Darren Cowley Isotonik Studios Ableton live maxforlive

1 of 4: The last decade — Darren’s View

Before we get going… a message from the editor

Before the year end, we decided to do a team roundup of what the last decade has brought us, and offer some of our usual tongue in cheek awards. This the team duly did, but I have been somewhat tied up with other things. But I’m now untied from said things, and can deliver four different opinions on what has made us happy, sad, and otherwise captured our attention over the last ten years.

These will be delivered over the next four days, finishing with my own take on Friday. First up is team member and Isotonik Studios’ Darren Cowley, to offer a somewhat more Ableton focussed take. Off you go Darren…

The opinions expressed in these end of decade pieces are the author’s own, and not necessarily those of the whole DJWORX team. 

Darren’s blinkered view of the decade.

I tend to stick to what I know. My Serato fanboy position hasn’t really wavered over the last decade —  hell I still organise my playlists in iTunes. As such my contribution to the extensive DJWORX output has been limited to reviewing Ableton Live specific stuff and nagging at Mark to stop procrastinating (it’s working- Ed).

That said, there’s been stuff I’ve really enjoyed so in the continuing style of our end of year awards.

“Great idea that didn’t take off Award”

This was simple to choose — Native Instruments Stems feature seemed like such a good idea on paper, an even better one in practise. Having your favourite tunes broken down into elements to remix on the fly has always been an ambition for me to do live, but without the Stems of those tunes I quickly lost interest. Much seemed to be promised at launch with Stems creator software and the like, but whilst a quick search on Beatport brings up 13,950 Stem Packs, the range to me as a 45 year old DJ seems limited to releases from the past few years.

If only someone went into Strictly Rhythm‘s back catalogue and started releasing the classics?!

Deezer’s Spleeter tool looks promising for the future, but it needs a simplified front end to make it commercially or in my opinion publicly viable.

“It’ll replace all my other gear Award”

There’s so many MIDI controllers that I could list here that I’ve thought would become the mainstay in my performance set up. One thing that I’ve noticed in the last decade is the quality of product from the likes of AKAI, Novation and Native Instruments has increased. In the last decade I’ve had to replace one Novation LaunchPad (MKI) and an APC40 MKI, but everything else has held up to the rigours of travelling, and me trying to hack them with MaxforLive.

It seems that if you want to use it for anything other than the designed intent, each new shiny from a manufacturer has come with its limitations though. The new Novation Launchpads (X and Mini MKII) for example don’t appear to let you use the navigation buttons in Custom Modes, rendering them almost perfect but in third place.

The AKAI Force is showing the most potential, especially if they can continue developing both the standalone and live control side of things — and so takes my second place award. For simple playback of an Ableton Live set it’s already pushed past the Push 2 with its large touch screen, but it’s nigh on pointless for using it to produce in the DAW. That’s better left to the standalone mode which can then be exported as files to be used with whatever your favourite DAW might be.

My go-to controller and worthy award winner though is the DJ TechTools MIDI Fighter Twister. Out of the box it’s got a good feel, and the LED ringed encoders that double up as a push button are a dream to play with. When you invest some time in their editor though it’s beyond what you can achieve with any other controller out there directly from the controller itself.

So many times I’ve begun a mapping project only to find that the controller I’ve chosen sends CC when it need be Notes and vice versa. But the MFT goes one step further, and allows such esoteric button behaviours such as Note Toggle and Note Hold. No wonder you see them increasingly more in Ableton Live performers setups.

“The gift that keeps on giving Award”

I was fortunate enough to see the Novation Circuit in the development lab at the Focusrite head office And within five minutes of playing, I totally got it. On release day many people viewed it as a toy, but with two Nova Synths and a sequencer to boot it represented a decent sound for a cheap price.

Shortly after release and in an interesting move, Novation shut their online user forums and switched attention to social media, which whilst not to everyone’s tastes, has definitely contributed to the success of the groove box as it publicly grew a legion of fans sharing performances online.

It caught peoples imagination, and although there seems to be a healthy used market for them, Novation continued investing in developing the firmware taking into account user requests.

Whilst other manufacturers in the same time have struggled to address bugs, the Circuit has seen eight updates, bringing new features with each wave. Having worked with the team on the original editor, what Novation have managed to add to an already released product is nigh on miraculous!