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Interview: Speedy J on the benefits of DJing in parts

By christen reutens
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We live in a time of technological change. Consider the DJ. Once confined to the humble turntable and the physicality of music on vinyl, the DJ is now able to remix music live and deconstruct musical works on a molecular level using software.

At Beatport, more and more labels and artists are releasing parts to tracks, enabling DJs to create live remixes and re-edit music in the DJ booth.

One of the biggest advocates of DJing in parts is Dutch techno pioneer Speedy J [a], who last year released ‘Kreate’, a huge collection of loops and samples which allowed DJs to build entire tracks in a live setting.

Then in October, Speedy J launched his Open Collabs project encouraging producers worldwide to submit samples and loops to him, so that he could build an entire album from them. Speedy J is obsessed with parts, and always has been.

Beatportal decided to interview the DJ revolutionist to try and understand the possible futures of DJ culture. Because, as author Stewart Brand once said, “Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.” No DJ wants to be squashed.

Here is an in-depth interview with Speedy J about his thoughts on parts, conducted naturally, as an IM interview, because if we’re talking about parts, we may as well do it in parts.

Beatportal: Hi Speedy J. Thank you for agreeing to talk about parts today.

Speedy J: Hi. My pleasure.

Beatportal: I would like to start by asking, why do you think DJing with parts is the future?

Speedy J: I think DJing with parts is only one way that DJing can go in the future. As my background is playing live with hardware instruments, DJing with parts is a natural progression. I am used to improvising with elements and building tracks and re-arranging things on the fly. I made the transition to DJ software since Ableton first came out, and later I added Traktor, replacing all my hardware. But my approach is pretty much still the same.

Beatportal: What is it about mixing on a molecular level that inspires you?

Speedy J: I think it provides a tremendous amount of freedom. I can really spin things out and improvise during sets. It’s so much more flexible and intuitive than having to stick with whatever is printed on the record. It allows me to create a much more dynamic set, you can go from thick and layered intense moments and bring it down to something minimalist and stripped in one smooth transition. It also makes it possible to make combinations of records that would never match or blend normally. I like to take things out of context and use things in unexpected ways.

Beatportal: Can you give me a real life example of how you might take things out of context or use things in unexpected ways?

Speedy J: I categorize tracks by the elements in them that I like. Most of them I would not play in full length or by themselves because they would not fit with the sound that I want to create. It’s possible to use stuff at other speeds, or just use a bassline or percussion elements of tracks that would never work when played full length. Sometimes I just use an intro, or a break of a record, but in a differrent context. Most of these things happen spontaneously during the set.

Parts that I use can vary from a few minutes of a record to something really short like a one bar loop. And when something combines well, I can just keep everything looping and play with the elements, filtering, manipulating, and really spin things out. A part can be anything really. I just throw things in and try to make it blend on the fly.

Beatportal: Deconstruction and construction is what DJs have really been doing since the beginning, but they were always limited by the direction and structure of each individual record. Mixing in parts is simply a more purer form of DJing. Instead of a DJ being held back creatively by a piece of music, they are now able to create the direction and structure themselves live, based on crowd reaction. They are able to react faster, and act as a kind of mirror to the dancefloor. Is that how you see it?

Speedy J: Yes things are much more fluid and instant.

Beatportal: You’ve been DJing since the early 1990s. But your production breakthrough came with ‘Pullover’ in 1992. Can you remember the first time you thought to yourself ‘I wish I could do what I do in the studio as a live performance, instead of just mixing two tracks together’?

Speedy J: Yes that is pretty much what I have always done. DJing with records never really appealed to me, I always feel I need to have more control over the stuff I play and where I want to take my sets. as you mentioned, the principle is the same, it’s all about blending stuff in an interesting way, but using elements instead of pre recorded stuff gives me more freedom to do that. It’s more fun for me and therefore also for the crowd. I don’t think the debate between analog vs digital DJing is valid, as every performer should stick to the tools and technology that suits them best to express their view.

Beatportal: You first started mixing with parts when Ableton Live arrived. Now you’re using Traktor. What tools/technology would you like to see come out that will further improve the mixing in parts performance?

Speedy J: I use Traktor and Ableton side by side, and I recently added Native Intruments’ Maschine to my setup. What I would really like is something to manipulate audio in an even more fluid way. Sort of like the way synths work, but applied to audio, with much more extreme parameters.

Right now it’s limited to looping, shifting and re-arranging, but I would like to have more control over the individual bits. With Maschine it’s possible to do this to a certain extent, but there could be a lot of improvement in the interface to make it more fluid and transparent.

Beatportal: Like instead of mixing audio parts, you actually get access to MIDI files bundled with synths, so you can manipulate the source?

Speedy J: No, I’m talking about audio manipulation.

Beatportal: So you want more FX, that allow more control?

Speedy J: Yes, let’s call it FX. I don’t think midi files and synths would be practical. The ingredients I use are still recordings. And that suits me just fine. There is an endless choice of recordings. Midi files and synths would only be provided by a handful of producers, so a system that relies on that would never take off.

Beatportal: DJing with parts is one way that DJing could go in the future. Where else do you think it could go?

Speedy J: There are many types of audiences each looking for different types of entertainment, so there will always be performers finding new ways to do that. As technology progresses and as trends come and go there will be new approaches and angles in DJing. Music technology is becoming more and more transparent and powerful.

Beatportal: Do you foresee in the future a possible emergence of two DJ races? One that believes that DJs should be allowed to deconstruct music down to parts and rebuild it back again in their own mind’s eye – technologists. Another race that believes that music tracks are pure and we should respect the original aims of the producer, and DJs should only mix tracks as whole pieces of music – traditionalists.

Speedy J: Every performer should be able to express their ideas using any tool or style they want. To even raise that debate I think is pretty silly.

Beatportal: Ok. Do you think if mixing in parts becomes more popular, producers and labels will rethink the music creation process? Will producers start releasing just parts and loops for DJs instead of whole tracks? Your ‘KREATE’ sound library from last year did just that.

Speedy J: I think that is another thing that everyone should decide about themselves. For me the parts idea works great, and I think it’s wonderful to be able to share stuff, and make my music and sounds available to others for interpretation. Regardless of how other labels or producers feel about this, the fact is that today’s technology allows people to use and re-use things in any way they like. I think it’s great that this is possible, it has certainly provided me with a lot of new ideas. What we do need is a shift in culture about intellectual property. There is a lot of confusion about this at the moment.

Beatportal: The music industry has proven itself in the past to be slow to react to technological challenges. Have you got any ideas or solutions about how to deal with the intellectual property question in an era where technology allows anybody to rework, re-edit, and remix anything?

Speedy J: I think Creative Commons is a good start. Just leave it up to the creator of a work to decide what level things are free to use, distribute or sell.

Beatportal: There’s some confusion surrounding creative commons. Can you explain what it is for those of us that don’t understand it?

Speedy J: The confusion I’m talking about is caused by the way the record industry tries to apply rules about ownership based on distribution of individual physical copies, in an age when things can be copied a billion times at no cost at all.

Creative Commons gives the creator the power do decide how their work can be used, distributed and sold. You can have different levels of control for each work, and adjust the rules according to circumstances. It not only leaves this decision up to the creator, but it also sets an example to audiences and consumers about how to treat intellectual property. We don’t get these examples from traditional record companies or intellectual property societies, so that’s why nobody really has a clue about how to deal with it.

How can you ever contol ownership of anything digital? The only way forward is to create awareness and set examples. It will be harder to sell millions of copies of some crap record by controlling every step of the process, and push it down people’s throats, but do we need that? On the other hand digital technology provides many possibilities for creation and communication and collaboration. It’s up to artists to take advantage of this.

Beatportal: So we leave it up to the original artist to decide. They can distribute their work under the creative commons license allowing consumers to do with it whatever they want (remix, DJ, play on their home stereo). But enforcement is not possible in the digital era, as you rightly point out. Education and awareness could help? If consumers are educated about intellectual property, do you think they will follow ‘the rules’?

Speedy J: Yeah, if full contol is an issue, you have to think of ways to tie your work to something physical, that can still be done. But for anything digital it’s pretty much impossible. I would rather focus on the possibilities it creates. In the end there will always be ideas and works that get support by large groups of people, and when technology develops, the models to monetize these ideas will change and be adjusted. I would not use the word ‘rules’, I would rather say culture.

Beatportal: If consumers are educated about intellectual property, do you think they will follow the culture?

Speedy J: I think by setting examples, and by changing the culture there is more chance people will follow that culture.

Beatportal: Richie Hawtin mentioned recently that he sees all music as version 1.0. He would like to see a technological solution that rewards the original creator of the sound/music each time it is used. He said, “Artists and labels should still be able to make money from their music when it gets sampled, but there should be a way of tracking how far down your samples go. We should be able to scan a track and say 50% of this is original, 20% is from this record, and 30% is from this record.” What do you think about that?

Speedy J: Yeah I think that may work to some extent. If there would be a way to embed some kind of dna or fingerprint in each work then this could be possible. This solution would provide ultimate control. But then again, I think the level of control should be a choice of the creator and record label. I think a less controlled system which emphasizes and promotes fair treatment would suit me better.

Good ideas in a more flexible model will sell better than bad ideas in a controlled enviroment.

Beatportal: Being involved in the system shouldn’t be mandatory then. But it should be an option.

Speedy J: Yes. Bottom line is that every artist is selling and promoting ideas. The key is to reach every potential customer, who will support your idea. Once you can reach them you can find ways to sell them your ideas. And while musicians express their ideas in music in the first place, it doesn’t mean that this is the only thing you can sell.

Beatportal: Let’s assume that perpetual connectivity is an oncoming reality. If laptops and software like Traktor, and DJing via live streams with access to large databases like Beatport becomes the standard, then there may be a way to reward the original artist each time their work is used. All it requires is the technology to talk, and some sort of subscription service where the DJ pays a yearly fee for full creative commons license access to the database. What do you think of that idea?

Speedy J: Yeah, that could be a way. I think subscription models definitely have a future. Maybe even at the level at which people get access to the network, like TV. It just comes out of your wall and you pay a fee to get access to everything.

It’s up to services like Beatport to make the experience as convenient as possible. The reason why people use the Beatports and iTunes stores of today is convenience. In theory it’s possible to bypass those services and still get everything for free, but the experience of having transparent access is what makes it worth paying for.

I think the future of these services depends on how well things can be found by the consumer. Like recommendation systems, curation. This aspect is really underdeveloped in most stores right now.

Beatportal: Oh and one last thing. Are you the kind of guy who goes to those restaurants where they allow you to cook your own dishes using raw ingredients? You know, like those Mongolian barbeque places.

[crickets]

Beatport Parts: 5 releases to check

More and more labels are adding parts of tracks to Beatport. For $3.99 you can download all the parts of a track, or you can download individual parts at $1.99.

Speedy J, Chris Liebing, Collabs ‘Magnit Parts’ [Electric Deluxe]

Dirty Vegas ‘Pressure Remix Parts’ [Toolroom]

Calisto ‘Get House Parts’ [Definitive Recordings]

Voodeux ‘Heebie Jeebiez Parts’ [Mothership]

Johnny Fiasco ‘Take 5 Parts’ [OM Records]