Article by Demencha Magazine
The evolution of technology in the music world requires musicians to modify their practices, performances, and recording techniques in parallel with trending technology as it becomes available. Technology driven genres create get-down-or-lay-down subcultures that may not be easy for outsiders to understand. The DJs and producers who kept from being jaded for the longest amount of time as well as the young bucks of the scene should understand this. If you’re a DJ who plays vinyl exclusively in 2015, you probably haven’t played many gigs in the past several years.
The CDJ vs. turntable debate was silenced when Rane helped revolutionize the stateside DJ industry and allowed you to play mp3s in a way that a lot of people couldn’t have imagined 15 years or so prior. With Serato, one can manipulate the song playing in the software on a laptop with a hand on top of the controller vinyl, which rests on top of a traditional 12-inch turntable platter. Rane also makes compact discs that go inside CD playing mini-turntables, more often than not with their own 7-inch platters.
Why is this important? DJs who know how to manipulate a real 12” vinyl record, whether young or old, should care. Remember way back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s when turntablism started gaining significant ground in the United States? (When I use the word “turntablism,” I’m referring to the practice of manipulating a recorded piece of music or sound on a turntable, usually with your hand). A lot of kids wanted to be like DJ Craze, Roc Raida, or any of the world’s turntablist elite who rocked Technics 1200s turntables at DMC battle competitions around the planet. Many more likely shied away from DJing because the gear was so expensive.
Furthermore, DJ culture was much more cutthroat and competitive at that time. Everyone wanted to practice more than they actually did. In general, the DJs who most diligently practiced the formative skills of DJing could become superstar DJs, or at least perform a few nights a week. The life of a vinyl-fiend turntablist consisted of sifting through big collections of dusty records, listening to them, buying them, spending more time putting cue stickers on them and studying them. (It sounds like such a dirty job in 2014, doesn’t it?) There were serious bragging rights to the artform because of the work and time required. Now, DJ equipment manufacturers want everyone to believe that the club DJ’s life is on some Hollywood shit. If you’re a young DJ who’s jumped into your local nightlife scene with aspirations to cut more cocaine than records, quit now.
Sure, you could use the “technology is evolving, so DJs have to move with it” cop-out. It’s an inevitable defense within the electronic music community, without a doubt, but that doesn’t mean the very “industry standard” DJ equipment you use at your gigs isn’t being controlled and manipulated for mass appeal.
DJ equipment manufacturers, the ones whose products are hustled to your salivating face by Guitar Center employees while you have nowhere near enough money in your bank account, are making products smaller and lighter but with more accessories distracting you from the platter. They also feature a shinier price tag, some of them exceeding $1,500.
Most turntable-emulating controllers still contain the three key features you need to DJ: two spinning platters and a mixer. On most controller models, though, all three parts and their complementary bells and whistles are built into one piece. This is known as a kind of all-in-one “controller” and not a set of turntables. Most of these controllers have two 7” platters. A more traditional DJ rig with separate, more traditional turntables feature two 12-inch platters and a separately built mixer in the middle.
Someone help me out: why would a 20-year old kid, living in America’s current economy, feel obligated to go buy two Technics 1200s and a separate mixer when they could just buy a trendy controller instead? While these controllers do have a lot of features and functions, they’re adding dust to the turntable assembly line.
The overhead for DJ gear manufacturers is going to decrease without having to build bulky products while they push the lighter and smaller DJ rigs. It’s not just the weight of the product, either. Some of these DJ controllers that are replacing traditional turntables make the art of DJing appear to be easier than it is, or once was, in the eyes of a lot of kids.
If you just break down the physics, the average person’s hand makes up about a quarter of the size of a 12-inch platter. With a 7-inch platter, you could hold the entire thing in one hand, similar to how you could hold a CD with your fingertips clutching the round edges—but the more surface space your fingers have on the platter, the more dynamic your turntablism can be. Sure, there might be more surface space to learn and get familiar with on a 12-inch platter, but in 2015, no one’s winning any legit, existing DJ competitions where a 7-inch platter is the standard format. With a smaller, cramped platter, there’s less surface space for your hand to manipulate the song by means of cuing, scratching, cutting and pitch-bending with your fingertips. Think of the DJ’s platter as a map. Would you be content with a narrow knowledge of your state’s map or would you prefer to put in the work to master a much larger, wider map of the world? Perhaps it’s a far-fetched comparison, but consider it a case of “high risk, high reward” with risk equaling practice time and the reward being your technical skills.
Reducing the size of the platters in these new, innovative controllers is a really good way of insisting to young, aspiring DJs that the platter is simply not as important as it once was. Any kind of spinning platter or disc-shaped object in a DJ’s repertoire is probably on its way to becoming thought of as “old school” if it isn’t already. Can anyone picture a day in which DMC battles are held with two 7” platters as the standard format? Perhaps the platter isn’t even the star of the show—buttons are now where it’s at. Manufacturers have realized that if they create controllers with bright-colored pads and buttons, they can rake in millions more.
The definition of technology is anything that makes our purposes more practical, our lives easier, or at least reduces the amount of time it takes to do things. I’m not saying that it’s getting out of hand, but with Electronic Dance Music booming in the United States right now, this is a damn good time for manufacturers to compete in a booming market.
Panasonic announced in November 2010 they were ceasing production of all their analog turntables after 35 years of building the DJ industry standard. Numark officially released the NS7II controller in November of 2013, three years later. If you look into the timing of the release of the NS7II, one could draw the conclusion that top-of-the-line DJ equipment is now marketed the same way as X-Boxes, PlayStations, Marvel action figures, or Elmo dolls. Just in time for the holiday season, the hottest DJ equipment out has been reduced to child’s play.
Your preference will most likely depend on how smart you want your technology to be, what era you came up in, and how much space you’d like to have for your hand on a platter, of course. But one thing’s for sure: in 2015, the 18-25 age bracket that makes up a lot of the faces you see at hip hop shows or EDM music festivals around the world are becoming ignorant to turntablism. A lot of clubgoers nowadays actually prefer their DJ not to “scratch.”
Some of these manufacturers seemingly want more people to be DJs so they can sell an art form as a status symbol. This has been going on for years, but that ploy has led to a terribly watered-down market of talent compared to the 1990s and early 2000s. In those days, few hungry and brave souls had enough time on their hands and money in their pockets to even begin to give a DJ like Craze a run for his money in a DJ battle.
The current DJ industry is leaning in favor of sportier, sleeker, flashier and more efficient “controllers,” as opposed to the big, standalone, muscle car turntables of old. The manufacturers who are constantly bending and then recreating the industry standard for DJ equipment are reaching an eerie point of success, but at what cost? The art of DJing is becoming a parody of what it once was. While it’s not really a life-or-death situation (unless music really is your life), the current state of turntablism culture in the United States is a gruesome, fiery trainwreck of mangled blends and ill-advised track selection with an unfortunately large number of people on board.