Three DJs, three questions: taking the temperature at the Winter Music Conference

Cornering an A-list DJ for a quick sit-down during Winter Music Conference used to require the craftiness of a tabloid reporter. But this year, media-focused events like the Music Lounge, organized by BMF Media and sponsored by Sirius Satellite Radio, and Remix Hotel, featuring a Beatport-sponsored DJ stage, made it almost too easy to corral the big names. Here, the No. 1 DJs in the world (Paul Van Dyk), in New York (Victor Calderone) and among the international jet set (David Guetta) give WMC a once-over.

HOW DO YOU USE THE WHC?

Van Dyk: I use a lot of technology onstage, as much as in the studio, so it’s a very interesting convention for me to see what’s new, get contacts and maybe even develop new pieces of gear. Just yesterday I had a meeting with the guys from Ableton, who make the programs that I use. It was really geeky brainstorming, getting really techy, and we came up with an idea of this super-duper machine, a combination of hardware and software.

Guetta: It’s just having a lot of fun with all my friends, meeting people who I work with all the year through the Internet and don’t get to see so much. That makes you come up with ideas you wouldn’t otherwise have. I just saw Armand Van Helden and the guys from Dirty South, and i said, “Oh, I didn’t think of you, maybe you could do a remix of my next single,” and they were like, “Oh, great. We love you.” When you’re in an office, you don’t necessarily think of everyone.

WHAT NEW MUSIC EXCITES YOU?

Van Dyk: I’m a huge fan of Placebo. “Pierrot the Clown” is already one of my favorite songs ever.

Calderone: I’m going back to my roots. The music I’ve been shopping and buying and what’s been inspiring me is techno from everywhere. I see people connecting to it as well. People in New York who were listening to tribal and deep house, everybody’s like, “Techno, techno, techno.” Holy shit, this is a techno conference.

Guetta: It seems to me that everything is going back to house. The minimal techno stuff was very big in Europe. I was really into the electro sound, but I’m backing up a bit now because everybody is playing that, and it’s becoming kind of boring. So I’m trying to mix this vibe with my roots, which are really house music and vocals. Of course, I’m interested in new sounds, but I think you need more than just a kick and a bassline.

WHAT FRUSTRATES YOU ABOUT THE U.S. DANCE MUSIC SCENE?

Van Dyk: It’s very healthy and always growing with amazing music. Those little elements you would criticize don’t even count.

Calderone: The frustrating thing for me is the support, and I don’t mean the fans–they’re there. The support from radio, the music channels. Everybody gets inspired by dance music and everybody takes a little bit from it. Look at Madonna. Yet people don’t want to take the risk to put it out there, support it, play it on the radio, give it its moment.

Guetta: It’s very different because in my country I do prime-time TV shows, I do major advertising campaigns, and when i speak to my colleagues here, they are like, “This would be impossible in the States.” But at the same time, it’s much less difficult than I thought. I started my U.S. tour expecting very little, and the welcome in the clubs was so warm, it was packed everywhere. You don’t have the media representation, but the scene is strong, and the enthusiasm of the people is huge. It reminds me of 15 years ago in Europe.

Ashley Beedle: dancefloor polymath

A DJ, producer, re-mixer, label owner and re-edit king, this Bajan-British dance legend has been a connoisseur of the good groove since his career began in earnest during the 80s. Beedle’s productions reflect his broad-ranging influences and collecting habits, forming a genre-defying patchwork reminiscent of his famously diverse DJ sets, which he continues to perform today. The recent anthology, Message In The Music, comprises an epic and inspiring selection of Beedle‘s reshapes of soul, funk, rare groove and post-punk cuts; an astonishing journey through the wide-ranging appetites of this dance music innovator.

What do you collect, and why?

I collect records from right across the board, whatever catches my ear and eye –titles that are suggested by friends, stuff I hear on radio and things I read about … including in Record Collector, naturally.

How big is your collection?

That’s nobody’s business but my own … but it’s large enough to keep all the ladies satisfied.

What do you think it is worth?

The monetary aspect isn’t really what it’s about for me. These are my war stories and they make up the soundtrack of my life.

How and where do you store it?

They’re stored in a Cold War bunker. without damp problems!

What’s the rarest/most unusual/most valuable item you have?

My most valuable in terms of sentimental value is the Rattlebone & Ploughjack LP on Island from 1976–devised and compiled by Ashley Hutchings of Fairport Convention fame, and signed to my dad with two letters from Hutchings inside the inner sleeve. Dad was a huge fan of Ashley Hutchings/Fairport Convention and it’s one of my most treasured albums.

Any elusive gems that you’re still looking for?

Living Color’s Thank The Lord For Love 7″ on Madhatter … a serious gospel dancer. I know a lady that’s got one, but she ain’t givin’ it up!

What’s given you the biggest thrill?

Having to remix Bob Marley & The Wailers’ Get Up, Stand Up using Damien Marley’s Welcome To Jamrock as the basis for the groove. I have to thank my friend Ross Allen for sorting that one out. I’ve had a couple of great link-ups with the Marley family over the years, but this one was definitely the best. They even put it out on a Tuff Gong 7″ in Jamaica–a huge honour.

How do you track stuff down?

Friends, contacts, dealers and people I’m not going to tell you about. This business is sacred!

What’s your favourite record shop?

In the south, it’s Soul Jazz and Dub Vendor in Soho. In the North, it’s all about Beatin’ Rhythm, Kingbee and Piccadilly Records in Manchester.

How often do you listen to the stuff in your collection?

On a daily basis–it gives me my ideas for upcoming projects, as well as providing the working tools for DJing … It’s also an unadulterated pleasure.

Is the visual side of collecting records important to you?

Yeah, of course! The labels, the inner sleeves, the album covers. Who couldn’t love the look of a Studio One or UK white Island label; or, for that matter, an early Tamla or Motown 7″ with the hand-drawn penny farthing or record player design on the stock bag; or those CBS inner sleeves and legendary Atlantic 7″ covers from the 50s …? The list is just endless.

How will you eventually dispose of your record collection?

I’ll have them all thrown into my grave with me, scattered on top of my coffin like a Viking burial. They’re coming with me, over to the other side … Sorry kids, but that’s your inheritance down the Swanee.

What’s your all-time favourite record, regardless of its value or rarity?

It has to be The 5th Dimension’s Everything’s Been Changed 7″ on Bell, produced by the legendary Bones Howe (he of The Mamas & The Papas fame). But that’s only my favourite record right now, it could change anytime. Ask me again in five years … five hours … or even five minutes.

Creating the market, not following it

In the early ’80s urban music pioneers began artfully scratching, slowing down, and reversing LP records, giving rise to the DJ art form. It was only natural that the turntable would emerge as their primary creative tool: The LP record was still the most widely used format for listening to music, and there was at least one turntable in just about every household. In the ensuing 25 years consumers abandoned their turntables and LP records, first for cassette tapes, then CDs, and now, mp3 files and the immensely popular iPod. Yet the sonic effects achieved by a deft hand manipulating an LP still define the DJ’s craft. Harnessing this advancing digital technology while facilitating analog-based performance techniques has created what Jack O’Donnell describes as a “transitional” period in the DJ market. As CEO of the Numark Group, he enjoys a unique vantage point. Aside from being a leading purveyor of DJ gear, the organization also serves as a corporate umbrella for the Alesis and Akai product lines.

To grasp what O’Donnell means by “transitional,” you only have to take a cursory look at the dramatic expansion of the Numark product line. Fifteen years ago the company effectively served the market with a selection of traditional turntables, phono cartridges, and analog DJ mixers. Today the market requires a much broader product range. Traditional turntables, like the popular TTX model are still very much in evidence in Numark’s product lineup. However, there are also a dizzying number of products that marry traditional turntable feel with various digital storage formats. There’s the new HDX, which combines a removable 80-gigabyte hard-disk and a standard size turntable platter, allowing the DJ to transport thousands of songs to a job and still enjoy traditional turntable performance. The iDJ and the iDJ2 are slick, portable units that turn a standard iPod into a full-featured DJ rig. Debuting at Summer NAMM is the iCDX, a control surface that enables the DJ to scratch, loop, and play songs from any device equipped with a USB port, whether it’s a laptop or a portable disk drive. The HD MIX is a self-contained system combining a hard drive, two jog wheels for scratching, and a mixer, centralizing all DJ controls and music in a single, portable unit. And, then there are over a dozen rack-mounted variants that offer different combinations of scratch capabilities and digital storage formats.

Assessing this varied product selection, spread out in a conference room at Numark’s spacious headquarters in Rhode Island, O’Donnell steers clear of expressing personal preferences and refrains from sweeping predictions about the future of the market. Part of this stance is the by-product of humility acquired in over two decades of product management. “Fifteen years ago I predicted that the phono cartridge would be dead in five years,” he jokes. “It’s still an important part of our business today and I’m a little less willing to make predictions.” More importantly though, his outlook reflects the conviction that DJs, along with the R&D staff at Numark, are still in the process of sorting through the different product configurations and have yet to render a verdict on the optimal format.

The first generation of DJs grew up working with the most common form of playback of the day, the turntable,” he observes. “The newer crop of DJs has grown up in the world of digital music formats and have an entirely different outlook. Our job is to offer products for both groups, as well as those users who occupy a middle ground. That’s why there are so many products in our line. We can’t foresee the next format, so we experiment, listen to our customers with an open mind, and remain flexible.”

While O’Donnell may not be entirely clear about what the ideal DJ rig will look like in five years, he has no doubt about what Numark needs to do to remain successful. In short, it all comes down to a heavy investment in digital technology and R&D. He says that in the “pre-transition” era any distributor could link up with OEM manufacturers in Taiwan, make some modifications on consumer audio products, and come up with a reasonably competitive DJ line. It’s not that easy anymore. Existing consumer audio products no longer lend themselves to DJ applications. (Ever try scratching or reversing a tune on an iPod?) This forces companies like Numark to develop a much higher level of engineering expertise. “The digital signal processing capability that allows you to manipulate a stream of digital audio and scratch, play backward, or change tempo in real-time is not something that you can buy off the shelf,” he explains. “You need a lot of in-house engineering skills.”

O’Donnell was one of the first in the industry to recognize this need for advanced R&D capabilities, and over six years ago, began positioning Numark with series of strategic investments and acquisitions. In 2001, he purchased Alesis, a pioneer in digital effects processing and recording technology. In late 2005, he acquired Akai, the company that virtually invented digital sampling. Akai and Alesis continue as strong product lines in their own right, and a conscious effort has been made to maintain each brand indentity. However, marrying three product lines under a single corporate umbrella has provided a foundation of digital expertise. This capability is evident both at Numark headquarters in Rhode Island and at the company’s engineering facility in England. It’s also reflected at Wavefront Semiconductors, an independent subsidiary based in Seattle that develops digital microprocessors for other music products manufacturers.

Pooling the engineering resources has resulted in a range of potent synergies. Some are straightforward, like being able to order Motorola microprocessors in higher volumes to get better pricing. Others are less obvious, like developing cross-platform operating systems that can manage effects processing in products ranging from an Alesis Fusion workstation to an Akai MIDI sequencer. Most importantly, this collective R&D effort has spawned a steady stream of innovative new products that open creative horizons and generate new sales opportunities for retailers.

Under Alesis banner, the company is offering a line of products that taps into the growing interest in “podcasting”: posting on the internet for downloading. At Summer NAMM, Alesis will be exhibiting two complete podcasting kits, one based on Firewire, the other on USB, that offer everything you need to mix and record eight channels of audio for placement on the web. O’Donnell says that this new product category will appeal to a nearly limitless range of users. “Just about anyone could find a use for this,” he contends.

At Akai, advanced technology is evident in the new MPD24 USB/MIDI Pad Control Unit. The new unit borrows the velocity and pressure sensitive pads that made Akai’s previous “Music Production Centers” the standard among hip-hop performers. However, it can interface more effectively with external storage devices, making it virtually impossible for DJs or producers to run out of space for their assigned sound.

Numark is pushing the product envelope with new applications that enable the DJ to seamlessly incorporate visual images with music. The NuVJ video controller is the first offering in what promises to be a rapidly expanding family of products. Designed in partnership with ArKaos, a leading developer of video processing software, the NuVJ console allows DJs to trigger images and video clips, add effects to them, and mix them with a cross-fader tool that looks a feels like a standard DJ mixer.

The hardware controller works seamlessly with existing DJ gear and the software is compatible with most computers and laptops. “In the past, the ability to incorporate video With music was constrained by the cost of processing power,” says O’Donnell. “Now that that’s no longer an issue, we’re working to create an entirely new video-based product category. Every DJ isn’t going to rush to incorporate video, but for some, video can be a beautiful complement to the music. We think this has tremendous potential.”

Over the past three years retailers have reported that the DJ market has suffered from flat sales. O’Donnell shrugs off the complaint, in part because Numark’s sales have been on a steady upward curve, but also because he feels that the market is on the cusp of significant growth. Drawing an analogy with the consumer electronics business, he relates, “Five years ago, if you talked to any big electronics retailer, they would tell you that their television business was dead. Consumers were content with their Sony Trinitrons and didn’t see any reason to upgrade. Then you had the introduction of these great flat screen plasma televisions, consumers got excited, and all of a sudden, televisions became the industry’s hottest product category.” Can Numark’s expanding array of digital DJ gear have a similar affect on the DJ market? O’Donnell answers with an emphatic affirmative. “We’re not just reacting to market trends, we’re creating trends with innovative new products,” he says. “Our current array of gear, not to mention the stuff we have in the pipeline, will bring people into stores and spark demand. We are giving DJs reasons to upgrade their rigs.”

Throughout his career, Jack O’Donnell has demonstrated an uncanny sense for harnessing technology to address consumer needs and wants. In the late ’80s, as a vice-president of Stanton Electronics, he was one of the first to appreciate the emergence of the DJ market, and tried to persuade his superiors to address it. When they shrugged off his suggestions, he acquired Numark and pursued the market himself. With similar acumen, he identified opportunities at both Alesis and Akai that others in the industry overlooked. Given this track record, his bullish forecast for a coming DJ boom deserves more than a respectful hearing.

The future of Alesis

After acquiring the Technology Pioneer, Numark CEO Jack O’Donnell outlines his plans for the company.

As vice-president of sales and marketing for Stanton Magnetics and Picketing, two of the leading phono cartridge brands, Jack O’Donnell was one of the first to recognize the potential of the DJ market. Cassette tape and later CDs sent turntable sales into a tailspin. However, O’Donnell managed to soften much of the blow by aggressively catering to a growing DJ market. In 1990, he simultaneously helped persuade Vestax of Japan to create a line of DJ mixers and established U.S. distribution for the product.

Numark Electronics, one of the pioneers of the DJ market, ran into acute financial problems in 1991. While most industry observers gave the company up for dead, O’Donnell saw great untapped potential. In 1991 he acquired the company. Last year, Numark posted sales of $37 million. When Alesis Corp. filed for Chapter 11 in May, O’Donnell stepped in, initially providing cash to keep the company going, and then acquiring the company’s assets outright.

Alesis burst onto the scene in 1985 with a line of high-value signal processing products that utilized RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing) technology. In 1991, the company virtually created the project studio market with the introduction of the ADAT digital multi-track recorder. Over the past few years, the ADAT lost market share to newer hard-disk-based recording products and Alesis was forced to dramatically cut prices. Declining sales ultimately coupled with operational ineffiencies pushed the company into Chapter 11. Alesis is in a turnaround situation, but O’Donnell is confident that the company can be restored to its former position as a cutting-edge industry innovator. “I was grateful for the opportunity to acquire Numark, and I’m equally grateful for the chance with Alesis,” he said. In the following interview, he elaborates on why he is optimistic about the future for Alesis.

What was it that attracted you to Alesis in the first place?

Jack O’Donnell: Alesis has great technology. Several months prior to the NAMM show, before I had any idea they were having any financial difficulties, I approached them about using some of their technology. I was very impressed with the AirFX unit and some of their chip technology, which I felt could be integrated into the Numark product line. We were in contact on a number of issues, and then the talks just went cold. After not hearing from them for a couple of weeks, they approached me about an infusion of cash to bring them forward. Looking at the core group of engineering talent and the products on the drawing board, I thought it was a great opportunity.

Are you planning to fold the Alesis organization into Numark Electronics, or will it continue as a stand-alone operation in Santa Monica, California?

JO: Alesis will definitely remain as a stand alone company. At some future point, we might consolidate financial, credit, and logistical operations, but I don’t want to dilute the Alesis engineering and sales and marketing effort. The best ideas come from sales and marketing people talking to end users. To get this kind of input, we need a core group focusing exclusively on Alesis. I have great confidence in the people at Alesis. They are one of the major assets that made the company successful in the past.

Will Aiesis founder Keith Barr continue to be involved with the company?

JO: We’re still talking, but at this point, his future with the company hasn’t been determined.

While the ADAT has been the highest profile Alesis product, the company has also been involved in the keyboard, mixer, and signal processing markets. Are you planning to continue addressing all these market segments?

JO: We are planning to remain in all the markets we are currently involved with: recording, keyboards, signal processing, and speakers. Actually, I would like to make the line even broader. The Alesis semi-conductor division has developed chips that haven’t been fully capitalized on. I look at some of these chips that are on the drawing board and I can envision all types of new product categories that we could tap into.

Could you elaborate on some of the new product categories that are under consideration?

JO: I wish I could, but right now it’s premature.

The Alesis ADAT HD, the hard-disk successor to the successful ADAT tape recorder was introduced at Winter NAMM. Do you plan to go forward with the product?

JO: The ADAT HD was certainly one of the strongest products that was introduced at the NAMM show. If it weren’t the financial difficulties at Alesis, it would probably have been in the market by now. We are very optimistic about the product and I fully expect to have it in the market very shortly.

Even though you plan to maintain Alesis as a stand-alone operation, do you envision any points of cooperation between Numark Electronics and Alesis?

JO: Alesis is dedicated to the recording musician with no particular interest in pursuing the DJ market. However, some of their core technology is applicable to Numark’s customer base. Just as we’ve partnered with Korg to include the KAOSS pad controller on some of our DJ mixers, I can seem incorporating certain Alesis products. The Alesis AirFX is a perfect example. It’s great technology, it’s value priced, and it has an interactive format that is a natural for DJs. On a less obvious level, the Alesis Semiconductor division is producing some outstanding chips that are waiting for broader applications. Some of the chips that have been designed for Alesis products are also applicable to some of the ideas we have for the Numark product line. So to answer your question, Numark and Alesis will be separate product lines with distinct identities, yet there will definitely be some technology cross over.

Are there any OEM opportunities for the Alesis semi-conductor division?

JO: People are just waking up to how versatile and inexpensive Alesis chips are. Right now, almost all the chips are going into Alesis products. However, we have some very well-known OEM customers within the industry. We haven’t fully exploited this business yet, but I think there is tremendous potential.

Introduced in january , the Alesis ADAT HD is a hard-disk based replacement for the ADAT. “We are very optimistic about the product and I fully expect to have it in the market very shortly,” says Jack O’Donnell.

Techno Tools: Jammin’ with DJs

DJs are starting to be recognized by traditional musicians as artists in their own right. After all, being a DJ does require musical skills. The DJ has to match beats precisely to create seamless transitions between tunes, be a wizard at crossfading between songs and loops, read a crowd’s mood to program the right grooves and songs, and, of course, do that scratching thing. But where does all this leave guitar players? With a nice hole to fill, that’s where!

I recently performed at the Battery Park Festival in Cologne, Germany, playing guitar over sequenced loops. I’ve found that E-Bow, distortion, and feedback work particularly well over dance beats, and I’ve also discovered a few other ways to get the most out of guitar/dance music collaborations.

Let the DJ control your level. Typically, the guitarist will play more or less continuously, and the DJ will bring the guitar in and out of the mix as needed. A direct setup is optimum–given the intense noise levels at the average dance club, miking your amp isn’t really an option.

Voice your EQ properly. Dance music has lots of low end (kick drum and bass) and high end (hi-hat, shaker, etc.). Boosting 1kHz by 6dB to 8dB lets the guitar “speak” and cut through the mix without cranking up the volume.

Be sensitive to transitions. A sustained, distorted chord that swells in and out–or a singing high note with lots of whammy action–can help smooth transitions between songs and loops. As DJs use headphones to cue up one turntable while another turntable is playing, you may want to use a “Y” connector to tap your phones into the DJ’s headphone output. Hearing what the DJ hears will alert you to upcoming key or style changes.

Sync delays to the tempo. Dance music typically hovers in the 120 bpm to 145 bpm zone. This translates to quarter-note echo times of 500ms to 413ms, respectively. If you’re not sure of a song’s bpm, start with a 450ms delay and add just enough feedback for a couple of repeats. (The more feedback you use, the more important it is to nail a precise delay time, otherwise each successive echo will sound more off the beat.)

There’s a whole world of dance music out there, and guitar has only begun to be integrated with it. Check out a dance club, get to know some DJs, and play a few jam sessions to see if you click. You might have a lot of fun–as well as open up a new live-performance option.

REMIX roundtable

Meet Five-star DJs and producers in this dance-musician summit.

Every genre of music creates new roles for musicians to fill–from the symphonic composer, to the opera diva, to the rock-and-roll star. As electronic dance music surges to new heights of popularity, DJs and remixers are defining the parts they play in the movement. These roles continue to shift, split, and recombine, just as the beats in a DJ’s set merge and flow from one to the next. I talked to five top producers and DJs about the role they play in electronic dance music and the methods and equipment they use.

Los Angeles veteran electronica producer James Lumb of Electric Skychurch has been churning out tracks since 1989. Lumb began as a bass player for the underground psychedelic funk band the Groove Trolls in 1987 and started writing acid house tracks in 1989, armed with a drum machine and a 4-track. In the spring of 1992, working alone, he released the first Electric Skychurch single on cassette. A year later, a party in the desert–Skychurch’s first live show–led to the full-blown Moontribe movement. In 1998, Lumb hit the road with DJ John Kelley and played 80 shows around the world. With a full band including drummer Alex Spurkel and singer Roxanne Morganstern, a light show, and a DJ entourage, they played to more than a quarter million people, proving themselves one of America’s few big electronic acts.

Original recordings such as “Creation,” “Deus,” “Knowoneness,” and the popular Together CD have earned James Lumb a reputation as one of the leading producers of electronic musicians in the world today, and after ten years of creating electronica, Electric Skychurch is still going strong. The group will release its long-awaited new material–preceded by a slew of new remixes–in the summer of 1999.

Chris Cowie produces electronic dance music under many pseudonyms but is best known for his trance act, X Cabs. Six years ago, he founded Hook Recordings, an independent dance label.

John Digweed has become one of the most respected and revered figures of the international dance scene. DJmagazine’s prestigious list of top 100 DJs recently voted him number 7. Since founding Bedrock Records ten years ago in Hastings, England, Digweed has sold hundreds of thousands of mix CDs worldwide. Famous for his extended sets and his residency at New York’s Twilo Club with longtime DJ partner Sasha, Digweed is one of the most sought-after DJs and remixers in dance music.

Paul Oakenfold is a true giant in the world of electronic dance music. From the start of his career as a hip-hop promoter and agent for the Beastie Boys and Run DMC, he has always been on the cutting edge of new music. Oakenfold was there at the very beginning–on the Spanish island of Ibiza, where itinerant Brits first began staging all-night electronic dance parties. He was one of the first people to bring this cultural phenomenon back to England. In 1985, he opened the first rave club in the United Kingdom, called the Fun House, and later he added the Project Club and the Future. All of these introduced emerging electronic dance forms to English music fans eager for a new and exciting form. This in turn led to the birth of the acid house movement in the United Kingdom., and eventually to the global rave movement.

Almost two decades later, Oakenfold continues to break new ground as a producer, remixer, and DJ. Three times he has been voted DJ magazine’s DJ of the year, and this year the readers of DJ magazine voted him the world’s number one DJ. Although he’s one of the world’s most sought-after DJs, Paul still finds time to run his U.K.-based record label, Perfecto. Over the past few years, he has remixed every group from the Rolling Stones and Snoop Dogg, to the Smashing Pumpkins and U2.

Dave Ralph, known for his energetic and uplifting sets, has been deejaying and rocking dance floors for more than two decades. A native of Manchester, England, he recently embarked on an intensive North American tour with Paul Oakenfold.

WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?

LUMB: I’m working on a new single for myself, and I just finished off two remixes. One is the Led Zeppelin song “Whole Lotta Love,” which I produced for the band Quiet Riot. I ended up using the WarpFactory by Electrix and made the whole thing into a kind of dirty sex song. And I’ve just finished a remix of a Bob Marley song called “Mr. Brown.” I’ve been asked to remix a lot of rock bands lately.

COWIE: My current project is under the pseudonym Scan Carriers, and it’s basically an album’s worth of material. I primarily do dance music, but for this I’ll be using guitars and real drummers. I’ll end up sampling everything, but I’ll start out with real people so it’s more organic music, like a proper band. That’s how I started off years ago. I’m not doing the album full time; I’ll do a track here and there in between other stuff for the Hook and Bellboy labels.

DIGWEED: I’m doing a remix for Fire Island. We started work on a couple of tracks about eight months ago, but I haven’t had a chance to finish. It’s not that I’m doing loads of gigs, but I’m traveling and trying to do some remix work as well.

RALPH: We did a party in Panama City last night. We’re doing Tallahassee tonight and New York tomorrow night; then we’re off to Toronto and Cuba.

WHEN AND WHERE DID YOU FIRST HEAR ELECTRONIC DANCE MUSIC?

OAKENFOLD: Probably at the Paradise Garage in New York in ’84. Larry Levan was there at the time, and the tracks were coming out of Chicago and Detroit.

RALPH: The first time I heard house music was on a radio station called Q 103 in Manchester, played by Stu Allen. The track was “Mr. Finger’s Washing Machine.” This was very early stuff, around ’86 or ’87. They used to scratch and cut things up all over. I loved it immediately, thought it was amazing, and had to go all the way to London to about four shops to find the records. An old woman at Groove Records–she must have been around 70–totally understood house music. She had Traxx records, pressed on secondhand vinyl. They used to take old K-Tel LPs and re-press right on top of them. They always sounded bloody terrible, but you had the music.

DIGWEED: I was really into New Order and alternative stuff like Bauhaus, but at the same time I was into soul and funk and then later hip-hop. As new stuff came along, I was reading magazines and always trying to stay on top of things. I can remember when the early DJ International stuff and the Chicago tracks started coming to the U.K. Things were really stepping up a peg or two. The kick drums were just so in-your-face, and that’s when house music really grabbed a hold of me.

COWIE: When I first got into electronic music, I was still playing in guitar bands. A lot of people will say they heard Kraftwerk first or Jean Michelle Jarre or whatever, but those artists were never really an influence on me. It was listening to people like New Order and Yellow and Shriekback in ’82 or ’83. I was always drawn to music that sounded electronic. Even “Can You Feel It?” by the Jackson Five from the ’70s had a synthesizer sound.

WHAT ARE THE QUALITIES IN THIS MUSIC THAT AT AFFECT PEOPLE SO DEEPLY?

COWIE: Before dance music came along, people would dance to bands like Duran Duran and get up and dance to one or two songs and sit down again. When dance music came along, people got up and danced all night. On some kind of tribal level people just like to dance and jump about. You can basically put on a drum machine in a nightclub, and people will dance to that all night.

DIGWEED: There is lots of emotion in the tracks, and it brings lots of people together. This music has made a lot of friendships, and people have shared great nights and fond memories from going out and listening to it. Electronic music is very powerful. It’s playing a massive part in many films made today. You’ll be watching a scene in a film, and an Underworld track will come on and send shivers up your spine.

RALPH: If you listen to trance music, you’ll hear a lot of emotion and feeling in it. If you are on a dance floor with 600 or 700 other people hearing those lush strings and beautiful melodies, it has a euphoric effect, and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of euphoria. That’s what it does for me. These tracks really take you somewhere, and a good DJputs these elements together and creates a journey.

OAKENFOLD: The energy, the melody–it’s uplifting and spiritual. There’s a lot of soul in it, and it really is about the feeling. It’s like soul music; you listen to it from an emotional standpoint.

SOME PEOPLE VIEW THE DJ AS A KIND OF SHAMAN OR SPIRITUAL GUIDE WHO LEADS THE LISTENERS FROM ONE LEVEL OF CONSCIOUSNESS TO ANOTHER

OAKENFOLD: Absolutely. That’s what I mean to do: take you on a spiritual journey.

WHAT ARE THE RESPONSIBILITIES THAT COME WITH SUCH A POSITION OF POWER?

OAKENFOLD: It’s no different from being a lead singer in a band. You’re there to entertain and educate, and there’s a fine line between the two. People pay money to come and see you, so they expect you to deliver. As a professional, I take that very seriously and do my best. Not everyone is going to like everything you do, but at least you can take them somewhere they’ve never been. You just have to be open-minded and go with it.

DIGWEED: The DJ’s responsibility is to give listeners a good time, as well as to educate them. There’s a lot of new music out there, and for me it’s far more rewarding to play a track that no one’s heard before, programming it at the right time so the place goes absolutely mad, rather than playing an obvious record that you know will get a big reaction.

DO YOU PLAN YOUR SETS OR JUST GO WITH THE FLOW?

DIGWEED: Just go with the flow. I think it’s a mistake to plan a set because you don’t know what the night’s going to be like. You could plan a set that’s totally wrong for the crowd.

RALPH: I look at the crowd. At the end of the day, those kids are paying my wages, and have a responsibility to entertain them. I’m not into the idea of putting your head down to concentrate on what you’re doing and ignoring the crowd. I look at the people, listen to the other DJs, and then choose records that will pull people into my sound. It might take me 20 minutes to get them there. If they’re not dancing, I move on. A lot of DJs don’t do that.

OAKENFOLD: The two most important records of the night are the first and the last. Then there’s getting from one point to the other and building an arrangement and structure. A minor key makes you feel solemn, and a major key makes you feel happy. I need to find my rhythm in the journey; sometimes it comes right away, and sometimes it takes time to get the crowd where you want them. I can usually get there in a half hour. A three-hour mix is really one record with an intro, a middle, and an outro. I approach it the same way I would approach mixing a record.

IS THERE A TYPICAL METHOD YOU USE FOR A REMIX?

LUMB: You always start with a kernel or seed from the original piece of music. For the Bob Marley track I’m working on, they sent me vocals extracted from the original master tapes. I find one loop I like; in this case it’s the lines “Mr. Brown is a clown/that rides through town in a coffin.” I load that loop into a sampler and find a tempo I like, or I might use the sampler to change the tempo and the pitch. Then I use it to write drum grooves, maybe along with a drum machine. I might work on that loop an entire day to find the right groove. Then I zoom out and use a computer to start arranging the groove, and change the original vocal sample with some effects units to give it a certain tone. Finally, I glue it all together with a synthesizer, and you have a remix.

DIGWEED: It takes maybe a day or two of pre-production, then two days to mix it down. The method varies each time. If it’s a song, we try and work stuff around it. If it’s an instrumental, we work on rhythms and moods.

WHERE DO YOU START WHEN CREATING AN ORIGINAL TRACK?

COWIE: I could just be sitting in my house listening to something that sounds good, and I’ll get a wee surge of energy and pop into the studio. It’s not like you copy it–you just get influenced, driving down the road. Generally I start with a bass line or a bass drum, but there’s no set pattern. It can start with a sample. Some people have a method of working, but I think everyone is creative in their own individual way.

USING THESE DAYS?

COWIE: I believe in not having too much equipment. A lot of people must buy the latest bit of equipment, and I don’t do that. I use a Roland S-750 sampler, an Atari 1040ST computer, a Mackie SR32-4 mixer, an Ensoniq DP/4 effects unit, a couple of Behringer compressors, and a Roland JP-8000 synth. I don’t have racks of modules and mountains of cables, and I’m still using the Atari 1040 with Cubase. When I play live, I have a Yamaha 02R, which is a much more expensive desk than the one use in the studio, but it has the recall functions I need for live performance. I also use an Akai MPC2000 and a Roland S-760 for live gigs.

LUMB: I’ve been doing this for about ten years, so I have 20 synthesizers and a full-blown recording studio with a Soundcraft console, a 24-track digital audio workstation, Tascam DA-88s, and a bunch of different samplers. For my live show I run two samplers, three sequencers, two drum machines, effects, and vintage analog keyboards. I also have a live drummer and a bunch of Roland digital synthesizers. I have so much equipment that I sometimes get lost–maintaining that much equipment is a pain.

WHAT COMPUTER PROGRAMS YOU USE REGULARLY?

LUMB: I use Steinberg Cubase VST/24 and Bias Peak. I also use Opcode Galaxy–a synthesizer librarian–and Steinberg ReCycle. What I usually do is load stuff into Peak from DAT, chop it up, ReCycle it, load it into my samplers, and then sequence it with Cubase.

DIGWEED: I use Emagic Notator an Atari. Nick Muir, who I work with, knows the Atari inside out, and he does all the programming.

I THOUGHT THE ATARI WAS OBSOLETE.

DIGWEED: [Laughs] Yes, it is. It’s not very fast, but Nick’s very fast. William Orbit did most of his mixes on Atari. It all comes down to knowing your equipment. You can have the fastest computer in the world, but it’s no good unless you know how to use it. When I did the Northern Exposure records with Sasha, we used Pro Tools for edits and filtering, but when we do remixes, we use the Atari.

DOES THE TECHNOLOGY SOMETIMES GET IN THE WAY OF MAKING MUSIC?

LUMB: Yes, that definitely happened to me a couple of years ago. It was great learning the technology down to the microprocessor level, but once you’ve mastered it, you are left with pure expression. What’s happened for me is that these electronic gizmos started out as musical instruments, then became pure technology, and now it’s coming back around to pure expression.

COWIE: It can do. You can spend a lot of time trying out new equipment and wind up forgetting about making music. When I was younger, I went through a period of buying everything, and a lot of the time it let me down. I’ve trimmed the studio to the bare necessities. Too much equipment can slow you down. I know my equipment inside out now, but if you are constantly buying new equipment, you are constantly learning how to use it.

WHAT PIECES OF EQUIPMENT WOULD YOU RECOMMEND TO SOMEONE WHO WANTS TO START MAKING TRACKS?

LUMB: The first thing tell people is to look around at what you’ve got, because you may have what you need already. If you have a computer, you can get freeware or shareware demo software and play with it. A computer may not be the most hi-fl way to go, but it’s a good beginning. I started out with an old Ensoniq sampler with a built-in sequencer, and I did loads of mixes and remixes on that alone. A good pair of headphones, a master keyboard that samples, and a desire to do it is all you really need. I did a mix last year for a movie called PI, a track called “Full Moon Generator.” I was on tour and I did it in a hotel room with a Kurzweil K2000, a Mackie 1202, and a set of headphones. It turned out to be the best work I did that year.

COWIE: The absolute essentials would be a sampler, a computer–if you are just starting out, you could pick up an Atari 1040 running Cubase–a mixing desk, and an effects unit that can do more than one effect at the same time, like an Ensoniq DP/4. You need a drum machine like the Novation DrumStation so you can free up the sampler. The last thing would be a sound module that you can get strings out of easily. I worked out the cost to buy a setup like this in the States, and it came to about $4,000. You don’t need to spend $20,000 and get a Mac and a hard-disk recorder and all that to start.

DIGWEED: I would recommend a sampler, a fairly decent keyboard, and a computer. But you could probably start out with an Akai MPC3000, which is a drum machine, sequencer, and sampler in one. You can do amazing stuff on that.

RALPH: It all comes down to how much money you have. There are so many innovative ideas out there now, but they cost a lot. The two pieces of essential equipment would be a mixing desk and a computer fast enough to do what you want it to do. You can find software these days that will do anything. If someone gave me [pounds]10,000 [approximately $16,140], which is not a lot of money to spend on a small studio, I would spend the majority on a mixing desk, a computer with software, and a keyboard of some sort.

COMPANIES SUCH AS ELECTRIX ARE NOW MOVING TOWARD RETRO DESIGNS AND EASY INTERFACES HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE ELECTRIX GEAR YET?

COWIE: Yes, I tried out the FilterFactory, and I liked it very much. I didn’t have that much time to use it, but I could definitely see it has scope Personally, that’s more my cup of tea. Software companies will take any effects unit or EQ unit and make it a plug-in for VST. Some guys love that. If you can buy a brilliant reverb unit as a plug-in rather than spending a thousand pounds on the hardware, a lot of people will buy the plug-in. But then you are tied to the computer, and you still have to put the sounds into it to get the reverb unit to work. I’m more of a hands-on person. I prefer to press buttons, but I’m up for using both.

LUMB: I used the FilterFactory on the drum machines for the Bob Marley remix. It was great because it twisted everything inside out and made it sound really good. The Electrix gear is different because of the sound quality. Most digitally controlled analog gear doesn’t sound right. Any knob you turn on a MIDI system has only 128 notches on it, and you can hear a MIDI-controlled filter jump between step SO and step 51. What I really like about the Electrix stuff is that although it’s MIDI controlled, it’s smooth, so it sounds more like a vintage analog unit. That’s why people search out vintage filters, because they’re smooth and not gritty. When I look for gear, I’m looking for smooth. You can always make it jagged if you want, but you can’t make it smoother.

DIGWEED: A unit showed up on my doorstep the night before I went to Miami, so I didn’t have a chance to get my head around it before I left. I was planning to spark it up tonight and have a go. I’m pretty excited about getting my teeth into it. I spoke to Bruce at Twilo and suggested that he let Sasha and me loose on it, so he is having all three Electrix units installed at the club. By the time they are installed, we’ll both be up to speed on them. That should take it to the next level.

RALPH: I tried one at my studio in Liverpool recently and it looked really fine. I didn’t have time to hook it up to a pair of decks, but I patched it into my mixing deck, It was really interesting, and I would like to see where it can go. You can do a really big filter sweep with very little effort. I haven’t tried it in a working environment, but it worked really well in a studio in the short time I had to play around with it. I like the MIDI features that let you record the sweeps as you go.

WHAT ARE THE MOST EXCITING NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN ELECTRONIC MUSIC TECHNOLOGY?

LUMB: Cheap hard-disk recording. If you are using samplers, one of the big limitations is memory. Samplers really lend themselves to drums because a drum hit takes up a small portion of memory. But with a hard-disk recorder, you can record, say, a four-minute passage of music, like a slowly evolving synthesizer passage that’s never the same twice. All of a sudden, a producer with an $899 iMac has the ability to record a studio-quality vocal track, a bass track, or even a sound-effects track. So it can take electronic music one step away from the loop and help you focus on arrangement and composition. Cheap hard-disk recorders bridge the gap between electronic music and so-called real music. The successful hybrid artists are the ones with access to high-end technology-like the stuff from New York, where they put minimal beats behind a full orchestra. Everyone will be able to do that soon.

COWIE: In the next few years, digital desks and mixing consoles like the Yamaha 02R will get better. They are a bit cold sounding right now, but they will improve and have more knobs. Some people say mixing consoles will be obsolete because you can do it all with a computer, but I don’t think computers are powerful enough to do everything. Even if they could, you’d lose a lot of the human element. There will always be hands-on people who like to turn knobs and push buttons.

Of course the biggest developments are with computers. Look at Cubase VST and all the plug-ins you can get for that. The companies that make effects units must be getting a bit worried because you can buy loads of effects plug-ins quite cheaply. I’ve tried some, and they are very good. But you still can’t plug an XLR microphone into the back of a computer. All these things will come, but not every producer wants to sit there looking at a screen all day. I’m not against computers, but I don’t think people want to do everything with a computer.

WHAT ARE THE CONSIDERATIONS WHEN CHOOSING SOFTWARE OVER HARDWARE?

LUMB: The computer-based stuff isn’t really there yet. Computers are a great interface with the gear you already have. When I remix, I use my computer as an interface with my samplers. I digitally load all the information I need. If someone gives me a DAT tape to remix-five minutes of audio and some disembodied voices–I’ll load it into my computer and chop it up really fast, then shoot it down the wire into the samplers and start working on it in a more traditional way. The computer is supposed to do everything, but in reality it doesn’t do any one thing really well.

I’ve also found that the more applications you use, the more time you spend making sure the computer is still running. One of the biggest complaints I hear is, “I’m a musician, not a computer technician.” People are spending a lot of time keeping their computers running-cleaning off the hard drive, checking for viruses, updating and debugging software. There’s a lot to be said for sitting down at a keyboard with a built-in sequencer that works the same way every day and doesn’t crash.

I once did an entire recording session that completely failed because of a timing synchronization bug in the software–we lost a month’s work! The song was so fast that the MIDI port couldn’t keep up with the music, so we had to buy a Yamaha tabletop sequencer, which ran better than the computer. USB–a new interface standard for computers–will hopefully make it a little more solid in the future. At the moment, if you are doing a lot of really fast work, I recommend dumping it into a dedicated machine that doesn’t have to worry about drawing a picture onscreen. You might also find that you like the sound a little better.

IS THERE A TREND TOWARD USING MORE ORGANIC SOUNDS IN ELECTRONIC MIXES?

LUMB: We go out with field recorders and collect sounds. It’s something that the computer is really good for. With electronic music, people use samples and make a track, then the track gets sampled, and so on, until this audio is five or six generations down the road and it gets flat and loses its dynamic range. If you go back and listen to [Pink Floyd’s] Dark Side of the Moon or some classical music, the depth and detail in the recording will blow you away. You wonder how to get that depth back into your recordings. The answer is to get a microphone, record some stuff, and put it into the background of your electronic track. That will create a depth and ambience behind the beats and really open it up.

COWIE: Smart producers use organic sounds. Vocals are organic, and dance music has used them since day one. I don’t think there’s a conscious trend, but smart producers know that a little organic feel helps the track, especially if it’s a good track. In a record store, you’ll probably find nothing organic in 80 percent of the records. Sometimes when you hear an acoustic guitar in a breakdown, you don’t know if some guy came in to play the part or not. The samples are so good that you can barely tell the difference now. I can tell the difference, but the average club goer would think that it was a real guitar.

DO YOU THINK COMPUTER-BASED HOME-RECORDING STUDIOS WILL EVENTUALLY BECOME A THREAT TO EXISTING RECORD LABELS?

COWIE: The biggest threat to major record companies is the Internet. One guy can basically set up his own label in his house, make music, and distribute it anywhere. That’s a few years away, but it will definitely happen. As for the guy in his basement burning a few CDs, that’s not going to bother the major record labels. But the Internet will be a problem for the record stores. If a label like ours could bypass distribution and sell direct to the public, it would make a lot more money.

DO YOU SEE A TREND TOWARD DJS USING MORE EQUIPMENT ONSTAGE?

DIGWEED: Yes, definitely. I’ve had a Numark mixer for ten years now, and it has a little sampler and effects unit. It’s been a great tool, but things like the FilterFactory from Electrix, which can really buck up the sounds, take it to the next level.

RALPH: I don’t see why they shouldn’t. It’s not the most difficult job in the world to put two records together, and if you can make that sound more interesting by adding more technology, then I’m all for it as long as it’s not overdone. Some people with those Pioneer mixers just goon and on and on, flanging and phasing. Sometimes less is more. Ease of use is important, as well as whether you can understand the equipment quickly and put it into effect.

OAKENFOLD: That’s been developing for a long time. I’ve used live guitarists and live percussion. I’ve used vocalists and MCs and programmed drum machines. But it’s a fine line because you can program all your own rhythms, and nobody really knows you’re mixing them in.

WHAT ARE THE CURRENT TRENDS IN ELECTRONIC MUSIC, AND WHERE IS IT GOING?

DIGWEED: I have no idea. It is changing at such a rapid rate that it would be really hard to predict, but I think it will just get bigger. In the past five or six years I’ve seen it become a huge worldwide scene. I play in countries all over the world and get pretty much the same reaction everywhere I go. In the future, we’ll see more and more people making electronic music, taking elements from different cultures and just continuing to grow. The music is truly international. I can play in Russia and not speak a word of the language, but there are smiles on their faces, and they’re enjoying the music as much as anywhere I go.

RALPH: Right now, trance has become incredibly popular in the U.K. and all over Europe and America. A lot of DJsare really getting into that sound, and for me it’s a way forward. I don’t play breakbeat, but I know that people like the Chemical Brothers are incredibly popular. As for where the music is going next, new sounds keep coming in, and people keep pushing the boundaries.

OAKENFOLD: In the U.K. and Europe, youth culture is dance culture now. You have 24-hour dance radio and the biggest rock bands in the world, who all want dance remixes, The majority of the pop charts are dance music. One of the biggest music publications recently reported that turntables are now outselling guitars three to one. So there’s a big shift. Young people want to buy turntables and be DJs. You can make a dance record in your bedroom, and in the U.K. it can sell 2 million copies.

COWIE: My father likes to ask me when this dance-music thing is going to stop, but it’s not going to stop because it is the new rock and roll. I don’t know where it will be in ten years, but I’m 99 percent certain that people will still want to dance.