thousands of pounds just to begin creating songs, now software is available for as little as £100 that lets you create your own dance music. And with software such as Traktor and Serato, even DJ’ing is not safe from the clutches of the computer. So what does 2010 and the future hold for dance music technology?
The DJ divide…
The feelings surrounding vinyl are extremely strong among DJs, particularly those who view Vinyl as being proper DJ’ing. We’ve had experience working in the clubbing industry and we found that Vinyl was by no means dead, but only appealed to a particular few. Those who did insist on using vinyl tended to feel that CD DJing and Laptop DJing had taken all the skill out of the art of being a DJ. “‘Real DJs use vinyl,’ some little raver screamed at me last week to which I responded ‘Poof – I guess I am just a figment of your imagination,’” says DJ Ron Slomowicz. “Technology and tastes have changed greatly over the past 5 years – to the point where it seems most club DJs play a combination of cd and vinyl while others have even gone strictly CD.” In fact, the debate over Vinyl and CD has raged for years. “I started spinning on college radio in 1991, which led to some on campus gigs. For portability and ease of use, I bought music on CD,” he adds. So CD is nothing new, but as the leading weapon of choice among DJs it was Pioneer who really stuck a boot in the arse of the Vinyl. Released in 2001, the CDJ1000 has since led a technological surge that now sees it as the number 1 CDJ in the world.
In fact, it would be considered highly unusual for any club or bar not to have a pair. Despite this, Vinyl for some is the only way to play, and in particular specific genres have kept the vinyl boat afloat. Most notable would be scratch DJ’ing, for which names like Scratch Perverts & JFB spring to mind. For them, CDjs just haven’t been able to match Vinyl in scratch capability.
It’s difficult to say whether CDJs will ever be able to match vinyl for scratching, over the years there has certainly been a huge improvement. But what must make it really difficult to continue using Vinyl is that most clubs, except for the bigger ones, tend to not have a set of 1210s anymore. If they do, they’re likely to be old and banged up. In our experience working in clubs in Brighton, although clubs did still have a pair of 1210s, they were neglected and often didn’t work properly. It’s not as if a Vinyl DJ can just carry a pair around either.
However, in the last couple of years Vinyl has made an unlikely friend, an ally in the war against CD DJ’ing. This is in the form of laptops, which can be hooked up to Vinyl. The benefit of this is that it allows a Vinyl DJ to use his MP3 collection as if it were Vinyl, scratching on his decks. Two of the most popular systems are Serato and Traktor Scratch. By combining the portability of a laptop with the scratch capacity of a Vinyl deck, Scratch DJs get the best of both worlds. Check out JFB using Traktor below. Unfortunately, it would seem more likely that this merge between the old and new is but a temporary success for Vinyl. Despite all the good points, any Scratch DJ will still find themselves at the mercy of the equipment in a club.
The Personal Computer…
Much as CDJs were, and still are, a threat to Vinyl, they now find themselves threatened by the hotly debated arrival of PC DJ’ing software. Allowing anyone with a Computer or a Laptop to become a DJ, the likes of Traktor DJ and Virtual DJ have come on leaps and bounds in the last few years. For just the price of a mid-range mixer, you can get your hands on mixing software which has a virtualised Allen&Heath mixer, 4 deck functionality and 20 different effects.
What this means for CDJs is difficult to tell, laptops are by no means standard hardware in clubs. But whereas hardware is limited in its capability, software can be programmed to virtually anything, and the speed at which software can evolve can only be described as frightening. Hardware controllers have also enabled users to get the best of both worlds, the flexibility and ease of use of software, and the interaction of a controller. In fact, many controllers now come with platters that allow to user to scratch as if they were using Vinyl. Pioneer have also created the CDJ 2000, released last September, which merged a software interface with a CDJ in one unit. However, the software is not as capable as Traktor and the screen is rather small. Not only that, but with a price tag of around the £1500 mark, it’s way out of the league of most young aspiring DJs.
But it’s not just DJing that software has affected. Production of your own music is now easier than ever thanks to the availability of software such as Ableton and FruityLoops. In fact, even Industry Standard software is now freely available to anyone who wants to try their hand, partly thanks to piracy and P2P networking. This increased availability for users has seen an explosion in the underground scene, and dance music online stores such as Juno are bursting at the seems with new creative talent that perhaps 20 years ago would never have come about. But not everybody is happy with this – some die hard producers see this influx of new material as diluting the scene, and making it difficult for quality tracks to gain recognition.
Positivity & the future
Whatever negativity may sometimes surround the emergence of new technology, there can be no doubt that there are huge positive benefits. The movement of tech in the dance music world has opened up the industry to everyone, instead of the elite few. CDJs removed the stress and difficulty associated with lugging Vinyl around, and now Computer software means that anyone who has a computer can get into DJ’ing and producing their own music. But what does the future hold for dance music with technology? Pioneer are already pushing DVD decks, incredible devices that give the DJ the ability to mix visuals as well as music. However, they are extremely expensive and most clubs don’t have a setup that would really make much use of it. Sound is also an area looking to expand – most clubs have mono setups and there is hints on the horizon of large scale surround sound systems making an appearance. Despite this, most dance music, if not all, is not surround so it remains to be seen whether this would have any impact.
Whatever comes next for dance music, we feel there are exciting times ahead. Technology should be embraced, and whatever your preferred method of DJing we don’t see the need to look down on those who do choose more modern setups. Although they do make DJing easier in some ways, in others – such as track selection – real talent is still able to emerge.