Controllerism — The New Tools of The DJ Trade

With a few casual touches of the plastic piano keys, Keith Garnant (known to many as KAGE) perfectly recreates the opening notes to Daft Punk’s Something About Us.

Akai MPK49. Image Courtesy of Akai.

It’s not because he has the exact synth that they used or access to insider knowledge — he simply has an Akai MPK49, a MIDI-controller which emulates the functions of a synthesizer and drum machine when connected to a computer with audio software. With the combination of his equipment and access to music production programs like Ableton Live, Garnant (like many contemporary producers) is able to create or replicate any sound from any synthesizer at a cost much lower than owning even one synthesizer.

“I use it not for sampling, but for using multiple live instruments — with a lot of buttons and faders and knobs that can adjust the effects and control those various instruments,” Garnant says of his MPK49. “I love [it] because no one can tell what I’m doing exactly… I have a lot of reverb, delay, hi-pass and lo-pass filters, oscillation… lots of effects that make a crazy noise just by turning a knob.”

Controllers have fundamentally changed the entire workflow for many musicians, particularly DJs and those who work within electronic music. To many, the introduction of MIDI controllers signaled the birth of a more simplified approach to the creation and performing of music — simplicity which carries with it a bevy of implications.

Within the DJ community, the rise in popularity of controllers prompts ire from many traditionalists, who maintain that controllers remove a great deal of the tactile functions of and skills necessary to DJ.

“I think there’s a valid argument in saying that technology has made DJing a lot easier,” Garnant says. “I think along with that argument you also have the idea that technology has created a huge expansion of what is possible in a live mix.”

Traktor S4. Image courtesy of DJ Tech Tools.

Perhaps most notably, controllers (when paired with DJ software like Traktor, Ableton, or Virtual DJ) give the DJ the functionality of instantly ‘syncing’ the tempos of the different tracks they play, a process previously handled exclusively by skilled hands and ears. No longer is it necessary for the DJ of today to have the skills of counting tempo manually or having an ear for pitch — the computer now handles those things for the DJ to focus their attention on other elements of their set.

While some argue such ease takes the fun and ‘magic’ from DJing, others feel differently. Jordan Arneal (known on stage as Tr4kh4x or Trakhax) says that his Traktor s4, which streamlines all functions of DJing into a singular controller, allows him to expand and do more as a DJ, being that matching pitch and tempo is now made substantially easier.

“Everything is incorporated into one package… You can plug [the master output] into anything, your soundcard is incorporated, along with all of your controls for the program — including crossfader and volume faders — right there” Arneal says of the S4.

Akai APC40. Image courtesy of Ableton

For others still, controllers mean a whole new world of customizable DJ setups, where any knob or fader can be assigned to control any function of a DJ software. Dan Juhl, who DJs as Colossus and is one half of semi-famed Iowa City DJ duo Electrocity, currently uses an Akai APC40 in conjunction with a Traktor Kontrol X1 to control his Traktor-based DJ setup. The APC40 was originally developed for exclusive use with Ableton Live, but like many MIDI controllers, it can be manually reconfigured for use with any program.

“For me, it makes so much more sense to play music like this (on a computer),” Juhl says. “I listen to music on computers already, so it makes more sense for me to approach it in that fashion as opposed to using some circular plastic disc that I’m not as familiar with… With the APC 40, I can use samples and assign the buttons to anything I want — I wouldn’t know how to do that, or manage that on other systems.”

The future for controllerism looks bright — there is no doubt that vinyl, as the medium of choice for the DJ, is on the decline. Between the lower cost of investment, the remarkably less-steep learning curve, and the rapidly advancing functionality of controllers, it’s a seeming no-brainer to DJ newcomers that controller-based DJing is the new industry standard.

Check out our audio interview with KAGE, discussing how he uses controllers in his music workflow!


Also peep our annotated live mix of Tr4kH4x! He’s does all of this in REAL time!


Bass-Laden Easter Eggs

It’s Easter — you’re probably sat at home, bored, delaying that ever-so-long trip back to your college town… Or maybe you’re delaying the start to your work week. You might even be delaying all of reality itself. Who am I to do anything but help you with that?

I’ve never personally been big on the Easter holiday, but I do appreciate the brief break in the usual hectic schedule that April seems to bring. Here are a variety of mixes from around the net — all fresh within the last few weeks — for your listening pleasure. Load some of these on your iPod and have a little escape on Uproar.

Exclusive UMF Radio Mix — Datsik

One of the many Canadian dubstep giants in the EDM scene right now, Datsik has put together a crowd-pleasing dubstep mix for UMF Radio — hosted for free download on his SoundCloud. It’s standard fare from the producer/DJ, not really mind-blowing, but wholly solid from start to finish. Worth a listen for dubstep fans, particularly if you’re a fan of aggressive stuff.

Juke’n & Trap’n Mix — Kickshifta


The ever-versatile Kickshifta of Cedar Falls-based crew SubFix is back with not one, but two mixes posted for download via SoundCloud. This mix only serves to build on Jake Moore’s already diverse array of musical stylings — expect a weird, futuristic, and surprisingly forward-thinking combination of Chicago Juke and trapped-out snares with a dash of dubstep sprinkled on for good measure. Heads up: don’t crank this one at work if your co-workers have problems with ignorant rap language.

Astral Projection Mix — Minnesota


Minnesota is a fast-rising producer from California (go figure) who is impossible to pigeonhole. Much like Bassnectar, a worthy contemporary, it feels wrong to classify him as simply “dubstep,” especially when he experiments with it as much as he does in both his productions and mixes. Astral Projection is no exception — even though it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of length, it’s a solid journey through the groovier sounds of dubstep. Great driving music.

These DJs and Their Twitter…

What on earth are we coming to? It seems the problems that befall the upper echelon of electronic musicians are no longer private — Facebook and Twitter are making DJ beefs more visible than ever before. We’ll focus on two notable examples — Rusko v. Mad Decent and DJ Sneak v. Steve Angello + SHM. Peep the link below!

[View the story “These DJs and Their Twitter…” on Storify]

SO… What’s the point of all this?

Good god, people. Whatever happened to a little tact? Keeping an argument behind closed doors? Regardless of how you feel about Rusko or Diplo, or whether you think Swedish House Mafia’s music has anything to do with actual house music or not — you have to admit that these public tiffs via social media make DJs look downright childish. If electronic music’s global scene just devolves into yet another cult of celebrity personality, it’ll be because of junk like this. By all means, DJs, be opinionated and speak truth — but don’t go raining on anyone’s parade in a public forum just because you’ve got personal beef.

10 Music Festivals You Must Know About

We’ve sorted through some of the best festivals in the United States for the electronic fan. This summer holds a ton of potential, especially if you’re looking to save some dough. Detroit and Chicago boast great value in festivals with DEMF and North Coast, respectively. Other further-away festivals, like Camp Bisco and Sasquatch, provide knockout lineups for those in it for the long-haul. Click around on the map below to see more!

CLICK HERE to explore the map.

UPROAR:IA Profile — Cory Hanson, Poi Spinner.

Poi spinners — you see them at nearly every electronic music event not only in the Midwest, but all around the world. To get some perspective on poi, the culture that surrounds it, and the work that goes into being a spinner of poi, we sat down with Iowa City spinner Cory Hanson.

Hanson has been spinning for a few years, during that time familiarizing himself with (and overcoming) a phobia of fire. He was kind enough to do a ‘burn’ for us with a mesmerizing fire poi routine, filmed right outside his apartment!

The Next Summer Anthem.

With UMF wrapping up tonight in Miami, the seemingly endless Summer music festival season has begun. Artists are testing the waters with their most-coveted new material, traditionally released during Miami’s Winter Music Week. Sure, Ultra Music Fest has a lot of cheesy stuff, but some real bangers have found their way to the surface. Looking for the songs that will end the most epic sets this summer? Look no further…

Stadium Anthem: We Are Young (Alvin Risk Remix) — fun.

It seems all-too-fitting that a song this huge comes in the year of the 2012 Olympiad — it’s simply that high-energy. Alvin Risk really highlights some of the nicer parts of the original song to make an indulgent call-back to early 2000s trance. Hate away, but you can’t deny it’s catchy and chantable.

Sentimental ‘Lighter in the Air’ Anthem: Lifted — Defender

Let’s face it: trapstep (a new off-shoot of dubstep characterized by its use of rapid high-volume snares) is becoming a thing. Cedar Falls’ own Defender has contributed to the exploding craze with an ethereal and intense piece, fittingly called ‘Lifted.’ The release is forthcoming, but their soundclound-exclusive premiere is above.

Dancefloor Destroyer: Paddling Out (Wolfgang Gartner Remix) — Miike Snow

Miike Snow is an obvious favorite for many electronic artists, thanks to his production-heavy style that lends itself to sampling and remixing. Wolfgang Gartner’s take on Snow’s latest single is simply next level — careful that drop doesn’t drop you flat on your ass!

[Slideshow] KAGE’s Thoughts on Music + DJing

CLICK HERE TO LAUNCH (Opens in new tab)

We snapped some pics from KAGE’s set last Thursday at Gabe’s Iowa City for Mixology and then spoke with him after to pick his brain on music, DJing, and the experiences associated with it. As you’ll see and hear, the Iowa City bass music promoter (whose real name is Keith Garnant) approaches his craft with a unique and articulate mindset.

. . . . .

Keith Garnant (KG): Well, DJing is kind of like, to me, if you want to take it as seriously as you possibly can, almost like a religious, cult-like gathering, where the DJ represents the shaman who guides the partygoers or the ‘followers’ through a religious experience, bringing them up and down and directing their sensory perception in a way that not many thing things can do — not many other experiences can do.

I think it can be one of the most enjoyable and intense experiences because you know that the sound that you’re creating is being heard by every single one of these people in the room. When you control the sound to do something exciting, like a massive build-up into a sexy beat, and everyone gets as into it as you are, you build up each other’s energy and it can really be an enlightening experience.

Uproar (U): A very rewarding experience?

KG: Rewarding experience, yeah.

U: So it’s sort of a way of bringing everyone and everything together…

KG: Totally, and a way to do it without words, without necessarily saying anything or conveying any kind of message besides pure enjoyment and pure musical love.

. . . . .

music credits: Free Your Mind (Original Mix) — KAGE