DIGITAL HEARTBREAK

Moving house (yet again) pretty recently got me thinking about vinyl / DJ’ing / collecting, because I had to move what amounts to be only HALF ov my vinyl collection (yet again) and it was a very daunting task indeed. I see a lot ov people who are vinyl purists, and who still hold a flame for DJing using ONLY vinyl and turntables. I certainly felt that way for a long, long time, and certainly put a great amount ov effort into perfecting that craft. I must also add that learning to DJ in what I will hereafter refer to as analog-style has shifted and broadened my musical spectrum and understanding in ways that playing traditional instruments could never have. Turntablism and skratching actually influenced my playing on drum kit more than any professional percussionist ever has. It was my lifestyle; I spent tons ov money on records just to destroy them night after night in bars/clubs. I see the effects now when I move them; tattered covers, dog-eared corners, cracks and scratches. It was a religion, almost, and at the advent ov CDJ technology, those among my like-minded peer group would openly disparage CDJ users as “cheaters” or “human jukeboxes”. I still don’t like CDJs, to be truthful, I have never really enjoyed using them, although the ability to create loops (and to play stuff I could never get on vinyl) was pretty appealing, initially.

But what I’m really examining now is the moment I fell out ov love with being a vinyl DJ. It was such a big thing for me. I even started collecting records with the intent ov DJing them (like finding acapellas and instrumentals to mix together) a good year and a half before ever touching a set ov decks myself. I thought about it day and night, much as I had since I was a kid trying to figure out exactly WTF was going on with the track “Peter Piper” by RUN DMC. The first time I touched tables, I was already pretty good. That’s how much I had thought about it. I learned to match beats within minutes, and quickly dropped the acapella for “Take It Easy” by Mad Lion over “Bucktown” by Smif N Wessun, quite pleased with myself, and dead set on doing this indefinitely.

The internet, and all its attendant innovations, changed everything. First, it changed buying records, making more things more available to more people than ever before. Then mp3 compression technology came about, and music was no longer a thing one had to necessarily save up for, carefully deliberate purchase ov with hard-earned money, or pore over countless underground magazines to find out about. With all that obviously came the innovations that have landed us where we are today. When Serato Scratch Live first came out, I was super jazzed up about it, but only ever had a few interactions with it. It seemed to solve all the problems / limitations I associated with DJing analog-style, or at least the dreams and wishes I had to take my mixing / live remixing capabilities to the next level…. But (confession time), I never actually have owned a set ov turntables myself, nor did I have the economic capability to acquire the necessary components to make Serato a reality. Instead, I kept on buying records and playing them, somehow holding on to an unspoken personal superiority that I was keeping a tradition alive in fine style.

Then, I was gifted a Macbook (with dubious acquisition origins) from a friend who had a nicer/newer Mac, and also wanted the conspicuous article out ov his possession. I immediately began immersing myself in the Traktor software, and within the week did my first DJ gig with laptop, using hotkeys to control the interface. I was hooked; All the songs I could never play before because the vinyl simply didn’t exist (or was unavailable at the time), all the intros I wanted to extend to mix longer, all the live remixes I wanted to do.. They were mine now.

In the months/years to follow, I caught a lot ov shit from people who thought I was somehow squandering my turntable talents (which are still very much intact, thank you), who thought that I was being lazy, and who simply didn’t want to see someone standing there twiddling with a laptop. And on that last point, I can’t help but to agree with them a little bit. I didn’t necessarily want to see a guy mulling over a laptop as a performance either, but I also didn’t want to limit myself to other’s perceptions when I KNEW that musically I was doing what I felt was important to do, and (more importantly) what SOUNDED good.

I would see analog-style DJs playing out, most without what I would call adequate turntablism skills, certainly most without compositional style that makes songs flow together in a way that makes sense, and doesn’t interrupt / intersect things improperly. I would see them struggling with their environments: bass vibrations making records skip / feedback, skips / crackles / scratches, needle problems, fader bleed, unstable surfaces, the inability to pitch a record up or down far enough to make it blend properly with the song they intended to mix with, etc. They were playing “new” records they had just gotten that I had been playing for months on mp3. I thought, “what is more important? the sound or the medium in which it is conveyed?” The answer there is pretty obvious to me.

As the game played on, I began to find more ways to trick out and flavorize my mixes, whether it be with new effects and options added to the software I was using, or the introduction ov wireless iPad control. I never wanted an iPad before, and I saw them as pretty useless and excessive devices… Until I figured out that you could wirelessly control software via midi / wifi with one. That has set me free in numerous ways, from X/Y axis FX controls, to cue point magnificence / beat-juggling, to just the freedom ov not being stuck behind some decks or a laptop, and chained to a pair ov headphones. When I played with Brenmar a little while ago, he seemed flummoxed that I would dare to mix without using headphones, or that I could even correct a mix if it started to go wrong. I think I can attribute a fair amount ov hearing loss to DJing with headphones over the years, so it ain’t nothing to me to do my damn gig with earplugs in, if the motherfucker is too loud. These ears are all I’ve got, when it comes to my chosen profession (I’ve often thought this when contemplating losing limbs), and I’ve already done ’em in a lil’ bit… But this digital DJing thing, to me anyways, is a composite ov everything I’ve ever done concerning playing / producing this music: matching / mixing beats, looking at waveforms and recognizing the way certain sounds appear visually, etc. I could match beat tempos just by looking at the soundwaves, the same way I would by listening. Hell, before Acid came out, I used to beatmatch samples by calculating the time between beats down to the millisecond, and then extrapolating what the final sample loop time should be, even doing a calculation to figure out the BPM (i’m talking like 1997/98, using Cubase and SAW32 and shit). The possibilities became as endless as my imagination (cue My Little Pony Movie theme song).

To sum up, I started to view analog-style DJing as very primitive, limited, and cumbersome, and digital DJing seemed much more conducive to getting all the troublesome bullshit out ov the way, and getting down to actually making cool things happen with the MUSIC itself. There’s new software / hardware coming out every week that expands the boundaries even further. When people have an idea, it happens. Don’t get me wrong, I am still a vinyl lover. I love to listen to it, love to have my music on it, love to be involved with a label that is dedicated to keeping it alive, I love just LOOKING at it. But I will not be enslaved to the idea that it is somehow superior for DJing in club / bar / huge venue. I love my records, I don’t want to abuse them anymore. Plus, as a person who has been involved with putting out vinyl releases for the last 12 years now, I know for a fact how long it takes music to go from final mix to shrinkwrap. It’s a livable timeframe, but I want new music NOW and I want to play it for other people too. I want to be able to make a track one day, and play it out that same night. That was NEVER an option when I was first coming up, unless you had a dubplate cutting machine / house in your vicinity, and even that would’ve cost you $60 at least. Now, it’s a standard ov our reality.

I even played on Serato a little bit at the BOOTyTRAP monthly party I do last night, and while it was pretty fun to mess around, I mostly missed my effects and things that I have integrated into my style that make music sound more the way that I wish to present it. I gotta say that I think what NI is doing with Traktor and the controllers / mixers they offer is absolutely on point, and very much an encouragement to DJ’s to step their game up, use ALL these interesting options to their personal stylistic development’s benefit, all while having good quality sound. The things that classic, jaw-dropping turntable monsters from the heyday ov DMC championships, like DJ Craze, are doing with their products is just astounding, and these are people who take the analog DJing interface, but still EMBRACE the changes, and ways that they could take advantage ov them, to be yet even more amazing. With all ov these options at your fingertips, it almost seems like an act ov defiance to trudge along the traditional turntable trail these days.

I salute y’all soldiers, but just know that I personally will hold you to the standard that you gotta be a bad motherfucker one way or another to hold that down with awesomeness in this day and age. Trust me, I wanna hear it, if you are. I kinda miss skratching sometimes, but then again… that shit actually annoys me to listen to now. It actually SOUNDS old to me, and truly very few people know how to tastefully incorporate it into their sets these days. Like, just skratching to show off that you can do it. If it adds something tangibly awesome to the vibe / music then COOL, do yo thang. A master is a master, but a true master is likely always learning new things, especially if things evolve (which they tend to). I may not be a master in any sense, but I’m always learning new things and incorporating them into what I do across the board, so I guess that’s what I look for in others as well.

I suppose I would have to say the moment I fell out ov love with analog-style DJing is the moment when the limitations seemed like a setback, rather than a cool advantage. The moment I saw my own capacity for capability open up wide with one paradigm shift. For me, using turntables is just like riding a bike… An old, rusty beach cruiser with no kickstand, where the chain might fall off. I might look good doing it, but I’d rather be doing bunny hops and shit on a new, tricked-out joint, or just enjoying a smooth-ass ride. I hear DJs on the radio in my town on the Rap / R&B station, and they use turntables, jah bless ’em, but they do a lot ov terrible shit, in my not-so-humble opinion, including mixing songs together that sound awful juxtapozed, cutting off songs too early / mixing in too soon, and doing a backspin ON EVERY. SINGLE. F-WORD. MIX. Seriously? Every single time you finish playing a song, you absolutely MUST spin it back real loud like? If you are a DJ and you do that, just please STOP. I mean, don’t stop doing the backspin altogether, just save it for the really big, HYPE mixes. There are a number ov techniques you can use to transition out ov songs creatively. That endless backspin shit is just lazy.

Okay, tangent over, i think.

Anyhow, I could never feel bad about transitioning to digital DJing. It allows me every freedom I longed for every day ov my analog DJing life. It’s even part ov me changing my professional moniker from Mr. Bambü to LZRKMMNDR. A change in approach and sound calls for a change in presentation. Mr. Bambü is the guy that spins records, drops doubles, does slaps, juggles, skratches, and trick-mixes. LZRKMMNDR is the guy that treats DJing like an extention ov producing / remixing / lazer warfare. It’s just that simple.

Although I do really wish I had a pristine set ov 1200’s here and a Vestax PMC02 Pro.

I got a LOT ov fuckin’ records here.

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