Carl Cox is one of the true grand masters of dance music. Back in the day, who wasn’t amazed to see Carl spin on three Technics 1210s? But while his ability to rock any party remains unchanged, technology has taken giant leaps forward as the years have unfolded.
The start of the year will bring Coxy’s first Global Underground album — from Burning Man’s Black Rock City — followed by his own artist album. “It’s all about rocking the house,” says Carl, who claims that the album release will also mark a new era for his label, Intec.
We caught up with Carl to find out how he keeps his DJing performances fresh and exciting in the digital domain…
What’s your current DJ set-up?
“Right now I am playing on two Pioneer CDJs and a mixer. I’m using my Vestax PMCCCX mixer, which I made with Vestax six years ago, although sometimes I will use the new Vestax PMC580 PRO mixer, which is an alternative to Pioneer’s DJM800. Basically, I’m trying to keep the DJing aspect of how I play as close to how it was when I played on vinyl.”
Are you using any digital DJing software?
“I use Native Instruments’ Traktor with my MacBook Pro. To control all of this I use a piece of kit called Maschine, which is also from Native Instruments and can be used in two ways — as a sequencer to access drums samples to use live when DJing or as a Midi controller, which is how I use it.
“I can control all four decks on Traktor using Maschine. And when I use this set-up I have the ability to control whatever effects I want to use — delays, filters, flange, whatever, it’s all available to mess around with.”
Why did you choose Traktor and not Ableton Live?
“Because I am such a ‘live’ DJ, Ableton doesn’t allow me to be spontaneous in any way. It is very slick and smooth but very non-eventful as a tool that you can perform from. I find myself on the computer a lot more if I am using Ableton Live.
“Don’t get me wrong, I use Ableton as a production tool and I think it’s fantastic for that, but not as a DJ tool. Traktor allows me to still be the DJ I am, based on how I work and how I control the music.”
How do all the new software and hardware options compare to mixing in the good ol’ days?
“Well, in the good ol’ days we didn’t have computers that had enough processing power to play music from. The old days were very much back to basics — two turntables and a mixer. But that gave us the DJing skills to be able to mix and play like we did, and to now emulate that in what we can do today with software like Traktor or Serato.”
So would you say technology has revolutionised the way we mix now?
“I’m happy that I had 20 years of being a DJ that played on turntables, but then it was revolutionised by the Pioneer CDJ players, which changed the whole DJing culture and the concept of it. The CD players allowed us to loop, sample, and to still do things possible on a turntable but a whole lot more. In the end CDJs over turntables became more favourable, and the fact that not many record labels were actually pressing on vinyl played a major factor in this. Now you have computers to add to the mix. This basically gives you even more options over turntables.”
Can you explain how you use Maschine as a controller for Traktor?
“I use Maschine to manipulate everything that is inside Traktor — the tunes, the effects, etc. With Maschine I can make a two-bar loop on track A, move on to track B, play the actual record, then add a bassline over it on track C. I can introduce another element on track D, adding delays, effects, changing the whole sound using the controller. Before you know it, you’re creating a whole new remix of a track. It really pushes you to be more creative and there’s a lot more performance involved.”
“To be honest, it is. And it’s not all plain sailing using Machine as a controller, as you have to memorise the templates on the unit, as all the info on the actual controller correspondences to how Maschine is used as a program and not as a Traktor controller. So using it with Traktor means that once set up you have to remember where each control is and what it does, which could pose a little problem, especially for DJs who get really pissed! It could lead to a few interesting moments behind the decks!”
In that case, would you use CD players like the new Pioneer CDJ2000s or Denon’s DNS3700 as controllers for your set-up?
“I am yet to experience using CDJ players as controllers for using Traktor. It’s not going to change anything that I do right now, not in the way that I work and the way I use Maschine as a controller. There are only a handful of DJs I know that are using Maschine as a controller — obviously myself, Richie Hawtin, Dubfire, Nic Fanciulli. This is all new software that is being fired up right now.
“I suppose with CD players, everyone knows the layouts and are used to using the players so this could make it easier to control your digital DJing software or tracks. This could push or tempt the masses to adopt the CDJ players as controllers so we’ll see which will become king based on what people like to use.”
Is there a downside to all this new DJing technology?
“What I am worried about and don’t want to fall into, is dependence on too many screens to play a set. It’s bad enough having one computer screen. After all, it’s all about the performance and the people. I want to be looking at the crowd and them looking at me, interacting with one another. If we start getting dependant on screens it is going to ruin the art of performance.
“It’s a great day for technology but it can be a very bad day for performance for DJs. Too many DJs are now wrapped up with the computers and their screens and forget about the crowd; I want to still be involved with the crowd. All I want the computer to do is play the music I want it to play, all I want the CD player to do is play the music I want it to play, what I don’t want to do is get the machines doing everything for me. I still want to utilise the skills that makes me a DJ.”
So, digital or vinyl?
“I love vinyl. I have 150,000 records in my garage from 1968 to the present day. But in the end, technology has prevailed. As much as I love vinyl, unfortunately it has had its day so it’s digital all the way.”
Mix like Carl Cox!
Want to get to grips with Traktor? Well, now you can. The lovely people at Native Instruments have given us a set of prizes that will warm the heart and amplifiers of any DJ. Up for grabs is:
1st Prize: Traktor Scratch Pro (includes Audio 8 Soundcard)
2nd Prize: Traktor Duo and Audio 2 DJ Soundcard
3rd Prize: Traktor Duo
Win any of these prizes and you too can mix it with the best, using the same software as Carl Cox and other DJ legends. To win, simply send an email with all your details to: firstname.lastname@example.org with the heading ‘I want to mix like Carl Cox’. Closing date for entries is 24th November.