Music is as old as people. In comparison to playing an instrument or singing, DJing is just a baby. Only as old as recorded music. But that hasn’t stopped DJs from getting creative with their performances and equipment. Learning new forms of DJing is a great way to grow as an artist. Here’s some stuff about controllerism, what it is and why it’s cool.
What is controllerism?
Controllerism is the use of music software controllers as instruments. It’s like turntablism, except with Akai MPCs, Novation Launchpads (or a dance mat, if you’re not that into normality). It’s an ability that must be worked on. There are some pretty skilled controllerists around, and there’s no doubt they’ve honed their craft in the same way that any lead guitarist has. Technically, using an S4 or CDJs makes you a controllerist, but the term is generally reserved for the ‘players’ of the controller rather than playback using the controller. There must, in essence, be some skill involved.
Who are the controllerists?
A few names come to mind. DJ Shiftee plays turntables, keys and a drum pad all at the same time. DJ Craze has a fairly dope selection of tracks to his name and likes to keep things very live. In the early 2000s, DJs like Four Tet and Girl Talk began appropriating live processing into their performances, creating a space for using laptops themselves to become a form of controllerism.
How do we be controllerists?
One awesome trick is using a hardware sequencer to layer the core groove of the track you’re playing. Hardware sequencers allow you to play along with the track by creating and editing patterns on the fly. Use Traktor (or your software of choice) to load up a track, match the BPM and then start finger drumming a live loop. Using devices with their own sets of sounds and samples will save you CPU and also bring a bunch of new sounds to the track you’re playing. Remember to mute the hardware sequencer playback during the track break so that the energy dips and drops line up nicely. One of the most underrated controllers on the market is the Synthstrom Deluge, made with love in New Zealand!
At its heart, controllerism says just this: keep busy. If there’s a gap between you doing one thing and another, fill that gap. Have a sampler next to your laptop. A third deck. A couple of MIDI pads. Anything to keep things lively. A fair amount of technical ability goes into both DJing well and into playing an instrument well. Nobody gets anywhere unless they’ve done their practice hours. It’s not all just about getting the room dancing. Sometimes you gotta show off a little, too. Learn DJing like a controllerist pro and get your audience talking about you.
John Bartmann is a music producer and DJ