The DJWORX team has attended a number of trade shows over the years, and they generally lend themselves to the same kind of flow: see new gear, report on new gear, discuss new gear, leave. While we’ve already discussed how BPM 2014 is different, this year DJWORX had a very unique experience at the show. BPM is not the place for new gear to be announced (with very few exceptions) and is, instead, a place for people to get their hands on gear, try it out, and, if they like it, buy it. DJWORX had a completely different involvement in this show than any other we’ve attended. We decided, instead of running around like crazy people, trying to get all of the hot new information and talk to all the important people about all of the important things, we were going to willingly chain ourselves to a booth and make sure everything ran on schedule for the demo booth. Outside of a few hiccups in the beginning, everything ran pretty smooth, and was a great example of the professionalism apparent in the DJ industry.
Now that the show has ended, and I’ve had enough time to deal with the jet lag required to fly across the pond and back again, I wanted to give you a summary of our experiences at BPM, what we noticed, and where we think the industry is going. Unfortunately, there really isn’t a whole lot of gear to talk about. Playing with this stuff at a trade show is great and all, but we aren’t able to really put any of it through the requisite paces that makes up a review. We got to play with the DDJ-SX2 controller and PLX-1000 turntable from Pioneer, the Kontrol S Series of keyboards from Native Instruments, the AFX and AMX from Akai, the NDX-500 and NV from Numark, and… that was pretty much it. That’s the point of BPM, though. Real DJs and consumers arrive and get to play with gear right there, as opposed to waiting to read what we have to say from a trade show floor, or hoping for the best from online reviews.
The advantage of running something like the demo stage is it gives us a very clear understand about what excites people, and gets them to want to sit down and listen. For example, if there isn’t music playing most people don’t care. They will walk by, look at the various screens, and then keep on moving. Those demos, though, that focused more on using the gear to make interesting sounds had a much bigger audience. While the demos that got us the most excited were generally synths (KingKorg and MicroBrute), the audience was much more interested in the Komplete keyboards, Serato Flips and its various controllers, and one really amazing video DJ performance from DJ Cheeba.
As far as who was there for the DJ side of things, the list isn’t very long, but it is very telling: Virtual DJ, InMusic (Numark, Denon, Akai), Pioneer, Reloop, Allen & Heath, and Rane. I’ll leave an honorable mention for Stanton, who is distributed by Novation/Focusrite in the UK, and Native Instruments, who was had an actual presence between the store West End DJ and the Point Blank school. While there was nothing new from Stanton, I’d be surprised if there will be for a while. Vestax and Gemini didn’t have any presence there either. News on that is forthcoming.
The biggest change, for me, was any presence of Native Instruments at all. Since my first NAMM in 2012, their presence at trade shows has been declining for a long time. While NI and Serato haven’t had permanent booths at these shows for a long time, and neither had a physical booth at BPM, their presence was definitely felt. Serato was present at every single manufacturer, and their time code was even present at Virtual DJ’s stand. Native Instruments, however, was only present at retailers and the DJ school which was giving sessions on Traktor, Maschine and Komplete. This was, though, a bigger presence than I have seen since my first NAMM, especially considering they had absolutely no presence at last year’s NAMM or Messe. Them being visible at BPM was not very surprising. Serato has been working very hard to develop relationships with the hardware manufacturers for years, whereas NI has been becoming more and more silo’d, locked in their own ecosystem. They still find the time, though, to be present at a show like BPM, a show dedicated to the consumer.
As far as the gear goes, it was a lot of the same. Numark showed some new mixers on their stand, but they were only for display, and had a new CD/Media player out, connected to Serato via USB for either MIDI or HID control (we didn’t have a chance to ask). Reloop had the Neon out, and while it looks like a great complement to turntables and a mixer for Serato, it didn’t exactly blow any of us away. We’ll have a complete review of the NV and the Neon soon, as well as the AFX and AMX when we get our hands on them.
To be clear, trade shows are always loud. Always. It’s like some sadist locked everyone in a blast furnace and decided to play Pretty Monsters and Sandstorm on repeat, as loud as possible, forever. It’s my own personal hell. I understand the need and all, but standing in between the Reloop, Numark, Denon and Pioneer stands was like practicing for the Going Deaf Olympics. The guys who work these things truly are heroes in their own right.
Thankfully, we spent a large chunk of our time in a far away corner with our own scary sound system, watching a bunch of industry experts give the crowd inside looks at new hardware and software. The demo I was looking forward to the most was seeing Serato Flips in action, run by people who actually understand the workflow, as opposed to my clumsy fingers trying as hard as possible to not screw it up. We will be doing a full write up after we review the newest line of Serato ready gear. The entire DJWORX crew was completely blown away, though, by the King Korg demo, mainly due to the presenter’s bad-ass-dom, and I was really excited by the Arturia MicroBrute. There’s something about hearing a smooth bass line get turned into chaotic noise with the turn of a single knob that gets me all warm and fuzzy inside. Oddly enough, during the Arturia demo, it eventually felt like we were sitting in a bubble of absolutely chaotic noise, as every booth around us decided to try and get louder than that little synth. They didn’t succeed.
If we decide, though, to do this again at BPM next year, we’re hoping we can have bigger screens, though. It was really hard, at the distance people were sitting at, to see what was happening on the TVs that were provided. We’d also love to arrange with the surrounding booths some sort of time system so that everybody gets their chance to shine by being the LOUDEST EVER. Also, we’d make sure we always have enough power, so when some guy decides to turn his controller on it doesn’t short out the entire corner of the room (that really happened – Ed).
During every big show we do, whether it’s trade like NAMM or more of an expo like BPM, we have a lot of time to talk to people and get varying perspectives on the future of our little marketplace. With the announcement of the sale of Pioneer DJ, the end of EKS and the uncomfortable silence from established DJ brands like Gemini, Vestax and Stanton, the next year seems to be even more important to the direction of the DJ industry as a whole. It feels like we have been saying that every year since DVS became a thing.
The industry is going in three distinct directions: turntables, all-in-one controllers, and modular. Personally, modular will never truly come into its own until every single device has a reliable powered hub in it. Until that happens, modular set ups can’t be universal because they don’t take into account how computers work. What good is it for me to have 3 controllers if I have one or two USB ports? Or, at that, what good is it if I’m using an iPad? This is something that Behringer understood with the CMD modular controllers, and it’s something I can’t believe is not in every single controller that gets released.
All-in-one solutions are pretty much established, and have been since the VCI-300. There are individual differences between them all, but it’s still two wheels and a mixer, differentiated by the layout of faders, knobs, buttons and integration. They live and die by that integration, which means that every third party manufacturer is fighting to be the “best” with Serato. It’s a problem Native Instruments doesn’t have any more, for better or worse. Those controllers, though, seem to just go through slight iterations as they are “updated,” depending on what the software can handle, and we haven’t really seen a drastically different controller come out in a while. It comes back to our general lack of excitement with this segment of the market.
Turntables are a more interesting discussion. Unlike controllers, turntables are definitely more of a zero-sum-game. If a consumer buys a pair of PLX-1000’s then they are probably never going to buy two Str8-150’s. This is, of course, assuming all of these turntables are pretty much coming from the same factory, and we have plans to really show what sets these products apart. That’s for a future piece, though. The effort from Reloop, though, with the RP-8000 screws with that assumption, though, since turntables can now be optimized to work with software in a way we never had to consider before. It replaces the need for something like Dicers, and injects a little competition into what is effectively an unchanging market. I’m curious to see if more manufacturers go in that direction, or instead take the route that Pioneer took and just try and hold on to the nostalgia for the 1200’s.
There obviously isn’t a simple answer to what the future for the DJ industry will hold. I saw more turntables at BPM than I have ever seen at another DJ trade show, and almost every performance was either on CDJs or vinyl (DVS or real, doesn’t matter). I don’t really see this as a victory or a loss, or a change at all, more just a difference in how the DJ industry is presenting itself. I think that the reason turntables are still around, more than anything, is they are easy to understand. They aren’t simple to use, they require years of practice to use correctly, but they are two wheels with a switch in between. Compare that to opening up Traktor or Serato for the first time: they are nothing alike. Even the most basic DJ hardware requires an advanced understanding of DJ software. Sync doesn’t mix for you, and using it correctly requires a lot of work. Keylock doesn’t make your mixes sound super-awesome on its own, and using it correctly requires a lot of work. Spinning vinyl doesn’t make you a great DJ, and using it correctly requires a lot of work.
We can keep the conjecture going forever, but I think that this next year is going to be a very fascinating one for the industry. Two software giants are going to be holding the spotlight over everyone else while smaller developers are going to be creating really powerful tools. Most hardware releases are going to be geared to Serato and be pretty understandable, but Native Instruments is going to try and shake things up, and will have an uphill battle explaining their intent. Regardless of how it turns out it’s going to be a fun ride.