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The great DJ debate

Purists and technophiles weigh in on vinyl, CDs and laptops

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DJ Z-Trip Live
Photo: H. Grout

Turntables? CDJs? Laptops? Ask any DJ his or her opinion on technology within the industry and be prepared for responses almost as heated and passionate as if they were debating politics or religion.

Veteran DJ Judge Jules understands that vinyl is dying and many new dance tracks aren’t released on records. “Any DJ that refused to play anything other than vinyl would be cutting off their nose to spite their face,” he says. Jules currently spins CDs during his sets, though he admits “they’re tedious to burn and less user-friendly from an organization perspective than Serato” (software that allows DJs to mix and scratch with their computers), and he has yet to make the transition to a computer-based program.

“I have thousands and thousands of [records] collecting dust,” admits local favorite Faarsheed. “There used to be a time when vinyl sounded best—and it definitely still has that great analog sound—but CD quality is so good these days, and it’s so much of a hassle to lug around heavy crates of vinyl, that it really doesn’t make sense to use vinyl anymore.” Faarsheed primarily sticks to spinning via CDJs (CD turntables like the Pioneer CDJ-1000MK2). “I know the laptop would probably be even more convenient,” he says, “but I don’t like staring at a computer screen while I’m playing the whole time.” DJ Scott Stubbs agrees: “I feel I can better play to the crowd without my head buried in a computer.” Stubbs currently spins CDs and some vinyl when touring.

The UK’s DJ Paul Mendez weighs in on the debate and believes CDs were a natural step from vinyl, an evolution. “I appreciate the need for such advances, but at the same time we cannot take away from the live performance of a talented DJ,” he says. “Serato, if used correctly, is a very nice tool as well, and can add to a live performance and give the DJ access to thousands of tracks.” Yet, Mendez worries about the effect software will have on club culture. “I believe an experienced DJ is the most important part of a nightclub and should not be replaced by an amateur who can use a software program, or even worse, a PC that does it with no need for a human DJ.”

The convenience of CDs and laptops is understandable for a touring DJ, but even industry heavyweights are reluctant to say goodbye to vinyl and will occasionally bust out their records. “I’ve been on Serato for about a year and a half or so,” says Z-Trip. “I’ve gotta say that I was really hesitant to even go that route, ’cause I was so, so happy and comfortable with Technics [record turntables].” But adding computers to his setup has given Z-Trip more freedom and saves a nice chunk of change. However, he laments the decline of “cool, groovy record stores.”

Lee Burridge is also saddened by the loss of the record store, as he still prefers to spin vinyl. On the contrary, Donald Glaude sticks with Serato and Ableton when on tour, with a Roland drum pad thrown in for something extra, while Tall Paul likes his three CDJs.

DJ and rock musician Morpheus Blak is all about bringing his laptop wherever he goes. “I don’t buy into the whole hip factor of using vinyl at all,” says Blak. “A good DJ has little to do with the medium he or she chooses to use. It is about having good taste in music and being able to ‘read’ the vibe in any given room to turn the party on.”

Perhaps it depends, as Vegas’ DJ Joey Mazzola points out, on the genre of music being spun. “If I was a DJ who played all types of music, maybe I too would make the switch to Serato allowing me to carry so much more music at any given time.” Mazzola, who spins via CDJs, adds, “Serato simply allows a hip-hop/mash-up DJ to move quicker through tracks, which isn’t necessary with house music.”

DJ Aero, who learned to spin on vinyl, now makes use of software when appearing alongside Tommy Lee. Nevertheless, he feels the downside of using programs is “the influx of DJs who do not know how to mix. They just know how to read a BPM counter and know how to match it in their software.”

All in all, it looks like the industry will have to agree to disagree on the technology question, though Judge Jules does make one final valid point: “I’m still a little uncomfortable when I see a DJ staring into a laptop screen—they look like they’re answering their e-mails."

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