Why I’m Glad Beat Matching has been Usurped by Technology

First things first.

There are always a number of people who have invested a lot of time and energy into obsoleting skills and technology and they often bemoan those who learn and make use of the new tools that displace them.

Sheldon Allman sums it up neatly with his track “Walking on the Ground.” (lyrics below)

Punching at imaginary shadows.

The music industry is fueled by these fabricated dichotomies; two manufactured camps arguing over the validity of one technological system over another, failing to realise that it makes no bloody difference in the long run.

The scoffs of those who came before are etched into the circuit boards of gear gone past and there will always be detractors who cling to old ideas and paradigms like the shrinkwrap around a new vinyl record (or CD case, depending on their allegiance).

The insipid irony around the whole analog vs digital synthesis debate is a case in point.

It amuses me immensely when people stand against a new technology and laud it’s predecessor while conveniently forgetting that the technological stasis they are so vehemently defending was most probably itself considered to be a pimple of shame on whatever technology preceded it. There was most certainly a pre dawn of civilization asshole who couldn’t believe the world had moved onto hollow tree trunks for drums when rocks worked half as well.

Analog synthesisers were scorned by serious musicians for years (and to some extent still are) and even some of electronic music’s major pioneers refused to work with synthesis because they did not like the sounds and instability of the machines at the time.

But some years later it was suddenly digital synthesis that could not hold an oscillator up to the original analog sound and then shortly after that soft-synths made it a threesome circle jerk – and you know how messy that can get.

Now that the iPad has crashed through the ceiling things are really awkward for some – who puts their knobs where now?

In other words – blah blah – you’ll never get me into one of them confounded things – Mr Allman hits it smack on the nose.

The beat matching debacle.

The latest line in the sand has been drawn between DJs who use software that now automatically beat matches music and DJs who kick it old school and manually manipulate tracks to sync up.

There was a time when beat matching skills separated the wheat from the chaff but that harvest has long since come in and software has leveled the field. No doubt the concept and purpose of beat matching is integral to modern nightclub DJing but beat matching, as a skill in and of itself, is not, and has never been, the “be all end all” of being a good DJ.

A few years back learning how to beat match was a right of passage and unavoidable, much like learning how to drive a car with a manual transmission but, like the advance in technology of cars, beat matching has been given an automatic transmission. Despite the similarities though, we don’t dispute the fact that a person who drives a car with AT can claim to be a driver yet some people honestly believe that a person who uses software to play music to a crowd cannot make claims to being a DJ anymore.

It is true that any moron with two brain cells to rub together can fire up enough sense to push play on any number of “DJ” software tools and get a few songs playing, but you are deeply disillusioned if you think that just because you are beat matching two tracks together without the help of software it makes you a better DJ than them.

I cannot tell you the insufferable hours I have spent in nightclubs listening to technically proficient DJs endlessly and flawlessly beat match turds together, and seen others with questionable technical prowess flip the lid off a joint just by playing the right music at the right time.

Saying a person isn’t a “real” DJ because they use automated beat matching software is like saying an artist who uses paint colors from a tube isn’t a “real” painter because “real” artists mix their own colors from mud and elderberries and – stuff. If you are caught up in this level of the technical process of DJing – the craft of it – you are missing the point entirely.

At the core of DJing is good taste in, and an insatiable passion for, music – not the medium it is presented through.

These days if you want to compete against Captain iPod and the all star iTunes playlist, or outplay DJ LapTop and the “interesting as watching ironing” brigade, you have to be even more creative as a DJ than ever before.

What makes a great DJ is great music regardless of genre and all the beat matching skills in the world – automated or not – won’t help you pick the perfect timing and tunes to blow the roof off.

Real DJs play vinyl music.

Sheldon Allman

Walking on the Ground

It started when they took and hitched a boiler to a wheel
And made the mechanism run along on rails of steel,
But there were lots of people who would never ride the train,
They said it was the devil’s work and chanted this refrain:

I’m gonna walk on the ground like the good lord intended,
Like he meant for me and meant for you.
I’m gonna walk on the ground like the good lord intended,
Like the good lord intended us to do.

It wasn’t long before they figured out a way to fly
And there were airplanes zooming every which way in the sky,
Folks said, “If man was meant to fly, he’d have a pair of wings!
You’ll never get me up in one of them confounded things.”

I’m gonna ride on the train like the good lord intended,
Like he meant for me and meant for you.
I’m gonna ride on the train like the good lord intended,
Like the good lord intended us to do.

But planes and trains were just the start, and pretty doggone soon,
They had a rocket ship just pointing straight up at the moon.
Folks laughed and called it crazy and they hollered at the crew,
“You’ll never get it off the ground, and even if you do –“

I’m gonna fly in the plane like the good lord intended,
Like he meant for me and meant for you.
I’m gonna fly in the plane like the good lord intended,
Like the good lord intended us to do.

They’re gone now, all those things at which the people used to scoff,
And so are all the people, since that cobalt bomb went off.
There’s just a handful of us left, to start the world anew,
And we’ve agreed on one thing that we all are gonna do.

We’re gonna walk on the ground, like the good lord intended,
Like he meant for me and meant for you.
We’re gonna walk on the ground, like the good lord intended.
Like the good lord intended us to do.

Sheldon Allman Video Source

3 Responses to “Why I’m Glad Beat Matching has been Usurped by Technology

  • Indeed, clarity in communication is essential though I think the world is in a state of paradox since we are still in a transition from analog to digital, which results in many predeterminations and misunderstandings.

  • That is exactly what I am getting at. Now that beat matching has been marginalized it forces DJs to be more creative to keep ahead of the competition. Mr Hawtin is a perfect example of this, as is Japanese Legend DJ Wada. They are both veterans, long since masters of the beat match, and they embrace modern DJ technology as it evolves and continue to blow dance floors away with superb track selection and immaculate timing. The literal meaning of “DJ” is being stretched to the limits though anyway and it may just fall away as a useful label altogether in the near future. I usually make an effort to distance my live shows from the word/concept “DJ” since I stopped spinning vinyl and only play music I have created – but it’s a useful reference to use when explaining what it is I do in my live sets to people not familiar with nightclub culture.

  • True indeed, of course the focus of any practice evolves as its technology and therefore skill set requirements change. Do you think that maybe people who have learned something one way become intimidated of a subjects expansion? For instance, having your beats automatically matched while DJ’ing forces you to expand on the overall musical experience in order to make it just as breathtaking as before, just as Richie Hawtin does with his live visuals during his shows.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *