Welcome beat-cornerinians! (will continue to think of a more appropriate name for my followers soon)
Today’s topic is one that I’ve been mulling over for a few weeks now. It started when I first saw someone on YouTube map their Dreamcast Arcade Stick into a music-trigger!
I then realised that the act of playing video games and the act of DJ’ing shares many core skills. These core skills are in fact quick reflexes and rhythmic button-mashing! This close link has lead to some cross-pollination of technology.
The first true rhythm game I can remember being popular is Konami’s “Dance Dance Revolution” in 1998. This game sparked a rhythm game revolution in Japan, which quickly spread to North America, Europe and the rest of the world. It involved moving your feet to match the beat indicated by the video display. You know the game I am talking about…
After Dance Dance Revolution, rhythm games began to take off in arcades, home video game consoles and even on smartphone games. The popularity of games like “Guitar Hero” lead to music games becoming a genre onto themselves! But something else that happened along the way; and it evolved slowly. Some time in the early 2000’s, the world of DJ’s and video gamers slowly but surely started to intersect in interesting ways. How did it happen? Well, it started with some really cool DJ simulation games released for the Sony Playstation 2. The first one, entitied “Frequency” was designed by Harmonix, the future makers of Guitar Hero. It allowed you to not only play notes of a song by hitting the right buttons in unison, but it also allowed you to loop, scratch and add your own effects to the track being played. It was in fact allowing you to remix the track. This was a cool concept at the time and allowed for innovative gameplay. A sequel entitled “Amplitude” was released in 2003 and allowed for a larger track selection and the ability to tag-team with a friend online for two-person remixing!
There were even full on DJ simulation games available as well. “DJ: Decks and FX House Edition” allowed you to full-on DJ using two virtual turntables, a mixer, looper and sampler. If you used the PS2 remote headset you could even cue-your tracks up using the headphones!
…and then the love affair with DJ’ing and video games reached a full on climax in 2009 with the release of Freestyle Games’ “DJ Hero.” It included a plastic Turntable + Mixer controller (pictured in the title) and an awesome collection of mashed-up tracks. My personal favourite was Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” mixed with Daft Punk’s “Da Funk”. This spin-off of Guitar Hero was a challenge to play. You had to hit the beats on time, mix between the songs with the crossfader, scratch the track when required and activate vocal samples all at once!
Then…something happened. Rhythm games stopped appearing on the shelves. Sales dropped off and the games gathered dust on shelves. But the interest did not go away. No, instead the young DJ’s and electronic musicians, who began to dabble in digital dj’ing and production begin to incorporate familiar elements of their childhood into their skill set. These familiar elements included video game and arcade-sytle controls. The thought of using a turntable for DJ’ing and a computer mouse for audio production were seen as outdated objects created and used by the previous generation.
The first such re-design was the Vestax VCI-100. This was one of the first “serious” DJ MIDI controllers available on the market and the first to garner respect on the DJ scene as a viable alternative to the turntables and CDJ’s. However, one DJ by the name of Ean Golden decided he did not like the stiff buttons on the VCI-100 and decided to remove them and introduce arcade-style sanwa buttons in their place.
The use of the Street-Fighter esque arcade buttons added a new level of precise control. To those that have played Street Fighter in the arcades, these arcade buttons are created for quick button mashing to unleash furious moves and combos unto your opponent. These sensitive “sanwa” buttons are made to send signals at the slightest touch. Ean Golden, who now heads the website www.djtechtools.com, started a small revolution with this device that has been dubbed “controllerism”. “Controllerism” is described as the art of using musical hardware controllers to innovate music in much of the same way turntable-ists manipulate record players to create new sounds and compositions. The VCI-100 paved the way for the further use of sanwa-style buttons in controllers such as the Midi Fighter, a 16-button controller designed to trigger loops and samples.
Acclaimed electronic musician and engineer Moldover joined in on the scene with his custom-built DJ monster controller dubbed the “Mojo”
But arcade-sytle buttons aren’t the only innovation taken from the video game market. With the quick-adoption of smartphones and tablets in the past five years, the use of touch-screens have become widespread in games. Some of the more successful games over the past few years have come from phones and tablets such as “Angry Birds”, “Candy Crush” and “Fruit Ninja”. The industry has taken hint of touch as being the next innovation in DJ/Production technology. You can now find touch stripes in use on the Novation Twitch, which utilises smart-touch strips in place of jogwheels, and the Stanton SC System 3, which eschews knobs, sliders and faders for an all-touch workflow.
It doesn’t stop with DJ’ing either. Many audio production hardware tools are starting to resemble video-game consoles and controllers as well!
Due to these innovations, I think this might be the reason we are starting to see more teenagers and young adults in the DJ’ing scene. Using hardware that they are intutively familiar with, and with a highly developed skill-set from gaming, it may seem like a natural fit to combine the two! With that being said, true talent like selecting the right song, at the right time, on the right beat is a timeless skill that will never get old, no matter how you do it. My bold prediction: that we will continue to see this cross-trend develop. My guess is that that we may begin to see drum-machine-style pads begin to creep into video game controllers!
I find it fascinating that two separate industries, the DJ and video game industries, both which require precise control and lighting quick reflexes, found themselves borrowing heavily from each other due to the passion of their audiences.
So, the next time you find yourself mashing away at your Playstation or Xbox controller, or killing pigs with flying birds on your iPhone, remember that those skills could one day come in handy at the next house party!
What do you think of the interesting, and growing, relationship between video gaming and DJ’ing?
Like, comment and share!
Until we meet on the corner again.
– DJ BRUAEL