Dawn of the Digital DJ - Multitasking Week


By Emma Nolan

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

DJing is a modern art form that requires an advanced level of multitasking skills. With both ears tuned into two songs at once, professional DJs must learn how to effectively balance the overload of simultaneous sensory information, while staying focused on their equipment, the crowd, and the flow of the music.

Three of BreakThru Radio’s DJs, DJ Meredith, DJ Rehka, and DJ J Dayz, share their views on their art and the methods they prefer. London-born DJ Rehka Malhotra has been DJ-ing Bhangra music for the last 20 years and is credited with pioneering the genre in the States. She fuses Bhangra with hip-hop beats and has established – and solidified – the genre throughout the New York club scene.

Rehka hosts a weekly show on BTR, Bhangra and Beyond, and performs at a monthly event, Basement Bhangra, at S.O.B.’s in Manhattan.

Rehka says that she loves to share the music that she loves with others, and like every DJ, aims to make them dance the night away. DJ Rehka started out using turntables and “CD players that had no pitch control” but eventually moved on to more modern methods:

“I eventually made my way to Serato via Control Vinyl, but I still use CDs occasionally.”

Another BTR DJ, Meredith Rifkin, also prefers the digital method. “I have a massive respect for traditional turntables, but due to space constraints I decided to go with a smaller equipment setup and went with the Traktor S4.” There are three weekly segments DJ Meredith hosts at BTR: The Afrobeat Show, Xtreme Endurance, and Caribbean Fever.

Though she began DJ-ing 4.5 years ago, Meredith has been a music lover since a very young age. “I love that DJ-ing, especially for a station like BTR, allows me to showcase many talented artists that people may not be familiar with,” she says.

As for gigs outside the BTR studio, DJ Meredith gets the biggest rush “when a crowd is dancing like crazy to the music I’m spinning – it’s something I can’t get enough of!” DJ Meredith likes using her “incredibly sleek” Traktor S4 because it lets her create her desired sounds and mixes while also offering the freedom to transport her music to and from gigs.

“I love that the Traktor has a 4-channel mixer control with faders, high-quality 3-band EQs, and a filter control knob on each channel. Traktor also includes a powerful and versatile audio interface built to handle the most earth-shaking sound systems.  I love that you can still connect turntables, CD players, instruments, MIDI gear, and more– providing all you need to take your performance to new heights.”

So while DJ Meredith has found her flow – and can effectively multitask – via digital means, BTR’s DJ J Dayz (who hosts The Party Hour) still uses turntables, but with digital music.

“TURNTABLES ALL THE WAY!” he exclaims via email, continuing that “[It] does not matter if it’s true Vinyl or Digital Serato, turntables give a much more natural feeling compared to the CDJ Players and other MIDI controllers on the market. There are many advanced DJ-ing technics that can’t be executed with the new Digital Controllers. Also, real vinyl has the purest and best audio sound, compared to a stripped down MP3 file.”

Though keeping certain sonic traditions merits its benefits, DJ Rehka shares DJ Meredith’s opinion on the ease at which new digital systems can be transported to and from gigs and provide quick and vast access to music.

Both DJs, however, share a mutual respect for the art of “crate digging,” going to a record store to shop for samples.

“I think that spinning with turntables is a true art form and that it requires more skills and multitasking than digital tools.  Crate digging is the original art and I have massive respect for all of the record slayers out there!” says DJ Meredith.

She goes on to explain that even though the conventional method of spinning on turntables requires a little more raw skill, the fundamentals of DJ-ing are expressed through digital methods:

“I think having a digital collection allows a DJ to compile more music, without taking up all of the physical space. I pride myself on my extremely diverse, massive music library that fortunately fits on my external hard drive. This is just a more convenient route for me to go with my DJ-ing than to have to lug around crates of music.”

The practicality of digital DJ-ing can’t be denied, yet DJ J Dayz, who started out DJ-ing as a teen in high school, is confident that both methods allow the artist to be creative, and as for personal preference, “it doesn’t matter what equipment you have,” but “what you do with it.”

Ultimately, the quality of DJ-ing, like many other trades, really depends on the talent of the individual – not the quality of the tools.

Of course, both the traditional and modern techniques have their advantages and disadvantages. But no matter what advancements or preservations occur, one important DJ skill will always remain the same: the ability to spin with the crowd.

“No matter how many features new technology can provide, fundamentally, a DJ must be able to read the crowd and have good timing; those things will never change,” says DJ Rehka.

The dawn of the digital DJ is upon us – but the art of DJ-ing will always be determined by its defining values. Any old-school or new-school DJ must know how to engage their crowd and play their equipment, whether vinyl or computerized, and most importantly, depending on the beats, tech, and venue, they must be adaptable multitaskers!