DJing in the digital age - Page 2

Does the future of turntable DJing lie in the balance?

(Fresh Analog Music Experience) christened themselves after their corporeal approach to making soulful, hypnotic music. The funksters of F.A.M.E. — Max Kane, Teeko, and Malaguti — embrace the turntablist and battling tradition of using the wheels of steel as a musical instrument to experiment with melody, rhythm, and editing. "[The turntable] is a huge sound manipulator," Teeko says. "You're putting a record on a turntable and you can touch the sound, transpose it — you have control of the textures of time and space. It's very intimate."

Teeko and Max Kane both use the Vestax Controller One turntable, for which Teeko provided design input. The Controller One is a sleek model with MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) control, memory, and customizable keyboard buttons for moduutf8g textures and harmonies. "It's allowed us to play with the turntable like we always dreamed," says Teeko. F.A.M.E. incorporates the turntable imaginatively, with a full-fledged electronic funk setup of MPC drum machines, synthesizers, effects modulators, and Vocoder. It's the defining element that makes their live performance provocative, as a thick haze of warm boogie grooves is coarsely flipped by the scratching of records. "I couldn't see myself giving up the turntable" says Max Kane. "The turntable has driven us, [it's] our hunger for wanting more. The turntable is what you will look at and say, 'Wow, this is something that I haven't seen or heard before.'"

Video turntablist pioneer Mike Relm also learned the ropes of DJing on the Bay Area battle circuit. He refined his artistry doing extended opening sets for live acts, bringing a skill for party rocking and a flair for pathos to virtuoso scratch DJ techniques. But even that lost its appeal. Relm yearned to study film and direct his own narratives from scratch. Then, in 2004, Pioneer released DVJ turntables, allowing the physical playback and manipulation of DVDs. "All of a sudden, I could combine all the things I loved and make a show out of that," Relm says. "That was always science fiction to us. We would think, 'Man, imagine if you could scratch a VHS tape or something. That would be dope ... but it will never happen.' And now it's even better."

DJs or VJs experimenting with audiovisual performance are a fairly new species in the nightlife arena. Sometimes they're booked only because of their novelty. Many VJs play solely music videos, train-wrecking imagery of Biggie Smalls and Lady Gaga to intoxicated gawkers rendered motionless by the phantasmagoria onslaught. But Relm doesn't create a spectacle so much as a theatrical collage that implicates the audience. His shows make reference to a dense pop landscape peopled with TV shows, film clips, music videos, and random bits of cultural nostalgia that connect the audience. "I like the pace of a concert," explains Relm. "It stops to give the audience time to react, take a break, talk among themselves for a second, tell jokes — so you get a lot of emotions."

In Relm's view, and in the view of every musician in this piece, technology is only as good as the expressive and artistic quality it facilitates. Eric San, a.k.a. the gifted producer and turntablist Kid Koala, frames it most succinctly. His words might as well become an aphorism in the DJ world, if not within any art form struggling to come to terms with its digital mutations. "It's not what machines you're using, but what you're making with those machines." says San. "It's never about letting the machine do the work for you, but rather that you need to master the machine and speak through it." Amen.


With Ozomatli, Ghostland Observatory, and others


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