As many regular readers of DV Magazine will know, especially our DJ friends, DV recently held its Digital DJ Expo in East London. During that well attended and quite buzzing day, I had the pleasure of presenting a one hour seminar that took attendees on a journey through a twenty year period, which looked at the technology available to the DJ during this time, the emerging studio production gear that became accessible and a side-step look at what musical genres were developing in club culture. Gavin James, head of DV’s DJ department recommended after the seminar that I perhaps break down that presentation into a small, series of articles for DV Mag – so let’s kick off with part one.
The journey begins from my perspective (and a reference point for most of the seminar) circa ’79/’80. My trip to a Leeds nightclub introduced me to US DJ’s, mixing one record into another in a continuous programme – along with an incredible sound system (based on the legendary Paradise Garage one) and a sympathetic and complex neon, strobe/light show. The beautiful people in attendance rocked sideways to the last (dying) breaths of underground disco. The DJ’s at the time were using a pair of Technics SL-1500’s, a direct-drive turntable, quartz locked and featuring a plus or minus tap switch to change the tempo of the vinyl playing.
Shortly prior to the above model I believe, the Technics SL1200 had appeared in its Mark 1 guise (image below). A somewhat inelegant forerunner to the ubiquitous MkII version, this model had clumpy feet and a 33 and 45 adjustment toggle dial to achieve the same tempo adjustment. The ultimate MkII design that was to last over a quarter of a century was soon to come of course.
One of the most popular DJ mixers around at this time came in the form of the GLI PMX9000 (image below). This unit was quite advanced with regards to features, with 3 inputs, preset level references, 5-band global EQ and probably the best crossfader in the world at the time). Other major players were models like the cross fader free, rotary mixing concept, ‘Urei 1620’ (still used to this day in super clubs like the MoS) and the pioneering British company, Formula Sound were trail-blazing new DJ mixing tech too.
Club systems were dominated by a couple of major players during the early 1980s – Richard Long Associates (responsible for Levan’s ‘Garage’ system) and the UK’s Court Acoustic’s , famous for ‘flown’ tweeters above the club’s dancefloor, huge bass bins plus DJ booth mounted 30+ band equalizers and a flexible crossover unit that savvy DJ’s would use to great effect, emphasizing peak moments in energy fueled tracks. The late 70s Disco genre was soon to make way to an all together more diverse musical and clubbing experience. In the UK, said Disco crowd turned their attention to the emerging Brit-Jazz/Funk and Soul groove. ‘Blues and Soul’ was the most read clubbing and DJ magazine and various UK labels appeared showcasing this talent. Of course, U.S. and other global artists were already on the case and a whole ‘Soul’ generation was evolving on the world’s dance floors.
The UK did a heck of a lot more though to lead the way musically for the night people of the time (so we’re looking now at ’81~’84). 80s Electronica (or Electro-Pop) birthed itself from the ashes of punk (and disco) and the ‘Alternative’ scene brought indie bands to pop stardom and dancefloor highlight as the Cure, The Smiths and New Order et al took centre stage. Of course the nation’s night-clubber’s we’re still force fed the early 80s pop too, but the more discerning and cool crowds knew which floors to hit and radio stations to ‘not’ listen too. Over in the States again, another form of electronic music hit the streets with Rap/Electro and ‘Breakdance’ offering urban vocalising over synthetic synth sounds and drum machine beats. The most ground breaking of tracks in this latter genre, and at this period would have been Afrika Bambaatta’s ‘Planet Rock’ and Herbie Hancock’s, ‘Rock-It’ I’d stick my neck out to say.
So, what of the technology that started to make the DJs of the time think forward to how they could progress their DJ/mixing and music production skills plus get [performance wise]more creative and diverse, perhaps even to be considered an ‘artist’ themselves. We’ll look at the next stage of DJ/Tech development, and the associated music in Part Two of this series, soon here at DV Magazine.