It’s not de rigueur to have a laptop on stage in 2018. Much throw back at the moment with, either luddite on “real” vinyl strongly proclaimed from the flyer, shouting about on the mic, onto the audience request rebuffed by, “Sorry, I’m spinning records, yeah 12″s (sub in 7″ for added :-)), I don’t have Cardi B in my DJ bag.” The selector is strong again. Or you go full euro-rack modular synthesist (I’m calling myself out right now, been loving it of late) where one makes imperceivable tweaks on mysterious glowing knobs, and I don’t mean live patching, that’s different.
However, if you’ve slept on Turntablism for the past 15 years you’d have missed where performance innovation has forced change. This former tent-pole of hip-hop has been left out of the conversation partially because the pendulum has swung back to the emcee but also because in 2018 you aren’t trying to uprock. They have increasingly morphed into, or been eaten up by Controllerism.
It’s designed as performance on an instrument that does not itself resonate acoustically. A revisionist might say that Clara Rockmore (who made the essentially spinning-the-radio-dial Theremin into an entirely grace-filled act) or Delia Derbyshire (with her tape-op mastery) were your controllerists; they (and countless others) dare us to redefine what an instrument can be. I’d offer that additionally, because of arcade button mashing, and the rise of its witnessed victory, we have widened what appreciated play is.
Circling back, turntablists took longer to embrace the software innovations DJ culture at large employed in the mid-aughts. Serato and its ilk foretold an end of manipulated discs and instead substituted file management as the core discipline of the working DJ. However, in 2008, the World DJ championships (DMC) allowed “modern playback technology” to be included, thus enabling the button press to make its way into the performance of records.
There has long been the performance of knobs and buttons behind the scenes in studios, even the occasional live set-up mostly by prog-rock bands and fusion-y jazz artists, but I’d say that those pieces were there to be either augmentation or stand-in for the instruments you expected, or worse, novelty. Many exceptions, including Egyptian Lover playing his epidemic TR-808 on stage or Kraftwerk’s calculators. But it wasn’t mass market until we reached the zenith of personal console entertainment in the late nineties and the technological innovation of a more RAM filled personal computer that you get the possibility of a truly live electronic performance (also near simultaneously the MPC3000).
I’m grateful to have started with the Monome (a hand-made grid of 256 buttons using the software Max/MSP to make it go) in 2003 when Brian Crabtree first was creating it, but that was prototype until 2008. Appreciated performance is a taught thing, transcends instrument and really includes all art; it is culture dependent. So it is 2018 and I’d like to shine a light on some of those who are innovating against the prevailing tidal forces:
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith: