Although it seems like we have become more and more dependent on technology since the industrial revolution, this relationship goes back to the palaeolithic period and the invention of the clovis point some 2.5 million years ago. Our ability to think of ideas and solve problems by applying these ideas in the physical sense to better our lives and be one step ahead, has created a world, where in our day and age, it is impossible to survive without it. Since the discovery of electricity, we have managed to peer into the heavens and make sense of our place in the universe and at the same time discover the minuscule and invisible world of quantum mechanics.
But when it comes down to technology’s relationship with art, better technology doesn’t necessarily mean better art. Picture this scenario: you give two painters (Tom & Jerry) a blank canvas, some paint and brushes and you say “see what you can come up with, I am going down the pub and will see you in 6 hours!”. You give to Tom a single brush and a single colour to work with and, for Jerry, you pull out all the stops: several colours to work with, digital drawing pens, airbrushes etc. Isn’t it as possible to see a work of art from Tom as much as it is from Jerry? Just because Jerry has a technological advantage over Tom, this factor doesn’t determine that he will come up with something better!!
And to go one step further, I’ll say that the human mind thrives when restricted with fewer choices and an incident with Mozart, at St Paul’s Cathedral in Rome in 1770, manifests this perfectly: The 14 year old Mozart was attending mass on holy Wednesday at the Sistine chapel and was taken back from a psalm called Miserere mei, Deus. The problem was that this specific piece wasn’t allowed to be written down or copied so, as the young protégée was mystified by the choir’s performance, he wrote it down completely from memory, went back on Friday to do minor adjustments and took it with him to Vienna (does this makes Mozart the first bootlegger of popular music?!?!). When the Pope heard his version, instead of ex-communicating him from the church (this was the punishment for copying the psalm), he invited him to Rome to praise him!!
This is what it took to be a famous musician/composer/producer back in the 18th century, an absolute genius!!! Having only his memory cells and pen and paper he managed to do something that no pop star of today can come anywhere near to. His compositions will resonate for centuries to come and all he used was his pen and paper!! If you compare that with the quality of music that comes from todays pop stars (with all the paraphernalia attached to them such as videos, marketing, fire eaters, fart ignitors etc), you can say safely that Justin Bieber won’t be remembered after he has had his first shave!!!
All I am trying to say, I guess, is that technology doesn’t necessarily make you a better performer or artist, although this is what marketing campaigns are preaching at us for the last 10 or so years, when it comes down to the performance platform DJs should use.
Phrases such as “this will change the way you play forever” or “this is a revolutionary product” have created this new and anticipated technological euphoria (Acute Technological Newphoria),with too much emphasis on new and improved features with sneak previews, special magazine write ups and celebrity DJ’s swearing by this update and so on. This focus for the next version or the next update or even the next new platform is, in my opinion, a distraction from the actual principles of quality DJ-ing that coincidently (and after all the technological marvels) haven’t changed since the days when vinyl was the only medium!!!
For all the announcements and all the fanfare that went with the new platforms that have emerged in the last decade or so, the fundamental needs for a good night out for the experienced and discerning clubber are still quality of sound and a good music selection, mixed skilfully by a DJ
The new-age notion of “adapt or die” has affected our scene greatly in the past when CDs replaced vinyl as the obvious choice. And this didn’t happen because we found technology that sounded better, it was just a matter of convenience as we could carry more music in lighter cases and records won’t be stolen by baggage handlers. This was replaced by even lighter cases full of laptops and MP3’s. MP3’s were designed to compress the actual recorded sound (thus lowering the quality of the original recording) so it can be downloaded easily by the masses over the internet when internet speeds were a big issue. They were never designed to be the choice of professionals in a scene where absolute quality is the target, so again, it was just convenience!! The next step was the syncing of your mixes, first from laptops and recently from CD players. What (again) is the purpose of sync? It is done conveniently by the computer so you are free to manipulate your music (although adding delay and reverb is the most lame thing you can do to a stereo mix, but most popular these days). I have seen from up close 100’s of djs using sync but I never felt that the time saved by using your brain for beat mixing was used to do something groundbreaking or revolutionary!!!! So, in a scene where sound quality is a priority and is what makes a difference between a good or a bad night out, we have replaced quality with a poorer version mainly for convenience………
I lived, first hand, through the abandonment of vinyl in London 10 years ago and it was not pretty. A whole ecosystem of record shops, distribution companies, clubs and promotional teams just collapsed and disappeared. At the time,there was definitely a stale and tired attitude in the London scene that was coming out from the burned out era of Disco House and instead of going back to the drawing board when the samples of old disco records were used to death,we thought that turning our backs on vinyl and “advancing” technologically to CD’s was the thing to do……Armageddon followed shortly after that, 80% of the people I knew were active in the scene back then, left the industry all together as the system that supported them and was centred to the production, distribution and use of vinyl just collapsed. And this happened not out of a technology being surpassed by better quality one but because of convenience and thinking that technology will save the day!!!!
Of course the scene survived the storm and distribution companies emerged again, (mainly in Germany were there was a better stronghold for vinyl use) with better quality controls and lots and lots of good music. I am really happy to see a significant part of the younger generation being interested in vinyl, not because of sentimental reasons but because they have to know and experience the medium with the highest quality and most suitable to quality clubbing, in order to understand their trade and keep the tradition alive!!!
A basement, a red light and a feeling, is not just a compilation name from Kerri Chandler’s Mad House imprint back in 1992 but wise words that convey that the focus for a great DJ should only be the music and the widening of it’s boundaries through intelligence,hard work and artistic integrity. This path doesn’t necessarily pass through the latest technological platform or the easy way out. Use technology and don’t let technology use you, i believe that this is the path that we all need to realise in order to stay true to the values of musical evolution and to push the boundaries of creativity. There is absolutely no need to jump on the high velocity train of technological evolution in order to became better DJ’s, producers and promoters. The illusion that technology will make you a better DJ, producer or promoter is a path which will distract you from what you really need to do and that is to become a creator of something meaningful with the simplest tools possible. Now,this is a challenge we should be looking forward to!!!
Article by Stathis Lazarides