History of DJ/Producer Technology & Musical Genres -1980~2000, Part Two

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Part One of this DV DJ Magazine series of articles, can be found here.
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The Megamix

The concept of the ‘Megamix’ became a hot DJ discussion topic circa ’83. The now famous DJ only organisation, DMC (or Disco Mix Club) as it was known then by its full name, put out monthly mixtapes, but these tapes had exclusive mixes and remixes that no-one at the time was really doing (at least on a regular and such high profile basis). By definition then, a ‘Megamix’ was a selection of one band/artists mega-hits, sequenced into one, digestible mix (running anywhere between 8~12 minutes usually). What freaked most DJ’s out at the time was not only the deftly skilled mix transitions and edit sequences (which took some working out to the uninitiated) but the fact that mostly one verse and a chorus was visited by the producer then in came the next track. The novelty for the DJ’s dancefloor crowd then was to hear all their favourite artists hits in the length of time a normal 12″ single would deliver just ‘one’ hit.

For the DJ/Producers making these first steps (and of course for other innovators and pioneers across the Atlantic -such as Double Dee & Steinski etc), there was a specific workflow process, supported by some expensive gear at the time. Each section of each individual song would be recorded onto an open reel tape machine such as the Revox B77 (above). The recording would go up to and just past the envisaged point the DJ wanted to ‘cut’ to his next tune and the tape stopped. Then, the next section needed (usually a recording of the DJ performing a vinyl cross fade between the two tracks), would also be recorded (and re-recorded if the mix wasn’t 100% right). Rewinding the tape to make a chinagraph (white) pencil mark at the out and in points (achieved by locking the tape to the playback head mechanism and ‘rocking and rolling’ the tape back and forth until the dynamic of the sound indicated the correct mark point). The series of tracks building up and mix points would build up thereafter in a linear fashion until the Megamix was complete. What was to follow would change the DJ, music and studio world forever.

Consider that using today’s technology its very much a case of record, sample, drag and drop with digital files onto a digitally locked timeline – the above method therefore shows the actual origins of this contemporary methodology. This old school tape editing format also gave way to the more dramatic and exciting concept of ‘bullet editing’. I wrote a full article on this 80s phenomenon when DV Magazine was in its ‘Blog’ infancy – you can check that out here – but in a nutshell it involved often hundreds of audio snippets (often drums, synths and vocal bites), patched together in different musical/time steps, to create moments of excitement and aid more dynamic cross-over mixes between tracks. The calculation of what length to cut the tape was made by the crude, but effective method of measuring (in millimetres) the distance the tape travels between one beat and the next, then using simple math to work out the musical time divisions for the effect required.

For those, like me at the time, access to such sophisticated and expensive equipment was not feasible, so a similar method was worked out, believe it or not, using a cassette recorder with a physical and manual pause button. The method of constructing, mixing and sequencing a mix was the same as above, but instead of marking and cutting a piece of tape, the pause button was precisely engaged at the point of where the next mix would start to come in, and released back into record mode as the next section needed. The necessity for ‘getting it right’ therefore was much more amplified to say the least!

80s Sampling

We’re still in the ’83~85 period then, and move onto what hardware technology was used to enhance DJ mixes and those wishing to make first steps into actual studio production (still of course, dancefloor/club based). Digital samplers had of coursed arrived, but primarily were in the form of such machines as the Fairlight, the Synclavier and Emulator III. It was the uber-rich artists and producers at the time who could afford these (price of a small house) luxury machines – Trevor Horn, The Pet Shop Boys, Peter Gabriel and Swiss band, Yello to name a few. Other alternatives at the more affordable end of the market were the [12 bit] Akai S612 sampler (above), the forerunner to the massively popular and ground-breaking S900, and the first steps into computer controlled sampling for the masses with the arrival of the Greengate DS3 system (image below and running on an early Apple MIDI capable Plus II).

My personal entry into this new world of digital sampling was using two identical units of the Korg SDD-1000 digital delay hardware. Each one could sample (wait for it..), one second of a mono signal at half bandwidth, or half a second at full bandwidth (quality) – I think you’ll understand then why I needed two units? To maintain an accurate loop of a sampled drum pattern, it was necessary to hit both units with a trigger of sorts – this came in the form of using the footpedal inputs to send a drum machine trigger in, repeatedly at a certain tempo. For manually single shot triggering, I used a box with a single tap button on, made for me by a friend who was a dab hand in electronics.

MIDI, Music and Other Tech

As for other technology at this time, and becoming increasingly accessible to DJ/Producers, were of course the plethora of analogue and FM synthesizers (being used to add keyboard lines etc to mixes and remixes – for the more adventurous and financially buoyant) and early drum machines, the latter used for adding more ‘kick a*s’ percussion to a DJ’s creative output. MIDI, as a globally accepted communication language between items of studio equipment, had of course been around since about 1982. Invented by Dave Smith (still active with his DSI company and inventor of the monumentally popular, Prophet synth), this synchronisation and control capability would have massive ripples for the DJ wishing to become an artist in his own right (more on MIDI and studio gear later).

Musically, 1985 saw a very significant shift in what would ultimately shape the dancefloor for the forthcoming decades. Once playful and not the least bit controversial, Rap music took a gear shift up as the socio-economic, politically outspoken tongue of America wrapped itself round minimal and hard hitting beats – enter the world of Def Jam for one. 1985 was pretty much when the UK became aware of House music too. The remnants of late 70s Disco had been re-energised, regurgitated and formed into the 4/4 dominant, electronic sound of  Chicago, New York and Detroit etc with tracks such as ‘Jack Your Body’ by Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley and ‘Love Can’t Turn Around’ (Farley Jackmaster Funk) became massive hits on floors and radio. This House sound was quickly copied and pushed out mass market, and UK pop stylee by the likes of Pete Waterman’s PWL (Stock, Aitken and Waterman) team and then both cool and mainstream fraternities were on-board.
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About Author

Paul Dakeyne is a DJ/Producer who has dedicated the past two decades of his life to dance music production and DJ'ing. For six years, he toured globally for the world famous Ministry of Sound and has played DJ sets for the likes of U2 and for the legendary, Kraftwerk, Although remixing around 250 records in his career, as an artist in his own right, Paul landed one of dance music's seminal crossover moments with his "18 Strings' monster hit by Tinman - scoring a UK top ten in 1994. He also co-wrote and produced the music for BBC's Watchdog and Crimewatch when they were both revamped in 2001 and '06 respectively. His other career highlights have included an A&R stint for Mercury Records, lecturing in 'DJ culture and music technology' and creating mash-up mixes for Radio 1's, Chris Moyles. Paul joined the DV group in 2003 leading to his role as blog and feature author here at the DV Mag.

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