I have been a career DJ for over a decade. With an additional ten years of hobby-driven interest under my belt, it is with minimal humility and utmost confidence, that I claim paid dues as a disc jockey. While I started on two turntables (like any other recognized dance commander), I have since evolved from samplers, to CD-Js, and eventually, a laptop. Having debated the proceeding statement for roughly half my career, I can safely say the following without an ounce of regret: fuck vinyl.
Okay, before I go any further into calling Crips "blood" or walking naked backwards into a prison sex factory, let me clarify a few things. First off, I love vinyl records and will always have a soft spot for the way they feel on a nice pair of Techniques. Second, if you are a DJ proficient in the art of scratching, beat juggling or generally just good at spinning 12" records, I have nothing but respect for you and will defend your abilities to the next generation—all day, any day. Finally, if you are a laptop DJ who has never touched a pair of actual turntables (or at least a pair of CD-Js), you have no right to call yourself a disc jockey. With the above being stated, let me reiterate myself for the record (one more terrible pun and the next one is free), there is absolutely no reason to be lugging around crates of cardboard and wax in 2013.
By modern standards of the term, I am pretty much a Luddite. I purchase last-generation video game consoles, refuse to pay for coffee using a cellphone app and, like you, enjoy the glossy pages of actual porn magazines. To say that I am pro-laptop-DJ would be to say that I am pro-abortion, falsely mistaking a back-up plan for a preference. Sure, I may throw down four hundred and eighty bucks every few months, but only because my career requires it. Yet, continuing with the analogy, claiming rank as a vinyl-only DJ, is like lugging around a box full of coat hangers and calling it your Plan B. In doing so, you’re basically shunning modern advances in technology, be cause you’re hung up (there’s that free one) on the technology of yesteryear.
Here are a few of the most common anti-laptop-DJ arguments you will hear and why they are bullshit:
Distilling things to an essence that any non-DJ can understand, the art of mixing songs is done using pitch/tempo controls, which essentially control the speed/timing of a song. Matching two or more songs together in such a fashion, is what allows DJs to blend seamlessly between tracks. The art of placing elements of two or more songs over each other, simultaneously, is what creates mash-ups and remixes. DJ software has the ability to let DJs know exactly what tempo or pitch songs are, whereas vinyl-only DJs have to judge this by ear. Sure, most of them/us have notebooks upon notebooks of BPM (beatper-minute) listings for their/our most commonly-played songs, but it’s still a tougher (and more technically proficient) display of talent to match beats using vinyl alone. However, estimating a BPM is about all a good DJ software program can do without a talented operator behind the tables.
It is not only possible to completely trainwreck a DJ set using the synchand-play method, but for experienced veteran DJs, software enables us to do things that are otherwise impossible (without live samplers and piles of equipment). Breaks and drops in highenergy tracks are able to be predicted keys are able to be adjusted without changing tempo/BPM, technical babble yadda yadda DJ jargon. Basically, an experienced DJ is to DJ software, what an experienced marksman is to a fully-automatic rifle. On the exact same fucking line of logic, an inexperienced DJ is to software what a fresh-outtaBeaverton wankster is to a fully-automatic rifle. For "real" DJs who transition to laptops, synch features are cherries to the otherwise identical sundae we’ve been serving up for years. The fact that I know exactly which part of Ministry’s "Thieves" fits with the second verse of the Fresh Prince of Bel Aire theme song, has absolutely nothing to do with a synch button (nor is it possible to loop the tracks properly using vinyl alone).
This is a way of saying, "I have never studied audio in a professional context." Put simply, the technology of Ye Olden Times, didn’t allow for accurate representation of high-frequency sounds, but wax is a great medium for middle-frequencies and low-ends, so people got used to just using weed to make their records sound less like garbage. If you aren’t an audio geek, think White Stripes in terms of what "lofi" and "warm" refer to. Compact discs solved this problem and because hippies suddenly realized how fucking horrible Neil Young sounded when unmuffled—everyone threw a fit and techno was invented. Flash forward to modern times and the opposite problem exists, that being, shit-quality MP3s (which result from compression, reformatting or, as non-audio-geeks would recognize, iPod syndrome). When ripped at maximum quality, from CD to MP3 format, any store-bought disc will run circles (new punch-card, please) around vinyl in terms of sound quality. Any good DJ will know how to use those knobby-looking things with dials on them to "EQ" sound—an act known as "doing our fucking jobs." Leading me to the most common bullshit pro-vinyl argument you will hear...
Name your favorite, non-electronic, non-contemporary-urban genre (rock, country, soul, jazz, etc.). Now, try nam ing two of the most successful DJs in that genre. The reason you can’t, is because any name-brand DJ (Oakenfold, Swamp, Tanner, etc.), does not cater to "crowds" per say, but rather, they have fanbases, built upon their ability to use DJ-like talents to create unique sounds. These sounds are a direct representation of original musical products in the electronic and hip hop genres and the DJs who create them should be treated like bands and artists, not crowd-whores or club-fillers. People pay good money to watch legends like DJ Swamp juggle records on fire while blindfolded, or local talent like DJ Wicked and Rev. Shines scratch during headlining gigs. In these cases, you have what I refer to as "artists."
The mainstream nightclub or bar seeking to fill their dance floor full of foot-traffic, suburbanites and college kids on a Saturday night, however, is not looking for a superstar act, any more than they are looking for a superstar band. Bars hire cover bands, host karaoke nights or feature nightclub/ party DJs because drunken mobs of Chads and Tiffanys demand familiarity, not art. Kids want to hear on the dance floor, what they hear on the radio (or in the case of strip clubs, whatever band sounds like cocaine would sound like, if cocaine made a sound other than that of a hipster complaining about laptop DJs). It is essential that nightclub DJs have talent, and juggling around between "Pro Nails" and "Pony" is always a fun way to mindfuck a packed dance floor, but the girl drinking cherry vodka is gonna stop taking selfies and throw a fit if Kanye West isn’t put into regular rotation or if the throbbing bass doesn’t last long enough for the molly to kick in.
For example, watching Mixmaster Mike perform live a few years ago was insane. The dude blew my mind with his attention-deficit ultra-mixes of rare and classic hip hop, while manipulating vinyl at the same time like he was making a gimp outfit. The party sluts in attendance, on the other hand, filtered out one by one, as the crowd thinned down to a few dozen of us hip hop fans and DJs. Why? It wasn’t (as advertised) a "dance party," but rather, a show. You don’t go to a Snoop Dogg concert and yell "Freebird" (well, I do, but still...), and you don’t see a "superstar" DJ perform and expect to hear LMFAO nine times.
In addition to the tried and false arguments outlined above, anti-laptop DJs have a string of other otherwise useless "logic" that falls somewhere into one of the following lines of thought:
Talking with the head honchos of Dirty Nightclub (one of the spots responsible for the shut-down-street-section of Portland’s "entertainment district," down by Spyce and Dante’s), I was told "DJs at Dirty use CD-Js, external mixers, samplers, laptops, vinyl and basically anything that works for them. We are mostly concerned with format and how DJs end up sounding, plus their ability to keep a crowd." There you have it, vinyl is cool, but so are CDs, software controllers or anything else that helps the club keep a crowd of happy patrons dancing.
For less than the cost of that signed Wu-Tang 12", you can purchase something called Serato that lets you turn two regular-ass turntables into controllers for your entire MP3 collection. Scratch any record and the MP3 of your choice will scratch with it. Fuck up by losing your groove, the record fucks up with you. The only difference between Serato and two turntables, if operated by a "real" DJ, is the ability to look at a tip-holding customer and say "actually, I can’t take your request because I either don’t have it, have several excuses why it skips or can’t find it in the pile of old technology I lugged along in the milk crates."
You’ve obviously never seen Skrillex press the play button on his iPad.
Atmosphere, Cypress Hill, Jaz-Z, Snoop Dogg, Wu-Tang Clan, Living Legends and Cage are all cred-soaked acts. Every single one has used a laptop-armed DJ while touring.
Yup. For a couple hundred bucks a night.