Hi-Tech DJ's Trade Discs for Laptops

News & Notes technology guru Mario Armstrong and Baltimore-area DJ's talk about new vinyl-free disc jockey technology.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

The days of the old-school disco style deejay may be numbered. Disc jockeys today have found high-tech alternatives to hauling heavy vinyl records to nightclubs. I recently went out to see exactly what new technology deejays are using to keep their parties moving.

I'm here in my hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, with our tech expert, Mario Armstrong. What's going on, man?

MARIO ARMSTRONG reporting:

Yeah, this is a pretty interesting experiment. We're getting ready to explore a journey of how deejays are being influenced and are leveraging or using technology in a different way. It's going to blow your mind.

CHIDEYA: So can you introduce us to some of the folks we've got in the room with us?

ARMSTRONG: Yeah. We have two distinct deejays with us. One is DJ Face the Arkitek.

DJ FACE: Hello. Hello, everybody. DJ Face, Baltimore, Maryland, the Architect. And I'm here with my partner and good friend, DJ KaBoom.

ARMSTRONG: KaBoom was part of the original group in Baltimore called the Numark. So, DJ Face, why don't you just give us a little bit of the evolution of the laptop now being used in conjunction with, you know, the old wax, the old turntables?

DJ FACE: I went from turntables that were originally called belt drives, and that means that underneath the plate of the turntable, they were being--the motor was being driven by a belt. But now we're at a point where we've been deejaying for several years now, myself and KaBoom. We got to the point where we were carrying crates of records that traditional deejays would carry, and our backs were hurting, just like everybody else who's been through that. You know, your backs really go through it, carrying all this equipment.

So they created a computer program now that allows you to actually deejay with a laptop, and basically the simplest way to explain it is you're eliminating carrying records, and all my music is in my laptop, and this program is divided into two turntables where you can actually assign music to each turntable and go through your whole entire catalog of music, whichever genre you like.

CHIDEYA: So I was faked out. I'm looking at these turntables and they have two records on them, and I thought the music was coming from the records, but the music's coming from the computer. So what's the records for?

DJ FACE: The records are actually what you call control records, so--and the program is called Sorado(ph). The control records are two records, you never take them off of the turntables. There is a whole hook-up here from the laptop and into a separate box created by Rayne(ph), which then runs into your mixer, and you change your songs through your laptop.

CHIDEYA: Well, why don't we take these babies out for a spin?

DJ FACE: Sounds good to me.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: Now one thing that I think is interesting is that somebody was telling me, a friend of mine who loves music almost as much as I do was telling me that she knows a deejay who has transferred, I think, a hundred and fifty gigabytes worth of vinyl onto hard drives. Are you guys converting any of your stuff?

DJ FACE: Yeah. KaBoom and I both have spent hours taking our vinyl and transferring it to CDs and then taking the CDs and loading it into the laptop that way. You can also meet another deejay, get with another deejay who has the program. DJs are constantly trading on most of them. And I also wanted to say that don't let this fool anybody out there. You still have to know the basics of how to be a deejay.

CHIDEYA: Mario.

ARMSTRONG: Yeah. That's one of the things that I wanted to bring up: the art form. You know, this is an art form, but I would like to ask KaBoom, someone that has been around in this business for quite some time, I have the feeling that there may be a sentiment of folks that are saying technology is not helping this art form. It's hurting it.

DJ KABOOM: Well, I'd say yes and no. Technology--it's not a bad thing, but what is bad is some of the programs are meant as a shortcut to learning the actual art of deejaying. There is something to be said when you get away from the roots of, or the origin of what made this an art that it is. You have to start on the turntables. You have to understand what it's like to blend two records together before you try to scratch a record.

CHIDEYA: All right, KaBoom, I'm ready. I'm ready now.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Singer #1: MC am I performing, MC am I performing, MC and MC, MC, MC and MC am I to perform for you, when I liven up a party, I feel no...

CHIDEYA: That was hot. That was hot. So now what do you think the future is of this high-tech deejaying? It used to be a game where folks who didn't have a lot of money used the technology to create the sounds they heard coming from synthesizers they couldn't buy. So what's the future now that anyone almost can own a synthesizer in the form of some of the computer programs, KaBoom?

DJ KABOOM: I think that all the deejays--we can purchase this and sit down and embrace the technology, because it's not going anywhere. And I held off as long as I could, and now I'm an advocate.

DJ FACE: I'm just like KaBoom. I fought it and fought it and fought it, because I'm a purist and the joy of just being able to go anywhere you want to go, once you have all the files, I mean, we have reggae, we have dirty south music, we have hip-hop, we have R&B, old-school R&B. If anybody comes up to me at a point in the night, if I don't have the song, it's because I just haven't loaded it on to the laptop, and if I don't play it, maybe I don't like you.

CHIDEYA: Mario.

ARMSTRONG: And that happens. My last question to the deejays is what still is the human element of deejaying? If I have a club and I can play this music that you've already mixed for me and let it run on autopilot, why do I need you physically there?

CHIDEYA: Face.

DJ FACE: A live deejay can read a crowd. If this particular genre of music isn't working at this point in time, you can switch it up, and you can vibe off the people. You might have somebody like KaBoom, who learns from me how to deejay and does my mike height...

DJ KABOOM: Ooh!

DJ FACE: ...and gets the crowd loud that way. I had to--you know, I had to jab him up a little bit. No, we both love what we do, and that's the element, I think, that you would miss if you don't have an actual body behind it.

CHIDEYA: On that note, we're going to say goodbye. Face, KaBoom, Mario, thank you all so much and we will continue to learn more about high-tech deejaying.

DJ FACE: Thank you.

DJ KABOOM: Thank you.

ARMSTRONG: Yeah, thank you very much.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Singer #2: ...don't care. My contributions to this jam is confusing because I am ...(unintelligible).

Unidentified Singer #3: ...(Unintelligible)

Unidentified Singer #2: ...(Unintelligible) all the way, the super-easy (unintelligible) might seem OK. Yes, I'm down, down by law. I get the girlies out over ...(unintelligible).

(Credits)

CHIDEYA: To listen to the show, visit to npr.org. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

I'm Farai Chideya. Ed Gordon will be back on Monday, broadcasting from Montgomery, Alabama. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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