An Analogue/Digital Foundation

Words by: Marcus Wortley
Posted: 30/8/10 14:30

An Analogue/Digital Foundation I sit at my Macbook Pro here late at night/early morning over the space of a couple of nights listening to TC's Space Music Podcasts, a mixture of Salsoul and various new promo material. It is late August of 2010 and to me there is absolutely no question in my mind that the Digital DJ & Music Production markets are vibrant, so vibrant that I would unequivocally and confidently state that any electronic instrument or audio equipment manufacturer would be plain foolish to ignore the every blurring lines of said market share.

Never before have we seen the extent of the current cornucopia of products aimed both broadly and directly at the DJ, the Professional Music Producer/Engineer/Digital Artist and the Hobbyist Musician.

Products marketed at home music Producers and the average DJ were once the continuation of the utilization of PA equipment by bands from the introduction of amplification and recording to later development by early studio recording pioneers like, Les Paul, Phil Spector and Bob Moog to name but a few.

Dance culture can find its earliest roots in the USA back in the 1970's, legendary in their own life time 'Jam' DJ's such as Cool Herc and Grandmaster Flash's harlequin transplanting of Hifi & PA equipment at block parties in the early, ground breaking, cut and paste days of HipHop. This musical collage fusing different breaks together from many different soul records and layering MC's lyrics live over the rhythm helped forge a new urban movement, which carries on today to be the most popular music style on the planet. This urban spawned music along side rapping are but two of the cornerstones of HipHop culture. This initial raw approach of two turntables, no headphones and only amp channels were the foundation of what we now recognise as modern Club DJing.

It was not till techniques and equipment fed back from the less haphazard setups found in the affluent, hedonistic & predominantly gay downtown scene in NYC also during the 1970's that DJing truly advanced to a recognizable form of today's club culture. In the melting pot that is New York City one found early maverick DJ's from another style of music for the first time starting to layer records though use of ground breaking products like Bozak mixers and in Francis Grasso's particular case Thorens turntables which had pitch controls to perform the first ever beat matching. This particular new fusion of sounds was to be coined 'Disco'. Along side HipHop's cut and paste It was here downtown in this new form of music that live remixing first became a reality, through several groundbreaking techniques, slip-queuing and layering copies of the same records or different versions of the same tracks, to the later implementation of Reel-to-Reel tape decks. These were just some of the practices first experimented with by such technical pioneers as Walter Gibbons, Francis Grasso, Larry Levan and then later in Chicago, Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles to create some of the earliest remixes. During these two periods which in reality; before, during and after the implosion of Disco were in actual fact the genesis of what we now know to be modern House Music or more so a blueprint for modern dance music, all building on the foundations laid by Club DJ Godfathers; David Mancuso at the Loft and DJ Cool Herc uptown in the Bronx.

Over the last four decades the world has witnessed these morphing musical styles continue to develop and fragment, to now grow into a multi-million *insert you're currency here* business for not only initially the record companies and supporting businesses but also the companies that are manufacturing and marketing products to the ever hungry and growing breed of DJ/Producers/Performers and dare I even say digital artists of modern day music.

Before my 3-year+ hiatus I took back in 2007 the Information Age DJ Market (if I may be so bold as to try to coin it so flippantly) was still well in its infancy. Few Midi controllers were available to the Digital DJ, DJ's who wanted to try new software techniques were limited in their choice to products like the first 3 1st generation units from Fader Fox, various keyboards and mix surfaces from M-audio, Novation or Berhinger, these first series of Midi controllers were defiantly more aimed at studio/home use.

It was not till Richie Hawtin and his father teamed up with Allen and Heath in the early 2000's and hacked a Xone:62 to create the Xone:62 CTRL that they spawned the later Xone:92 ushering in MIDI on a DJ mixer along with a MIDI clock, here in the game really chanced.

The vast population of Pro/Semi-Pro DJs and bedroom enthusiasts were mainly still a mix; the last bastions of old school stalwarts were still playing vinyl from the every faithful industry standard Technics SL1200Mk2/SL1210Mk2, alongside the newer school inclusive of old heads and new comers alike utilizing the CDJ1000 turntables from Pioneer in their then MK2 variants, harnessing new features like pitch lock, looping and cue points. The CDJ1000mk2 only really challenged at this time by Denon and Numark. But just like with the format wars of other fields of media and akin to the Tape Cassette and the 8-Track right though to the famous BetaMax - VHS format wars in the 80's, a perfect analogy would be the record decks that preceded them. The Pioneer CDJ1000 was to replace the Technics 1200/1210mk2 as the Industry Standard turntable of choice. In very real terms if you were to step foot into pretty much any Professional DJ booth in the world, 99 times out of 100 you would find a set of Pioneer CDJ1000s or the then lower model in the odd bar a setting the CDJ800.

Few DJs had started to embrace the new computer based platforms such as Serato Scratch Live, Stanton Final scratch (a greatly expanded version from Stanton's one time partner NI:Native Instruments later to be know as Traktor Pro would surface into the major player we know of today), and only really live artists and a hand full of DJ's were using Ableton Live.

As the then Editor of the AbletonLiveDJ website who's forums are still going to this day, supporting the digital DJ community, I found myself at the cutting edge of the music technology market. I was regularly sent equipment to review from many of the lead player companies in the relevant sectors and found myself inundated for advice on prospective purchases and applications of using units in different rolls with a myriad of different products by many top list DJs to hobbyists alike.

Later both the ubiquitous Pioneer DJM800 and Allen and Health's excellent Xone:3D both elevated the game to a level anywhere near of today's models. Today one can find well over 6 different manufacturers all making MIDI implemented DJ mixers all trying to bid for the buyers/users favour on every popular new format whether that be CD, Flash Drive, NI Traktor Pro, Serato Scratch or Serato Itch, Mixmister, Virtual Dj or Ableton Live and many others software packages. If you look at current mixer design there a many mixers with many different features for many different tasks. Take Vestax's update of their legendary scratch mixer the PMC-05ProIV for example, here showing that manufacturers are now implementing MIDI for use for cue points and EFX in turntabelist's routines. Other newer offerings like Denon's X1700 and three all in one mixer/controller/soundcard hybrids to rival Allen and Heath's update the to 3D the Xone:4D, namely the Ecler Evo5, Rane's Sixty-Eight and Pioneers new touch screen armed DJM2000.

On my return to music just 2 months ago, a music technology market inflexed with new technology greeted me along with audio sounding as squashed as Wile E. Coyote in an average episode of Looney Tune's The Road Runner
(see if you need clarification).

It has never been easier for new budding DJ's to place a virtual step into whichever music arena they care to choose. Pioneer is still the dominant force in the dance music CD player market with their excellent new updated flagship CDJ2000 players and accompanying entry models at various different price points along the range, all with expanded features as you move up the range and all sharing the same lay out and interfacing with their new Record Box software. The only serious contenders in the CD Player market seem to be from old competitors Denon with their DN-S3700 with the rotating platter being mainly adopted by some turntablists. I too would say in my own opinion, with the shear domination that Pioneer enjoys like Technics before them that Denon is rightly going for the turntablist market as most serious players in that field tend to use a mix of Serato or Traktors Scratch alongside vinyl and the one area that Pioneers players fall down on is the dead/sterile un-rotating platter, indeed that was the main reason I moved to Ableton back in 2004. Other companies like Numark with their V7 and Stanton with the SCS1d now seem to both be more chasing the software controller market with some innovating turntable style players again showing how the market is evolving with technological advancements, both these players feature motorized platters and in Stanton's case some excellent real-time feedback features. At the time of writing this article Denon have also launched the new DN-SC2000 player very similar to the prior two players from Stanton and Numark, though not with a spinning platter and at a cheaper price point, maybe we might see a CDJ offshoot player from Pioneer?  I think this does really emphasize how the controller alongside the player markets are again fragmenting into Pro/Hobby/Party DJ markets.

A recent slew of 4-channel soundcard/controllers seem to be the latest trend all appearing in the last 2 months from not only NI with the new Traktor S4 system shipping with a special version of Traktor, but also Allen and Heath with the Xone:DX shipping with Serato Itch & Denon with the DN-MC600 + American Audio with their new VMS4.

In this day and age most people in developing countries own a computer and have access to the Internet, and the popularity of the laptop continues to grow. By simply applying Moore's law today we see clearly see that what we carry with us for leisure or business today can be far more powerful than top end desktop/rack mounted units one might have found in the most dynamic of project studios just 4 years prior.

The popularity of Apple's iPhone to the more recent widespread growth of the new Android series of smart phones has let to a whole series of mobile touch screen interfaced music applications, from music players, to samplers, to sequencers, to Midi controllers. This will only grow in the coming months and years as computational power continues to double at the 2year rate and technology advances. With the pretty recent introduction of Apples iPad at the start of the year, to the legion of Android OS equipped multi-touch tablet PC's following in the works, what was only obtainable via Jazmutant's game changing Lemur muti-touch controller a few years ago is now far more easily obtainable (though granted not quite to the same performance dynamics), yours for the asking price of well under half of the Lemur and after you use it in the studio or rocking a club you can buy concert tickets, rent/download/watch a film or read a book all on the same unit. The tablet PC is by no means a new device, I myself have been using them for well over 5 years, and there is no question they still have a long way to develop in form, interfacing features and performance. I am sure we will see many exciting developments and if we look to the past as a yard stick I don't see it being too long till DJ players will soon move to just a pair of multi layered touch screen units that are PC/Controller/Sequencer-Player all in one unit. The new Nextbeat media player and Stanton SCS products are good examples of where the immediate product development may lie before future advances might take research and development in different directions. Many new controllers and players are in the works. NI's Traktor S4 system with its custom version of Traktor software and sample bank players seem to be a very good product that shows the times were are in.

After all is said and done for me its more about the soul/mood/quality of content you output from said equipment/software that will forever be more paramount that how you manipulate it, to me is just some really cool high-tech garnish you can sprinkle on the top for show. Its going to be an exciting ride, stay locked to us here at I Voice as we tie into my new review site that I will be launching shortly as we try to help guide you with lots of informative articles and no ass kissing/truthful reviews aiming to help you though the musical equipment minefields that will await.


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