Dave Clarke On Digital DJing

The Baron Of Techno gets digital!

It's been eons since the DJ’s weapons of choice were two turntables and a mixer. Today, he is more likely to have an entire set stashed on a mobile phone, ready to play wirelessly using a funky controller and swish new app, than to be lugging a crate of white labels. Indeed, there are now so many ways to deploy the skills once referred to as ripping up the wax that it can feel more daunting to stand at the helm of a nuclear submarine than a DJ booth. Well, almost.

For bedroom beat-junkies eager to get the party started, the solution is to go back to basics advises Dave Clarke, the DJ dubbed ‘the Baron of techno’ by John Peel. Clarke has been at the vanguard of digital DJing and was among the first to play whole gigs with files stored on a laptop. Even so, he still mixes between tracks manually, eschewing controllers that can automatically synch tunes together. “The point of a live DJ set is that it is happening there and then. It should feel on the edge and if there’s no risk then what’s the point?” Others argue that by employing kit to handle the technical skill of beat matching, the DJ can be more creative. After all, who cares if a chef chops food by hand or not – it’s the results that matter. This new art of controllerism, as opposed to turntablism, is contentious. “No  DJ should have heritage thrust upon  them and be strangled by it,” concedes Clarke, who admits that for people who may never have even been to a record shop it’s an anachronism to feel constrained by the premise of mixing from one song to another using, predominantly, two channels of audio.

He admits that some disciples of controllerism are amazing live but thinks most are boring to watch. “If you have infinite choices and musical possibilities, then why do so many of these people play the same set lists at each gig?” asks Clarke. The Baron contends that too many DJs are seduced by what the technology can do and indulge their inner geek by building up layers of minimalist sounds at  gigs because the kit enables them to  do so. “I’m comfortable working with  ninety-six channels of audio in a studio, but the art of a DJ is to choose interesting music to play.” Select strong tracks that a crowd will react to and which the DJ can mash up by “working the mixer”, he says, rather than showcasing music production skills in a club.

So what advice would Clarke give new DJs? “Treat your tools with respect,” he says earnestly. This means keeping minimal software on the laptop you DJ with – no games. “I put gaffer tape over sockets that I don’t need to access and I use a solidstate drive, not a traditional magnetic one, as they don’t react well to loud bass.”

Anyone looking to play house parties or bars will enjoy the new all-in-one DJ controllers but Clarke thinks that any DJ aiming to rock proper  clubs should have kit that can travel lightly and be set up quickly. For him, this means a Rane SL3 adaptor that enables his laptop to instantly connect to the in-house equipment at most venues. (See GET THE KIT! below). Technology aside, the Baron adds that the big challenge for any new DJ is the right attitude. “There’s too much fear and not enough conviction. Don’t be led by the PR people or management. This is the road to the middle ground,” he warns.  


There are many iOS DJ apps. What sets DJay apart is that it already works with various external controllers, which avoid having to prod the iPad screen. The app offers an iPhone version too.
£13.99, AlgoRiddim.com

Serato Scratch is the choice of many club DJs who want to finagle with audio files on a laptop by using traditional decks (CD or vinyl) as these are more robust to work with than the jog-wheels of most new controllers.
Free, Serato.com

Traktor is less tightly wedded to specific hardware than Serato, providing more options for the way you can control it. More complex for newbies than the Serato equivalent.
£65, Native-instruments.com

To make Serato software work you need a DJ controller designed to work in tandem with it or a Rane interface box that enables a laptop to be connected to four conventional decks and mixer.
£699, Rane.com

This compact controller is an elegant all-in-one DJ solution. Plug in a laptop running Serato DJ Intro, the basic variant, and you are ready to rock the house.
£269, Dm-pro.eu
The XDJ Aero enables a DJ to create a wireless connection between the device and any phone or laptop that runs Pioneer’s RekordBox app. Cool.  
£800, Pioneerdj.com

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