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DJ Scott Mad Flip

DJ Scott Mad Flip
April 12, 2012

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!

Comments

  1. Zarif R says:

    i started off on vinyl’s as well technic’s 1200′s. but since the creation of controllers i find it alot easier to carry around and setup. in many instances its almost the same feel to the technic’s and i can perform similar functions if not even more. i now use the Numark NS6 and i have created a number of wicked mixes and remixes off it. Controllers are what are taking over slowly and surely. Thanks Unique Squared for the assistance in purchasing my controllers…

    1. Thanks Zarif for the comments! We certainly appreciate your support and we will always do our best to help you in your DJing and production. Cheers!

  2. Urban Fabric says:

    Well done write up bro. I will make plans to come over one weekend to ATL(Can I crash at your place?) You’ll have to show me the way around the S4. I might even purchase one in the future, but I still love my Vestax-VCI 100SE for now.

    Ken_UF

    1. Thanks Ken! You’re always welcome to stay at my home when you come to ATL, but I might make you play a gig or two with me for old times sake! Cheers!

  3. Marcio "AceOfSpades" Lobato says:

    Great blog post, MadFlip.
    I also started off on vinyls on the early 90s. I’m coming back to DJing just for fun and I’ll be buying a controller (S2 with the F1, when it launches, or the Twitch) to play with. It’s much easier to carry a controller and a notebook around than carrying cases of vinyls and CDs. And it’s much faster to find a track on a software than looking for it on series of CDs.
    Seriously, I see no problem in using controllers around.

    1. Thanks Marcio! I would love to hear your mixes, send me a link if you have a soundcloud! Cheers!

  4. Great article Madflip! I recently found a steal on a Numark V7 and connected it to my Behringer DDM4000 MIDI Mixer. I also have Serato Video controlled by ITCH. I recently sold my tech 1200s and Rane TTM57 and slowly making my transition to controllerism with the current setup I have. I still have a pair of Vestax PDX2000s, denon mixer, Audio 4 DJ soundcard and Traktor Pro 2, I mainly use this as the home studio setup. I have been dj’ing since 1992 and always looked towards the future of what’s to come in dj gear. Even thought the V7 has been out for sometime, I find it a compromise to keep that vinyl appeal along with the future of controllerism. I always enjoy your blogposts keep up the great work!

    1. Thanks for the comment! I think it’s important to hang on to turntables, especially those PDX’s. I actually really dig the new Denon SC3900′s and are considering adding them to my home set-up, too. Cheers!

  5. Josh E. says:

    Love the article DJ Madflip! I made the switch from vinyl to digital a couple years ago. I definitely agree that purists will most likely never accept controllerists at the booth, but at the end of the day if you can create a great mix and keep the dance floor moving, then who cares what you’re using. And as with all styles of music and technology, evolution and innovation is vital to its advancement. I’m sure CDJs were met with much criticism many years ago. So, I’m certain the day will come when controllers are widely accepted at clubs and among musicians.

    1. Thanks for the comment, and you are spot on. It might take a little longer for controllers to gain some acceptance due to the saturation of so many different ones in the market, BUT at the end of the day we both switched at a good time and the technology will only continue to bet better. Cheers!

  6. [...] days in the DJ universe when it comes to using a DJ controller.  I touched on some of these in Part 1 from my own point of view and personal experiences having made the switch just less than 2 years [...]