- “DJs are the supermodels of the 1990s”—Stephen Allkins, God is a DJ
- “Everybody’s a frickin’ DJ”—me
Some bits of music I’ve composed or mixed, in chronological order:
All these albums are under 80 minutes, which conveniently happens to be the length that will fit on to a CD. While they were primarily done for my own enjoyment, I’m putting them online in the hope that others can broaden their musical horizons and explore the fantastic music made by some of these artists. If you buy a single album because of the music that you’ve heard from here, I’ll be happy. Please, do the right thing: support the artists!
What’s the story behind this?
I started experimenting with digital DJing in about 1999 when it was still a reasonably young field. Unfortunately, the software at the time sought to replicate two decks on a computer, which was (and still is) a poor interface to use with a keyboard and mouse. These days, while the user interfaces on digital DJ software is much better, I still don’t think it’s heading in quite the right direction; but I’ll leave that story for another time…
Thankfully, I did find a program I could use to DJ that didn’t market itself as a DJ program at all: Vegas, a professional multitrack video editor from Sonic Foundry (which has now been borg’ed into being part of Sony’s Media division). The main features of Vegas that differentiated it from other editors were, first, its ability to have unlimited tracks (think one track per song) and, second, very fine audio pitch adjustment (think changing the sample frequency by a few hertz) with or without timestretching. Combine both of these features, and suddenly a multitrack mixing tool becomes an incredibly powerful, mix-ahead-capable DJ program. (For those turned off by the cost of Vegas, consider that it’s probably cheaper than a single SL1200, let alone two of them!)
Most of the songs were sampled off CDs which I own, and mixed entirely as 44100Hz 16-bit WAVs. If you want professional results when DJing, stay as far away from MP3s you can get; they sound fine when you’re playing them at the original pitch, but speed them up or slow them down and their lossy nature will start to show anomalies.
I used Vegas to produce the mix for my 21st set in 1999 (which was a damn good night indeed), and have continued to use it since then to produce the other mixes you see here.
The Future of Digital Mixing
Note: The following is something that I wrote in 1999 when I was young fool (as opposed to now, where I’m simply an old fool), and I’m keeping it around for posterity. Still, I think much of it is still true…
I strongly believe any DJs who have never touched a PC to do mixing before should do themselves a giant favour and try it. Unfortunately, the large number of turntable-simulation software out there mostly all suck. Okay, maybe it’s good for the traditional DJ who’s used to mixing as they always have, but my stance on this has always been this: computers are much more capable than turntables. Try using a multitrack editor, which allows for complete editing and mixing control, and you will not only be able to mix more accurately, but you will also have a completely different way of doing things. I think that with a bit of effort, it would be easy to produce a program which allows you do mix ahead, so that you can be mixing your 10th song while the loudspeakers are playing the 4th song.
The possibilities for DJing that this opens up is staggering. Mixing will become so easy to do for an average-skill DJ that taste and selection will become even more important in differentiating DJs, which is INNSHO a bloody good thing. With the ability to splice tracks, cut bits out of songs, and extend other regions in a song, DJs can become more responsive to a crowd, and modify a song to suit the mix, rather than the other way around. You can cut out that long ambient no-beats bit in a tune if you don’t want it there, with no pressure because you’re mixing ahead. Much like DJ Shadow, who formed new songs by combining old ones, it would not only be possible to remix songs, it would be possible to do this in the middle of a mix, and to do it easily.
Will the dance scene completely embrace this approach and produce remix parts for songs, so that DJs can seriously take beats from one tune, a vocal lead from another, and an instrumental lead from another? I really hope that we won’t be stuck in the ancient age and stay with vinyl, where you can’t do all this.
Addendum in 2006: Richie Hawtin (also known as Plastikman, F.U.S.E. and many other names) has written an article that directly advocates this approach. It’s great to see that the ideas I had over seven years ago are now getting pushed by the leading artists in the mainstream electronic scene!
If you’re dubious about all this, take a simple look at my 21st mix (and keep in mind it was done in 1999!). Many of the songs there had bits of them cut out because they would have been too long; you want lots of varying, short tracks in a 21st set to keep everyone happy. Snap’s Rhythm is a Dancer had vicious cuts in it everywhere to make it shorter, and Sunscreem’s Catch is missing the entire vocal bridge which normally happens at the 2m05s mark. They both mold to the mix perfectly.
- Sunscreem: Early 90s dance that still holds up well today: one of the few dance artists that was capable of both annihilating rhythm and decent musicality.
- Faithless: An absolutely amazing band in their prime. It’s a serious shame that Jamie Cato left the band: pretty much all their brilliant classical touches are have been gone since his departure. (He separated from Faithless after Sunday 8pm, their second album.)
- Yoko Kanno: A true prodigy amongst a sea of excellent artists. I assert that she has to be one of the best artists of the 20th and 21st century: Her work on the Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell soundtracks is just spectacular.
- Propellerheads: These guys just have to do a second album. Please?
- Sarah McLachlan: She’s churned out a lot of average songs, but there’s some real gold in there as well (both Mirrorball and Afterglow are excellent albums). And her voice, oh, her lovely, lovely voice…
- Way Out West: Intensify has to be one of the best dance albums ever (although Jesus their third album sucked so bad!)
- U.N.K.L.E.: How can you go wrong with DJ Shadow and James Lavelle? Lonely Soul’s classical midsection still sends shivers up the spine.
- Dido: One of the best pop artists around, largely thanks to her brother’s influence. (Her brother being Rollo, who’s the main rhythmic influence for Faithless.)
- … and many, many more…