I can still remember warehouse parties in the 90s when getting to a big, almost empty venue early in the night not only meant you could secure a decent base camp on the expansive dancefloor, but it also allowed you to see something a little different in the line-up. Oddly enough, it was in the early hours, usually before midnight, that the turntables would often go untouched and the DJs that would perform would be set up in front of the decks or to the side on a separate stage space. Why they were scheduled earlier was not necessarily due to their ability or the crowds response, but more so from a logistical standpoint, as it was easier to move from one act to another later in the night when they were all using the same pair of turntables. When dealing with a complicated array or drum machines, sequencers, synths and other gadgets that all require setup and pack-down time, this didn’t fit into the flow of the night. It seemed that live techno music often got pushed forward in the playlist, often going unheard to almost empty dancefloors. Today, things have changed.
The traditional idea of the DJ is really a thing of the past. It seems that since the introduction of computers to the mixing rig, the DJ almost has no choice but to bring into the mix everything they can with an almost endless amount of sounds and tools available to them. The large table of hardware that was once required for a DJ to perform their own music live is now bundled into the laptop that also has their mixing software and often entire music library. There is really no reason why any DJ who produces their own music shouldn’t introduce it into the mix, be it at the start of the night, in the heat of a crowded dancefloor, or at the very end when only a few brave souls are left kicking their heals about.
This does take away a little bit of the romanticism involved with setting up some hardware and performing live with it. I know there is still plenty of work that goes into performing live with the laptop as the sole engine, but I have come from an era when getting analogue synths and drum machines to sync up was a challenge in itself. I can’t help but feel more enthused when watching a DJ that performs with a number of hardware devices, especially when it removes them from the sequence and requires a real live performance of the score to complete the ensemble.
There was an array of hardware samplers that used to be readily available. The rawness that came from the live capture of a sample and its introduction into the mix always gave every DJs set a feel that was very much ‘in the moment’. This is something that I have found in Teenage Engineering’s OP-1 synthesiser, with its ability to not only receive FM radio, but to capture it in real-time with the sampling feature. Alright, so bear with me on this one, but it isn’t as crazy an idea as it sounds, once you turn it over in your head a few times.
To truly bring an element of the ’now’ to any DJ set, adding the production and sampling capabilities of the OP-1 allows the performer to deliver a set that is totally in the moment, with additional sounds and samples coming from the radio reception at the time. If a DJ is lucky enough to be performing over the turning of the hour, then the news could be found on the radio and some interesting and truly unique sound bites can be brought into the mix with a skilled hand.
This means that every set delivered to an audience with the OP-1 would be unique and completely in the moment. As the world outside of the club moves on, so too would the music. This is just a small portion of the capabilities of this unique music creation tool and one that showcases a hands-on approach to live electronic music creation in a club. This would integrate with the existing mixing software and sound library to deliver a total sound, but the possibilities that the OP-1 bring to the table in advancing a live set with both samples, sequenced beats and synth sounds are endless. I think it is safe to say that just when you think you have a grasp of what is going on in the DJ booth, the game changes yet again and even newer, and greater, technology becomes available. The goalposts are continually shifting, so it will be the few truly creative DJs out there that will make the most of the opportunities that every new gadget allows. It isn’t enough to just play tracks and fade them into each other. Let’s all think ahead and see what comes of it.