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Enter the digital rage

UPFRONT: DJ CULTURE

You can dump the vinyl, keep the tricks of the turntable trade.

August 04, 2005|Susan Carpenter | Times Staff Writer

THE entryway of Eddie Mendoza's North Hills home is stacked with unopened packages stuffed with records -- advance copies a lot of fans would kill for. But DJ Eddie One, as he is known on his KIIS-FM (102.7) and Sirius Satellite Radio shows, doesn't care about those anymore.

"As of two months ago, I'm not collecting vinyl," said Mendoza, 26, a hip-hop/reggaeton DJ who switched to a digital DJ program this summer. "There's no point really. The new stuff I get, as long as I have the MP3s, I'm good."

Mendoza is one of a growing number of DJs who are going digital because it's so convenient. Using a computer-based system means he doesn't have to break his back carrying heavy crates of records or pre-select what he brings; he can carry his entire 5,000-song library in a compact, lightweight laptop. He also doesn't have to spend as much time looking for records or as much money buying them; MP3s are quick to download, easier to categorize and less expensive per song than vinyl. When he creates his own remixes, he doesn't have to go to the trouble of pressing them onto vinyl; he can immediately add them to his digital library.

Most important, he doesn't have to sacrifice any of the tricks of his trade, like scratching and matching beats. And listeners can't tell the difference.

When laptop DJing first came on the scene a few years back, there was a small handful of software programs for DJs to choose from, and none of them offered the same range of song manipulation options available with turntables or even CD DJ players. DJs could cross-fade (or blend) digital tracks, but the crucial function of shifting the pitch (or speed) of a song to match beats was unreliable. There was also the question of credibility. Vinyl was for purists. Digital was seen as cheating.

But in the last year, technology has finally caught up with DJs' expectations --\o7 and\f7 given them a way to keep it real. From techno to hip-hop, on the radio and in clubs, many of the genre's biggest names are ditching their vinyl and CD collections and going with audio files instead. All the DJs at hip-hop station Power 106 (KPWR-FM, 105.9) now use a digital DJ program to "spin" their shows. So do huge hip-hop DJs such as Snoop's DJ Jam, and techno/house DJs such as Paul van Dyk and Josh Wink.

Some of them are using laptops alone, others are using their computers in conjunction with the traditional two turntable (or CD DJ player) setup. This fall, even iPod users will be able to get in on the game with the help of an iPod mixing console that can overlap tracks, not just play them back to back. The cost of these systems: $200 to $800.

Digital DJing "is really catching fire," said Josh Levine, president of the Rebel Organization, a grass-roots marketing company affiliated with the dance music magazine Urb. "We've seen DJs from just about every genre using it -- DJs like Jazzy Jeff, who are known for their turntable skills. So from our view, that's probably at least the near future of where the profession is going."

Jazzy Jeff, an old-school DJ who works with actor-singer Will Smith, was one of the early adopters of a program called Scratch Live. On the market for a year, the program is one of two turntable-based systems that uses vinyl "control records" to manipulate audio files on a computer. The records aren't engraved with songs but with a signal that controls the digital audio file on the computer and allows it to be manipulated. Scratch the record, and you scratch the computer file. Spin it backward, and the file plays backward. Speed it up, and it speeds up, and so on. The system works the same with control CDs and CD DJ players.

"It's weird," said Daniel Hall, a.k.a. DJ Haul of the duo DJ Haul and Mason. "If you told me two years ago that you're not going to bring out records anymore, that you're going to play on these digital records but not the real thing, I would have said, 'No. I don't believe you.' "

But in November, Jazzy Jeff urged Hall to check it out, and he hasn't looked back. Now, instead of bringing 150 pounds of records to a club or party, Hall brings two laptops and his control records.

"My back has stopped hurting ever since," he said.

SCRATCH Live is actually the second turntable-based computer DJ system. The first was Stanton FinalScratch, and it debuted in 2002. Although groundbreaking, the system also had its bugs. There was an audible lag between the time a DJ moved the vinyl and what he heard. Particularly for turntablist DJs, who work with extreme precision, slicing and dicing beats into milliseconds, that was a major problem. That issue has been fixed with subsequent versions of the system, including the most recent, FinalScratch 2.

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