We reach the final part of this DV Magazine series today, as the pivotal 1999/2000 years make their mark on DJ/Producer technology.
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Hallowed Be Thy Name
As always with my time working with the Ministry of Sound, a select group of more technically savvy DJs were invited to do Educational tours around the UK’s college’s and universities as the 20th century came to a close. In ’99 I did my first MoS set (sunset, Cafe Mambo, Ibiza) using computer based DJ software, running compressed audio MP3’s, and a then primitive, but workable, hardware interface. It was quite a weird experience for me the DJ and any interested enough punters to watch a DJ work with no decks or physical mixer in sight. The MP3 was promoted to DJ/Producers as a God-send, being that one day in the future, we’d no longer have to lug twenty odd kilo’s of vinyl to each gig. In addition, we’d have the advantage of sending a demo of any production worked on, instantly to fellow DJ/Producers around the globe via the ever faster internet speeds becoming available. The more cynical amongst us began instantly to question however the big compromise in audio quality of this new, Saviour of a format.
In the very late 90s of course, Trance was still king of the world, but DJ and studio wizards such as Timo Maas and Pascal F.E.O.S. introduced the dance music world to the tougher sound of ‘Tech-House’, minimal in [musical and vocal]content, heavy on rhythm, and almost as hypnotic and euphoric as trance. Vinyl of course still held on as the main stay of DJ weapons (with Vestax keeping the faith with its PDX model turntables), but the CD was really coming into its own. The affordability and ubiquity of real-time (and computer based) CD burning opened the flood gates for DJ product manufacturers to create ever more technologically advanced playback units – at the same time they were working on how to capitalise on the new compressed audio/computer based possibilities too. Back in DJ land, that cool as hell trance vibe got twisted harder by such new blood as Tiesto, Joshua Ryan (‘Pistolwhip’), Mauro Picotto (‘Lizard, ‘Iguana’) and even the mighty Oakenfold grabbing the mainstream crown (via Bullet in the Gun’) from the likes of Hollands, Ferry Corsten.
1999/2000 saw a super speed up in computer capabilities, more affordable hard disc space for the masses and the stratospheric rise of new computer music ‘plug-in’ (virtual studio) technology. All of a sudden, more powerful and original synthesizer instruments appeared (with the likes of LinPlug/Rob Papen breaking new ground along the way) and emulations of long gone, analogue classic’s making an appearance in the virtual channel strips of many a producer’s DAW. The world of plug-in effects too got a vitamin boost as the standard delay, reverb and dynamic workhorses had a whole new generation of weird, wild and creatively awesome newcomers add themselves to the party. VST 2.0 technology opened the doors for DJ/Producers to be more expressive and imaginative, with sampler and virtual drum machine tech too getting their juices flowing. Of course, different competing technologies enticed users to a variety of platforms – Apple’s Audio Units (helping to craft the Logic DAW into the powerful beast it is today), Digidesign (now Avid’s) TDM and RTAS, MAS, LV2 DirectX and more, competed for pole position with good ol’ VST. Whatever the choice of tech, studio engineers, musician’s and programmers had never had it so good; and so affordable.
One of the usual Monday afternoon conversations that DJ friends would have, normally started with, “Have you heard that tune..?”. Unfortunately, as the Millennium arrived and the year 2000 advanced further into the years this particular article doesn’t cover, that question became, “Have you heard ‘a’ tune.. any tune..”? House and dance music was changing. Vinyl was becoming more scarce as record pressing plants began to feel the effect of CD usage amongst DJ’s, added to the ever increasing popularity and interest in the MP3 format. The creative juices of the usual dance music innovators was seemingly drying out and, as the previous ten plus years of mass, mainstream UK dance culture had run its natural course, the cash feeding major labels cut the purse strings to their associated trendy dance labels. A&R guys lost their jobs, cash ran out for promised projects and contract periods, and even the all-powerful Ministry of Sound began culling label staff. Hope was not lost of course. Every cultural and technological movement sees one wave subside and a new one soon to replace it. The industry in all its forms needed this flushing out of deadwood in all arenas. What was to follow for DJ’s, electronic music producers and the general public though, was a completely new way of looking at and listening to the sounds they loved to make and dance to – Dedicated MIDI control keyboards became popular, Final Scratch appeared (though die hard vinyl lovers held tight) and controllers, laptop DJ software (Serato/Traktor etc), CDJ and mixer technology advanced significantly too. So 2003 (ish) to 2010 then? – now that’s another story all together.
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