The Dark Side

posted on September 5th, 2005 by Anthony

I’ve been dabbling with a bit of DJ’ing for a good few years. Well if you include some very early dabblings it’s actually probably well over 10 years (eep!). It’s mostly been confined between within the walls of my bedroom, but I have occasionally managed to venture out and inflict my musical tastes on the unsuspecting public.

This includes quite a few bars around Liverpool, a very brief flirtation with promoting my own night, and one starring performance at the Birmingham NEC in front of several thousand mountain bike and BMX fans at BIKE2001.

Throughout this time I’ve stood by the trusty turntable and 12inch, and like most DJ’s I have firmly believed that nothing would ever come close to the tactile loveliness of a flat piece of grooved plastic.

I’ve scoffed at DJ CD players for years, it’s just not right. How can you delicately coax a tiny bit of shiny plastic forward .03% faster when the only interface you’ve got is a jog wheel with the sensitivity of drug fuelled Russian shot putter from the 80’s?

I’ve heard things have changed in this area now, and they actually a very good alternative. But still, CD’s… eugh.

Then there is using a laptop.

I suppose it was inevitable really. I mean, I am a bit of a geek when it comes down to it, and fusing two of my main passions is very alluring.

But I never really expected it to happen. I mean there isn’t anything physical involved…

There’s no thumbing though a ton of lovely sleeves. No reassuring feeling of vinyl on slipmat as you ride over the first beat as you cue up. No ability to scratch… well OK, that’s just me, I have no ability in that particular department at all…

Most important of all it all feels so remote, like you are mixing by Radio Control, with a slightly stupid robotic arm with it’s ham fisted grippers pressing too hard on the platter.

Until now. I’ve stumbled on the dark side. I’ve seen it’s power. It intrigues me. It gives me ideas. It works exactly like it should do. It feels almost perfect. Basically I’m impressed. Very impressed…

Mix vibes, erm... in da mix

Let me introduce you to MixVibes.

No WAIT, come back! I know the name is crap (they’re French so I’ll let them off), but that just hides the dark goodness that lies beneath.

You see, records, whether propelled by a motor or an Althlon XP2500, will eventually start to step out of time. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got the sharpest ear in the world, or a whole bank of electronic gizmos to tell you the records are going at the same speed, the tunes will start to step out of line. They are disobedient individuals that don’t mix well with others.

This is where MixVibes really grabbed my attention, it has a beautifully executed virtual version of the trusty finger nudge and brake. These cunning tactics of pushing and holding the record slightly to keep things tight are vital in beat mixing. And until giving MixVibes a whirl I didn’t believe it possible to build a natural feeling, virtual alternative.

The User Interface is set up with the virtual decks (up to 3 in some versions). You drag and drop files onto the deck you want, set a cue point with the wave form view, set the speed (which is a bit too easy for my liking seeing as it automatically works out the bpm’s for you…) then get things moving.

When things start to step out of line you get you just hold , click and rotate either forwards or backwards on the ‘vinyl’, and the music responds immediately, the more you push or pull, the bigger the effect.

I didn’t even know for sure it would work when I tried it, it was just instinctive and it worked exactly as I guessed hoped it would. It took me all of 2 seconds to realise what I discovered. I actually let out a little shout of joy!

How sad.

And it is sad. As I’ve got older I’ve run out of excuses to waste time and money on seeking out and buying new records – something I used to really enjoy. But the way I listen and experience music is changing:

I have a fiancée who has to put up with some of the dirge I listen too, I’ve bought an iPod (which really does change the way you listen to music), I work in Chester which isn’t exactly a seething hub of underground music culture, my favourite magazines have gone out of print, my favourite radio shows are all on way past my bedtime, in fact I’m not entirely sure where I actually hear new music anymore!

Most tellingly, in the last couple of years I’ve gone to more gigs than clubs.

The fact that I can now happily use my 2500 MP3’s in a DJ set is a major, major change. It opens up a lot of new avenues. Especially now I have a usable selection of music that involves… shhh now… guitars!

Vinyl isn’t dead for me, but it certainly just found a new partner.

I do apologise, I started writing this post with the intention of reviewing MixVibes, but as usual my mind has wandered and pushed me down some meandering side roads.

I’ll look at MixVibes more closely in the next few days, plus you should expect a ramble on music soon too… you have been warned!