I tried to do the maths the other day of how many tracks I’ve mixed together in my career. That estimated number kept growing once I looked at the 30,000 vinyls in my studio, the boxes of CDs and the three Terabyte hard drives knowing that I’ve mixed all those tracks multiple times over a 25 year period. I think I’m pretty confident in saying that I can hold two records perfectly in time!
As technology moves on so does my creative vision, which is why I love product developing with Pioneer as I need more tools to enable me to move my creativity forward. To me a perfectly crafted and programmed DJ set is a work of art, though Deadmou5 would probably disagree. Who’s to blame him for speaking out about DJs, because true DJ sets are worryingly becoming a forgotten art form.
I have always felt restricted playing on vinyl. Yes I could use three or four decks at the same time but it was all quite clumsy and raw, and like watching a magician spin plates running back and forth keeping them in motion, the novelty soon wears off after the first few minutes. The biggest step forward in technology for me was the Sync button. Instead of focusing all my time on keeping multiple tracks in time, it bought precious time to focus on other areas to be even more creative taking DJing to an all new level that wasn’t possible in the past.
For me, holding two tracks in time is the least important part of the process; that is of course unless it turns into a train wreck! Most DJs hold tracks in time on auto pilot, it becomes second nature. What’s more important to me is programming and how and when you place a track in a set to make those stand out moments. In this day and age of the digital era, torrent sites, Spotify and YouTube etc, you can click and find any track you want within minutes. A DJ’s personal armory used to be having one-off white labels, advanced promos and rare classics, but everyone seems to have them these days. You have to be more clever to stand out.
Good DJs can now create magic moments instantaneously in the DJ booth using today’s tools. For example the other week I was playing some dark hard pounding Techno and locked in this groove, my DJ instinct told me to throw in a classic to lift the dance floor with an element of surprise. Within minutes I’d looked in my playlist, spotted Tiesto’s Suburban Train and was instantly cued up ready to go. I heard in my headphones this track didn’t have the depth, drive and punch of the current groove that I had everyone locked in. Years ago I would have had to chose another track because it would have unbalanced the energy on the dance floor, but instead the sync button was engaged and my creative skills kicked in. In my headphones I matched the key of Suburban Train to the current track playing, I then headed to the third CDJ and created a loop of the current track playing and on the fourth CDJ set up loop of Suburban Train’s groove (I’ll explain why shortly). Once I mixed in Suburban Train, I also mixed in the loop set up on the third CDJ (current track playing) and kept it playing throughout all of Suburban Train, instantly creating a Techno version to keep the same vibe running.
This particular crowd didn’t like long breakdowns as it seemed to suck the energy out of the room. It’s important to know your tracks well and I knew Suburban Train has a very long break down, so when the break arrived, I mixed in the Suburban Train groove loop on the fourth CDJ as to keep things rolling with the main version. I ran the break down through some crazy delays and fx to create a huge crescendo that eventually dropped into a mini breakdown hitting the sweet spot of the magic moment that everyone recognizes. (Did you follow all of that?!)
Many people asked afterwards what was the remix that I played, but it was in fact a one off version that I created for that one night that I’ll never create again. It’s those magic moments that become special for that specific event that people will take home with them. You’ll never find those versions of tracks online, and can only experience them live in front of the DJ. I can now do live edits that would have only been possible in software in the past. That is one edit trick of many I create to help my set a flow using today’s technology.
I’m aware many people frown at use of the sync button. My best analogy, is of a pilot flying a plane. Once he engages autopilot, he can perform very technical tasks in the cockpit, but when he’s in manual mode he can really feel every movement of the plane and perform some thrilling maneuvers but always with that element of danger that something could go wrong and that’s part of the thrill. The sync button allows me to be more technical and create those special moments, but as per the pilot, I love that sense of thrill and to turn off the sync and have that adrenalin created by feeling the two tracks as they mix together, the power of the frequencies as they slightly phase along with the element of danger that something could go wrong while mixing.
So next time you see the little white light on the CDJs, or Traktor don’t instantly think the DJ is heading for a coffee break, he could be engaging in some serious editing.
– John ’00’ Fleming