PUT THAT PHONE DOWN — I’M TRYING TO TALK TO YOU

When sitting down to hammer my thoughts and feelings for the last decade into my almost broken MBP (I knocked over a cup of tea, but kitchen towel seems to have saved the day), I pondered what the last decade was actually called. Throwing myself at Google gave me many suggestions, but the ones that stuck out were those pointing toward this being the teens. 

Our teenage years are where we do a lot of stropping, claiming we’re adopted, and making an unholy mess of our bedrooms. But it’s also where we do most of our growing up. We change, both physically and mentally. While many of our traits are set in stone very early on in life, there’s a hormone storm that fundamentally turns us into the people who we’ll largely be for the rest of our lives. And for so many reasons, the DJ industry and the gear it produces has undergone significant change in the teenage years of this century.

As the rest of the team has already shown in their pieces, much has happened in the last ten years. But for me, it has been a decade of growing up and maturing. The revolutions of media players, DVS, and controllerism that happened in the naughties have got much closer to their final forms, with some new evolutions of exciting paradigms appearing. 

So to a few observations before I dish out the awards.

Where the decade started

So that we can judge were we are now, let’s look at where we started this decade. Using NAMM 2010 as the line in the sand, let’s look at what was announced:

  • Ortofon S-120 (one of my favourite reviews to write)
  • Denon DN-X1600
  • Rane Sixty Eight
  • Vestax PMC 05 Pro IV
  • The Bridge 
  • Allen & Heath Xone:DX (loved it)
  • Numark V7
  • Numark X7 mixer (never actually launched)
  • Scratch Live V2
  • DJ Tech modular units
  • American Audio VMS4

To me, some seem older, and others newer. But a huge amount did happen in this decade, and for me, the following are the key talking points. 

LESS IS NOT ALWAYS MORE

The industry itself has consolidated. Back in the naughties, the scene was vibrant and populated with considerably more companies than there are now. And some of those large players now fall under one single banner. It’s now a bigger industry than before, but in the hands of a considerably smaller group of companies. 

THE RISE OF VIRTUAL MUSIC

The way music is delivered to DJs has changed out of all recognition. In the space of a decade, the digital revolution has evolved from physical media buying and music ownership still being a thing, to stores like Beatport selling downloadable music while you browse from the comfort of your own toilet.

But as we enter this decade, it’s all about streaming — no media, no buying, but just renting data from the likes of Tidal and Spotify. The role of the DJ has gone from being the curator to playing catchup with all the cool kids who’ve got all the same music on their phones in their pocket. The change is rapid and real.

The not so subtle shift of power

The biggest change has been the internet. While being well established at the start of this decade, it has been the social media revolution that has changed everything for… well everyone. 

Cast your minds back — the magazines wielded the power to make or break products. Outside of shops, they were the way that the manufacturers reached the potential customers. Snailmailing a clipped coupon in a stamped addressed envelope for more info was a thing. The struggle was real. 

Then the internet came along, and suddenly every business had a global shop window for you to press your nose against. The online media industry kicked off, with sites like skratchworx creating a place where the industry and end users could come together to read our take on new gear. And of course, you could just look at their web pages to get all the info you needed. 

But everything changed with social media. Now the industry could talk with their customers directly, thus negating the need for the media at all. The shift of power was complete. There’s still a need for what’s called third-party validation i.e. respected tier one media pundits offering opinions on new gear. But even that’s being negated by distance selling laws that let people buy and return gear at no cost. 

THE TOTAL DEMOCRATISATION OF DJING

When De La Soul spat the epic “everybody wants to be a DJ” line, little did they know how prophetic it was. That was in 1988, and it took a little over 10 years for that to become possible via CDJ-1000s (perhaps richer people anyway). The rest has been well documented in the pages of skratchworx and DJWORX ever since. 

And now it’s possible to play a set on your iPhone while using streamed music, and bluetoothing to speakers. No dedicated DJ hardware, physical media, or sound system necessary. Some see this as an absolute travesty, while other fully embrace everything that is available. But this is today’s truth — everybody who wants to be a DJ can be. And that’s an amazing thing in my book. 

Kevin was somewhat displeased to hear that new controllers were going to be less frequent that they were in the twentyteens.

SOME AWARDS

So to my list. Some of this is written with my tongue firmly jammed into cheek, and at times said tongue is being bitten so hard it hurts. 

The “gone but not forgotten, but not quite gone either” award

Vestax.

Their impact is deep on the DJ scene, and is evident on the majority of mixers and controllers out there. StpVestax gives us a reminder of the glory years, but Vestax as we knew it is just a fond memory. 

The “forgotten but not quite gone” award

Stanton.

It’s clear that the life support is about to be switched off. I only wish people were aware of just how pivotal they were in today’s scene. Perhaps that’s a story for my much threatened memoirs.

The “dropped ball that’s proving hard to pick up again” award

Traktor.

It was that left turn into the #futureofdjing walled garden that really did it. And it’s going to take more than knocking down the walls so everyone can play to fix things. Others should learn from how quickly an industry leading product can fall from grace. But we’re rooting for you. 

The “resting on their laurels” award

Pioneer DJ.

After lobbing the spectacular Rekordbox grenade in the DJ room, they sat back and waited for everyone to jump ship. They didn’t, and top end filtering down strategy had to be revised to bottom end first long game. But Pioneer DJ seems unbothered, probably because sales are still better than everyone else’s. But that will only last for so long. See the above award for evidence of how the mighty can fall. My advice — stop messing about and get behind rekordbox 100%, especially DVS. 

The “give me your fucking lunch money” award

Denon DJ.

As Pioneer DJ rested on their laurels post Rekordbox release, Denon DJ planted their flag in Pioneer DJ’s booth territory and unleashed the Prime range. The software was anger-inducingly poor, but the hardware, especially the second wave is pant-wettingly outstanding. And you can bet that they’re not stopping there. Pioneer DJ should be prepared for wedgies and/or heads in toilets.

The “it could’ve been a contender” award

Stems.

Had the chance to be a real game changer, but terribly handled launch combined with total lack of back catalogue doomed this to be a non-starter. Dance charts from 1980-2000 are rich pickings for Stems. Stop fucking about and take my fucking money. 

The “Resting Norwegian Blue” Award

Phase.

As a technology, it showed so much promise, but the execution was bloody appalling. Delay upon delay resulted in full price buyers being little more than beta testers at best. Social media posts revealed buyers were essentially playing Russian Roulette with their money just hoping that their batteries would charge, last more than a moment, and ideally not swell.

It’s quite telling that the “everything is just fine and dandy” PR kept coming with a plea to post it, but the review units did not. Too late now, but I suspect that was always going to be the case. Why put your new product in the hands of the most critical of DJ reviewers? And before you comment, I’m incredibly happy for you if your Phase purchase has turned out to be a good one.

The “I don’t know who I am anymore” award

Rane Twelve.

I went from not sure to confused, stopped off at anger, and ended up at disappointment. It caused an existential crisis as I could not see what it actually did for all the odd decisions, obvious flaws, pandering to the past, and the missed opportunities. As a reviewer of some experience, I was broken, and still am. 

I persisted, but nothing changed. Thus I sent the Twelves and Seventy Two back, and the Twelve review remains written but unpublished. I use the term review loosely, as it’s more a lament of what could have been. The silver lining however is that the aforementioned existential crisis I suffered has inspired me to accelerate long-standing plans.

The “old dog that still has new tricks” Award

inMusic’s Chris Roman.

It’s an ironic accolade considering that he was the leading light on the Rane stuff that just didn’t connect with me, but Chris has consistently delivered gear I truly love since the start of my journey in the industry. My beloved TTX1 is obviously pre-teens decade, by the NS7 range is the most fun I’ve had in DJing. And god knows we need more of that in this all-too-serious game. 

The “very definition of Phoning it in” Award

Technics.

Coming back to the DJ scene should have seen pomp and circumstance like never before. But having seen the product, you can understand why it was more of an “I’ll just leave this here” while backing slowly out of the room. Do or not do — there is no try, especially when trying to extract well over a grand and a half out of people.

The “I know what we said, but…” Award

Portablism.

It’s hard to look past the facepalming irony of a scene populated by DJs who previously swore a blood oath in the temple of Technics while wishing plague and pestilence upon those who did not. But now it’s apparently absolutely fine to do the very same scratches on a tiny flimsy plastic 7” turntable, often sat next to the aforementioned 1200s. 

I am however happy that they do. Since the early days of skratchworx, I advocated for third-party products. I hope it continues beyond portablist gear.  

The “Where is everybody? BEHIND YOU!” Pantomime Award

The Boiler Room.

I just don’t get this modern phenomenon of a crowd of people stood behind DJs, let alone in touching distance. Oh yeah — DJs are really bloody dull to watch, so the jiggling pretty young things make it bearable. I’ll be hiring a selection of hot young interns to stand behind me as I tap this drivel into my keyboard in the future. I’ll need to move my desk forward a bit though.

The “where’s the innovation… oh wait we’re not ready after all” award

The DJ community.

It’s hilarious to see reactions to boundary pushing new gear. Over the years I like to think that I can predict how the community will react to whatever nextlevelness is shovelled in front of them. And in recent times it’s devices like the Rane Twelve that people fawn over, but conveniently look past decade+ older units like the Numark CDX, HDX, Stanton SCS.1D, and Gemini CDT-05 as proof of concept. 

Standalone is another thing that has been around for ever in different forms, notably the Stanton SCS.4DJ in controller form. Remember Nextbeat? But now, it’s all the rage. 

It seems to me that the industry needs to push out boundary pushing units as loss leaders and trial balloons, but also as investments in the future. People will buy it eventually, because boredom sets in and an injection of revolutionary shiny is needed to satiate the GAS riddled early adopters. Or maybe just spend more time getting it right first time around. Remember — safe is risky. 

The “you can stuff that new fangled bullshit up your arse” award

The 7″ single.

Up until recently, I was having a real issue with the cult of the 45 set. I struggled to figure out why anyone would choose to spin a 7″ over a 12″, and got genuinely angry at tracks written to fill a 12″ being shortened and shoehorned on a 45. But I now understand that like portablism, it’s a reaction and rebellion against the spiralling black hole of increasingly uber-expensive new shiny being foisted upon DJs. It’s a return to the roots and beyond of DJing. And long may it continue. I just won’t be spinning 45s on anything but a PT01 Scratch thankyouverymuch.

The “I get knocked down but I get up again” award

Me.

It’s fair to say that professionally and personally, this decade has been quite eventful. Family health scares, burglary, car theft, trolls, trouble makers, death threats, repeated hacking, and the steady erosion of revenue from DJWORX has definitely put this decade on the map. 

That makes it sound like ten years of utter hell. But these were just momentary blips on my journey through life. What I’ve gained from building the good ship DJWORX and steering her through rough and still waters is immeasurable. And it’s these experiences that will be shaping the latter chapters in my career.

You see, it’s all about finding your place and voice, and being true to yourself. We’ve always been the most critical (and from what I’m told the most trusted and respected) voice in this industry, and it’s a matter of finding a way to build upon that in a positive way. And I believe I’ve got a plan that will satisfy everyone, and importantly keep me happy for many years to come. 

Future challenges

As we leave the golden “another bloody controller” era, the industry and end users alike have to get to grips with a few realities:

  • The process of playing music to a crowd has been nailed several times over. There will be no more revolutions for quite some time to come. 
  • This impacts on the churn of new hardware, and subsequently the huge industry that previously enjoyed the gravy train will have to make serious changes to keep the office lights on. They will have fewer chances to get it right.
  • Environmental issues will impact heavily at all stages in the process of designing, producing, and delivering DJ equipment. Stop making non-recyclable future landfill — it’s time to make things that last.
  • Brexit will have an impact as well. The UK is a massive market for the industry, but we have no idea right now how it will imprint itself. 

This does paint a grim picture for the immediate future. But remember — regardless of the technology you use or the music you play, people will still want to dance. The rest is down to you. Have fun being you in the next decade. 

Now go to your room and think hard about your actions in the last ten years. And I’ll take that phone thanks.