Vinyl is old-school and classy, while CDs are useful, but lack soul. Serato is cool, sassy and bridges the technological divide. What other DJ tool takes the best of these worlds and comes in a laptop-sized box?
Meet the thinking DJ’s bit o’ digital crumpet, Ableton Live, a software sequencer that is used for mixing, arranging and composing music.
“With Ableton we have endless possibilities at our fingertips,” said Eben Pretorius, one half of Taipei-based Genetically Modified Beats, formerly Too Bad It’s Not Tronic.
“Modifying tracks and samples on the fly, with our current setup we can take control of four channels on a club mixer,” said Matt Schism, the other half of Genetically Modified Beats, “then loop, cut up, edit and sample tracks on the spot. We can apply effects and warp music to our liking and if we like an eight-bar loop of a track or a vocal stab, then we play it. We’re not confined to playing the entire track.”
For a DJ, Ableton Live’s usability is a step up from mixing one track to the next.
“For the first couple of years here, I was using CDs,” said Schism, from Toronto, “but as my skills increased I found that medium started to limit what I wanted to do ... I wanted to create more of a live performance, not just rinse and repeat, mixing track for track.”
“I won’t say it’s better than straight up mixing,” said South African Pretorius, “it just allows us to bring the creative freedom that we have in the studio to our live gigs. We spend hours programming our MIDI controllers so we can have complete control over every single aspect of the sound you hear us play.”
Others, meanwhile, bad-mouth Ableton Live because of the lack of manual dexterity involved in using it to mix and say that DJs look like they’re checking their e-mail when performing.
With vinyl or Serato, the DJ’s hand to eye to ear coordination is of crucial importance — and is part of the show.
“Anyone who has seen us play already knows how involved we get in the booth,” said Schism. “There is never a dull moment as one of us is manning the mixer, the other is handling looping and effects on the MIDI devices.”
“We’re both back and forth throughout the entire set,” said Pretorius. “Actually the only time we’re looking at the screen is to choose a track, loop and sample. Same as a DJ using Serato or any other laptop-based software.”
Pushing buttons though, must be less enjoyable than sliding a hand on the turntable and feeling the track drop in sweet on the 4/4.
“Not in the slightest,” said Schism. “If anything, we have more hands-on time now, as we’re being able to create new tunes on the fly by mashing up other tracks, slicing loops and samples, which is a lot of fun and makes it feel like more of an art form.”
“We think this is the future of live electronic music performances,” said Pretorius. “It is no longer track for track as with this new medium you’re able to create and play with a living electronic soundscape. If you can imagine it you can create it live.”
As for Genetically Modified Beats’ sound, it’s hard to define, said Pretorius: “We play a lot of different genres out live — house, electro, breaks and techno. We wanted to bring the dirty electro, sawtooth bass line sound to Taiwan and I think so far we’ve achieved that goal.”
After more than two years of getting to grips with Ableton Live, “we aren’t DJs in the traditional sense anymore,” said Pretorius.