Controllerist – Breaking the Mold – Part 2
There are a few different schools of thought that exist these 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 ago. The debate over the use of a DJ controller versus using either turntables with vinyl, CDJs with CDs, or a DVS has provoked much thought and discussion over the past few years, but continues to gather momentum as controllers evolve and become more prominent among touring professional DJs.
To be fair, the founding father of controllerism, Moldover, is considered to be more of a pure controllerist rather than a DJ. He created the art form, based on the need to perform and live produce as a musician, going far beyond the expectations of conventional DJing through the use of technology and custom controllers and peripherals. He is truly amazing and serves as an inspiration to musicians and DJs that play with more of a musician’s sensibility. His influence can definitely be seen in modern DJing, but what else is really prompting the in flux of various controllers in the DJ universe?
It is evident that there are many different controllers in the market produced by many different manufacturers, some considered to be beginner, or “gateway” controllers, and other, more advanced controllers that represent a paradigm shift in professional DJing. So why did the big time superstars make the switch or choose controllers to begin with? Let’s examine some of the well respected artists that are using them now.
Well established DJs like Charles Feelgood, who started DJing on turntables, now use controllers like the Vestax VCI-100 (SE version pictured) often times for their live DJ performance. For most artists, the trend to switch to a controller is based on function and reliability, as well as the need to streamline the required equipment to play the gigs. At first, when DVS systems became popular, it was obvious that having access to thousands of tunes on a laptop was easier to carry around than a record crate or box with a limited number of tracks on vinyl records inside. The initial appeal was that using a DVS system was virtually the same as playing records, technically in terms of the mechanics, and the laptop and software were just a means to store and organize your music.
The shift ultimately came when the software’s capabilities began to grow and evolve, especially in Traktor, to meet the demands of the DJ. Features like cue points and looping allowed DJs to better prepare their mixes during performance, which in turn made them faster. Now DJs could go from looking confused or “email checking” in front of a laptop, to having the time to effectively engage their audiences again.
With the addition of robust effects within the software, and much improved methods of preparation, this allowed performing DJs to tweak their mixes, create more effective builds, and most importantly, destroy dance floors more effectively. The progression to controllers for vinyl and turntable enthusiasts was, for the most part inevitable, especially for the already well-established professionals who traveled constantly, needed reliable, stable gear, and demanded more creativite and entertainment value from their live performances.
Other artists, like prodigy Porter Robinson, initially gained success and popularity through their remixing and production. The demands for touring prompted Robinson to enlist the Native Instruments Kontrol S4 as his weapon of choice. Having actually been a DJ for less than 2 years, and starting out with Image Line’s Deckadance DJ software, the choice to use the Kontrol S4 (with a midi-fighter) was curious.
The S4 is arguably one of the most advanced DJ controllers, in terms of capabilities, on the market and many touring producer/remixers performed with “other-than” DJ controllers, like the Akai APC40 or the Novation Launchpad. His reasoning behind using the S4 with Traktor Pro was clearly based on the versatility, technicality, and portability that this set-up provided. As an acclaimed producer and remix artist, he is able to create dramatic, production driven, and effects laden performances in a DJ setting with the use of his S4 that are well beyond what a conventional turntable or CDJ set-up alone could provide. His versatile, innovative music style and mind blowing performances make him one of the most highly sought after, and well respected producers and controllerist DJs in the world.
Acclaimed film composer, master mixer/audio engineer, and professional DJ, Stefan “LOPAZZ” Eichenger, is a traditional musician (guitarist and drummer) with a love for “old school” synthesizers and drum sequencers. Even with a more classical and traditional background in music production, instrumentation, and recording, he has embraced the latest technological advancements in modern DJing.
He lauds his Novation Twitch DJ controller’s Slicing feature, which allows him to remix tracks and loop segments, on the fly, during his DJ performance. He states that using the touch-strip to match beats was super fast, less problematic than traditional vinyl or CD platters, and just so much fun. Also having the ability to beat-grid and play older tracks and grooves in his current DJ sets was what he loved the most about the new technology. He recalls a time that he stated in an interview that he would never use a mouse to create music, but that he happily embraces the innovative technology now in spite of the criticism he might receive from vinyl purists. Lopazz states that the Twitch is the perfect solution for him. He has everything he needs in a single, lightweight and portable controller, which is ideal especially at the frequency at which he must travel for gigs.
Ean Golden is considered to be the world’s foremost expert on and proponent for controllerism. His knowledge and background on the art form is vast, being a designer and developer of some of the best controllers on the market, and his talent behind the decks has garnered him hundreds of gigs worldwide, and millions of hits to his illustrious website, DJ Techtools. He has been an active touring professional since 1996 and he continues to play high-profile gigs domestically and abroad.
Having made the switch from turntables to MIDI controllers back in 2003, he helped to pioneer controllers and controllerism by applying conventional turntablist ingenuity in his controller based live DJ performances. This approach showed the world that controllerists were just as serious about their DJ craft, and that they could be just as creative and meticulous, as their turntablist counterparts.
Golden’s innovation and constant need to push the envelope of DJing has helped spawn many successful controllers, such as the Vestax VCI-100SE, VCI-400 Ean Golden Edition, his very own Midi Fighter, Traktor Kontrol S4, the Novation Dicer, and the Midi Fighter Pro. He is well respected in the DJ community and has always served as an ambassador for DJing as a whole, not just for controllerists and controllerism. With his successful blog and dynamic performances it is apparent that he, like most controller DJs, isn’t trying to sell any one on one OR the other, but instead hopes only to help inspire DJs in their craft and abilities, no matter what they use.
With all that said, I proudly use a controller now, and used turntables when I started out in the 80′s. I don’t necessarily consider myself to be a controllerist, or even a turntablist, I am a DJ, period. As long as the wonderful world of dance music and DJing continues to evolve, so will I, along with the equipment I use. Whether you are a beginner, DJ as a hobby, or you are a touring professional, it is your choice to play what you like with whatever you like to play it with.
Nothing is better or worse than the next thing, as long as you can truly love what you do and appreciate yourself and others doing it. Max respect to the inspirational innovators of DJing who continue to push the envelope, and max respect to all of the new beginners and enthusiasts that will rewrite tomorrow’s DJ history. Until next time, happy gigs!