I spent a large amount of my late childhood and early adult life practicing beat mixing as a DJ. The basics and the theory behind it can be taught in minutes. But then you go away and you practice – a lot. You keep on practicing and it forces you to ‘learn’ the records that you buy. I personally had some tracks on records that were ‘unplayable’ for me that friends used and vice-versa as my mixing had its own context. There were sometimes when your head wasn’t in the game and other times when you could do no wrong because you were mixing in a zone.
As you go away and practice you find out about keys in music: why two songs when mixed together sound bad even when they are in time, you learned to ‘read’ the grooves of a record, looking for the break down or a natural point to transition from record into another.
All of this helped you become better at picking the kind of records that you wanted to play: the programming of a set. It also forced you think about when you broke the rules: judiciously using a ‘spin back’ (the sound of a tape rewinding playing the music backwards at great speed) or a ‘stop mix’ where one track stops abruptly and the other comes in on when the next beat would be.
Traktor software and the associated controllers by the likes of Pioneer allows DJ’s to beat mix perfectly, once you have read the manual to understand how it all comes together.
I found this quote from a recent interview by Russian DJ Nina Kravis particularly good (check out the rest of the interview to see the journalist’s rooky interviewer mistakes)
… So what happens is that people get used to this perfect mixing from the program, and when you come and try to mix yourself and you do it very well, but of course it can not be perfect. They look at you as if you’re doing something wrong. At the same time I think at some point lots of people will come back to the real mixing because it’s so boring with the program. They’re all bored even now because there’s nothing to do, they have 3 virtual turntables, 15 virtual turntables, but there’s nothing better than just mixing 2 vinyls together or 2 CDs. You can just be empowered and weighted by lots of technologies, but I’m not sure that they will finally make you happy. Definitely not me. You have to be the jockey of the disc… vinyl or CD, let’s just call it discs, vinyl discs are also discs. But at least you need to ride the mix, otherwise it’s just boring. I’m really not happy with this Traktor thing. I have problems with Traktor DJs.
The technology allows a flawless performance but one from which the DJ is largely removed; a bit like some of my friends who were forced to learn classical music as a child and now confess to be classical musicians who have technique but no feeling to what they do.
It also means that playlists can be replicated and optimised a la Clear Channel amongst a chain of nightclubs to maximise popularity. For instance the franchise nights ran by the likes of Ministry of Sound or Cream; maybe more about shipping in some digital files and less about have resident DJs on tour.
However like Clear Channel this hollowing out of the DJ’s technique would also hollow out the audience experience and they would eventually move on. The digital technology is disrupting culture, what happens when culture disrupts back?
Links to additional content
Q+A | Nina Kraviz – Halcyon
Bringing the DDJ-T1 for TRAKTOR user bang up-to-date with EDITION 2 software – Pioneer EU pressroom
discjockey101.com– has a good explanation of some of the things mentioned in this post if it all of the terms mentioned are completely new