Controllerist – Breaking the Mold – Part 1
It is amazing, but not surprising, the reaction I get when people see me using a controller. Even with the world wide popularity of EDM and DJing, as well as the countless varieties of related products that are on the market, there is still a lot of mystery surrounding what DJs do when we play music. However, it is not surprising because, being a DJ for over 2 decades, I have seen this same reaction before when just using turntables and a mixer. It’s the DJ circle of life, seriously. I am often asked which is better, turntables or controllers?
As I travel abroad in my journeys playing dance music, I find myself being an ambassador of the culture that we all know and love. I am always happy to talk about music, gigs, incredible DJs, EDM artists, mixing tricks, and techniques. Inevitably the conversation always turns to talking about the equipment I use, specifically my controller. Sometimes it’s a pleasant conversation with fellow DJs and friends enjoying themselves and the music, but other times the conversation is likened to a job interview going horribly wrong.
I am always nice about answering simple questions like “does that thing mix for you?” or “does that control iTunes?” But on occasion, people make statements like, “that’s not real DJing, real DJs use vinyl” and “back in the day when I started DJing,” etc.
I’m not really trying to chime in on what is better, what is more professional, what has more street cred, etc. I am always more than happy to give advice on what might work best for you and also what works for me, but my position on DJ controllers is very clear, I love mine. I use a Kontrol S4 and have been since November of 2010. However, it took some time for me make the switch from turntables, Serato Scratch Live, Traktor Scratch Pro, an Audio 8, and a Kontrol X1 mostly because I have always preferred the feel of vinyl, even to this day.
MAKING THE SWITCH
I had spent a few days just playing on the S4, hours at a time, when we first received a demo unit here at Unique Squared. There were a couple things I had to check off my list before I took the plunge and made the purchase. First, I had to make sure I could scratch accurately on the smaller platters, which, after getting used to the size, I could. Second, I needed to see how it compared to the equipment I already had. I was thrilled because it was practically the same as using the Kontrol X1, but there was way more on the S4 layout to play with. The last, and deciding factor, was that I needed to know if I would be able to walk in with my S4 and do the same exact performance that I was able to with my previous set-up; and with fewer variables that could go wrong.
The purchase was made, and I no longer had to play on faulty or dissimilar turntables with dodgy needles, mixers with missing faders, or output problems. I also knew I would be saving a lot of time setting up and tearing down by just having a controller, not to mention having smooth transitions with other DJs between sets. Not having to do the turntable, laptop lambada was a huge time saver.
Now, I just easily plug my main outputs via RCA in and out of a separate channel on the main mixer without breaking the flow of the existing music. It’s even easier to do tag-team sets on multiple decks with the S4 and another DJ on turntables or CDJs.
The hardware is extremely accurate and reliable and it was very easy to transport my controller safely in a hard case from gig to gig. Making the switch was a no brainer at this point, especially since I was playing 2 of 3 gigs weekly, responsible for bringing my own personal gear. Turntables and a mixer in hard cases is a lot heavier to transport than a controller in a single case.
“CONTROLLERIST” IMAGE TODAY
There’s always been a mystique or “look” of a DJ with records and turntables. Is it really a lot less professional looking when using a controller? Does everyone think it’s a toy? Well, the short answer to both questions is “yes,” for now, and there is definitely a stigma associated with “controllerism,” and “controllerists” or live remixers that don’t use a traditional DJ set-up when playing or performing.
The truth is, using a controller is becoming a lot more common, but it is still not fully accepted among many other DJs in the community, and perhaps may never be to the purists. I really had to get past the pride factor when I started using my S4, but eventually I just let my DJing do the talking for me instead. I didn’t feel like I had to explain myself for not using turntables to any one else, especially other DJs.
Like everything else, DJing will continue to evolve and controllers are a huge part of that evolution. I certainly still love using my turntables to play records without anything digital involved, but at the end of the day I need more. The possibilities are endless when you move into the digital world, and the technology that is being developed to create and play music continues to grow every day.
Controllers still emulate all of the best features of “true” or “old school” DJing, but all of the advanced features found in the latest DJ and Remix software and controllers associated with producing, performing, and remixing modern dance music are truly undeniable. DJs can mix and remix video with incredible effects. They can sample, arrange loops on the fly, and best of all, play original music all through the use of controllers and controlling peripherals. It truly is a world of pure imagination. OK, that was a little much even for me.
Admittedly, controllers aren’t for everyone, and I’m certainly not trying to sell them to vinyl or turntable purists by no means. I’m just trying to legitimize their image and break the mold that all controller users are not DJs. The fact remains, more and more touring professional DJs and live acts are either using controllers exclusively, or incorporating controller elements in their performances now.
Many of these individuals are long time veterans who have switched from traditional decks, and some are newer artists that have only used controllers. Either way, incredible music is still being created, played, and performed regardless of what device they’re using. We will take a look at some the artists that are innovating the use of controllers in part 2.
Until next time, happy gigs!