Creative Freedom of Your Sets is something that people may have struggled with 'back in the day', especially when people used vinyl. Its all well and good knowing your tunes and building your sets, but what if little Johnny starts playing the same tracks in the same order? What makes you different? With turntables, the obvious skill was being able to 'scratch', but that had to be done in a way that was fitting and unless youre playing Hip-Hop etc, its something that can sound quite daft if you over kill it during a house set, lets say.
So, we jump a few decades and land in an era where "Everyones a DJ" but technology also has truly become a necessity behind the decks. With this, the options on how you play has literally become endless, especially with the introduction on laptops. I know some people will cower at the thought of a DJ using a laptop but seriously, get a grip... I bet youre sitting there watching Emmerdale on your huge plasma TV thats stuck to the wall, connected to your HD Sky Box, as you record the Nature Channel... see, you like technology moving forward now, dont you? ;)
Anyway, now we've got that out of the way. lets get back to the topic. Creativity... its something that makes you a DJ rather than a juke box, allowing you to put your own spin on the record and producing a set thats unique to yourself. This is the thing that will give you longevity in this cut throat industry as we all know far too well, there's only so long you can get away with playing classics to house-heads that are still reminiscing about 'the good old days' in the queue for their pension. YOU NEED TO MOVE WITH THE TIMES!
There are so many 'add-ons' that you can use these days, but Im going to mention a few that stick out to me. Yes, with most of them, it does depend on if you're Traktor or Serato (or Rekordbox DJ, but we'll put them in the same category in a few months maybe... if they continue to kick ass), but apart from STEMS they pretty much do the same.
Now whilst I mention STEMS, its only fair that I start with that. STEMS in basic terms is "an open, multi-channel audio file that contains a track split into four musical elements – bass, drums, vocals, and melody -With each element available independently". Meaning, whereas loosely you could do this by killing the bass, mid and treble on a mixer, you now have full control over the layers of a track using the STEMS format.
For example, if you think a bass from track A would work better with track B, you literally can switch it over, meaning you could do the same with a vocal etc etc. Native Instruments have well and truly hit the ball out of the park with this one and many record labels and download sites fully getting on board with this and releasing many tracks new and old in this format, meaning us minions can have a play too. Like the sound of it? Well what do you need? Well the controllers that you can use this with are the S8, S5, S4 and D2 - all obviously from Native Instruments, using Traktor. The unit that sticks out for me has to be the D2, mainly as it wouldnt look out of place in the DJ booth and it'd accompany any Pioneer set-up - something that you are likely to see in the venue when you play out. The D2 is literally a section of an S8 that works as a stand alone unit with no physical mixer built in, meaning that its very popular with jocks that love to still use the club mixer that they have been used to playing on in venues over the years. You dont need 2 of these, as you can mix STEMS using shift buttons to go from deck to deck, but trust me, you want to enjoy your set and not having to worry if you have the right deck turned on for the D2 and spend the set worrying if youre going to stop the wrong track... JUST BUY TWO, you'll enjoy them so much more!
If youre not quite ready for STEMS or you thing that you wouldnt use them to their full capability, you still have Traktors F1, X1 and Z1 all are great in their own right but work amazing with each other too. As I write this, Im thinking "why arent I talking about the S8?" and i guess the main reason is that I want this to be about add-ons and an S8 is like a fully fledged all in one unit that does the lot, like a Yoda in the Native world bit its biiiig, this blog is about something that you can have as an extra.
All of these used at once can really take your sets to places that you never thought existed, but be mindful of 'over-kill' and it might be worth starting with the X1 and then adding one or both of the others - learn each one to the best of your ability, rather than knowing the basics of all 3.
Okay, so we've touched on Native Instruments, so now lets look at the other DVS systems out there and what great bits of kit you can buy to enhance your ability to use them.
The Reloop Neon is one of the new kids on the block and it reminded me of one half of the very popular DDJ-SP1 from Pioneer. The Neon can be smart linked to another, to make full control over numerous decks even easier. The unit has 8 low latency, velocity sensitive RGB drum pads which are perfect for activating samples, cues, loops and effects. With this unit, you can control 4 decks at a time, so it needed to have a visual to stop you from getting lost with it and here is where the brightly coloured pads really stick out from the rest, your booth will be lit up like Blackpool Illuminations - It also helps that the colour mimic those that are on Serato Dj.
The Neon had to try and compete with the Novation Dicer here and the previously mention SP-1, so they had to make sure this was affordable too, so at around £75 it certainly does that... Ignore this unit at your own loss!
Now when i think of the original add on to a serato DVS, I automatically think of the Novation Dicers (they can also be used for Traktor). This is probably due to their subtlety and ease of use, yes they dont give you amazing control over effects etc but for the basics, theyre perfect. Many times when djs use these, you may not even realise that theyre being used as they fit onto the corner of your laptop or deck, so they arent in your face and punters often think you are tapping away at the cue button on the cdjs.
Now something that looks and is quite a bit different is the Pioneer DDJ-SP1. This is basically a DDJ-SX2 without the mixer and jog wheels, obviously making it smaller too. The functions that this has, combined with the perfect layout and familiar DDJ design, makes this a winner for sure!
The price of this is literally double that of the previous two that ive mentioned BUT the build quality is immense and it'll easily withstand the joys of being carried around in your bag or the dangers of a DJ booth. The beauty of this though is certainly the ease of use, the buttons are where you need them to be and theres no messing around with jumping through layers, everything is there right in front of you - And its Pioneer.
The final one that I'll mention now, is one that I think slipped by some people and just found its way onto the shelf without any fuss - Im not really sure why though? Its the Akai AFX At first glance, it looks very 'Native' but with an Akai twist. They have incorporated a similar design, trying to add as many features without being too messy and confusing to use - and theyve succeeded. A great benefit of this is the touch sensitive knobs that lend the technology from their cousins at Numark, as its the same as the ones that they use on the NV and NS7. At your immediate helm, you have 70 functions at your fingertips and all for under £100... and for something with 4 deck control and a touch strip, thats pretty decent.
I have to say also, the video below, is class ;)