BY LOUIS LEWIS-SMITH, Global Brand Ambassador Sailor Jerry
In a couple of weeks, I'm down to DJ at the launch party of our collaboration with Iggy Pop, in Miami. Playing to that kind of crowd presents a few welcome challenges, and raises a few interesting questions...
Iggy epitomises authenticity (whatever that means - there's something almost 'Schrodinger's Cat' about the word - authenticity is there right up until the moment you analyse / dissect it, then it seemingly ceases to be); Indeed Punk Rock has authentic values running through its veins. If striving to be authentic, shouldn't I play vinyl only and leave the laptop at home? Laptop DJs are just cheats, right? Or are the recent advances in technology that have turned Djing inside out here to be embraced and utilised like any other?
I find this subject fascinating, not least because I'm right in the middle of both camps. I had my first regular DJ night when I was 14 years old, playing disco classics to bored families at a holiday camp in Wales. It wasn't exactly Studio 54, but I guess it was my first paid job in music and better than a newspaper round. This was before the digital revolution that democratised DJing and allowed anyone with a laptop and a few tunes to do it, with literally an hour or so of practice. You can see why those that have spent decades perfecting the art of turntablism, and building vast collections of vinyl might be raising an eyebrow to this new phenomenon, especially when you look at the cretinous celebrity 'DJs' that for many epitomise laptop DJing. I adore vinyl, and it's certainly my format of choice for listening at home; there's no denying it's sonically superior and there is magic in their tactile nature - being able to see and feel your music , to clean and care for it, and of course the romantic, almost forgotten ritual, of digging through stacks of records. However, nowadays I've succumbed to the ease, reliability and weight of laptop DJing. I'll use 'control vinyl' wherever possible, but let's not pretend that's anywhere near the same thing. It's winning me over, and I understand why some are unhappy that the art of DJing has been reduced to this.
This isn't the first time that technology has changed music, of course. There are hundreds of examples how traditional practises have been all but swept aside by the onset of new machines, and how long-honed skills have fallen into near-redundancy. I studied music production in the 90s - right around the time the exact same thing was happening to studio recording. Software like ProTools and Cubase were taking music production out of the big studios unreachable by so many, and into people's bedrooms. Plug-ins that cost a few bucks (to those that actually paid for them) could near enough emulate equipment costing many thousands, and automated, 'flying faders' began replacing the fine art of riding a mixing desk in real time. You would argue that the smart cookies, in any field, are the ones that have witnessed these changes and embraced them while keeping a foot in the camp of older, traditional methods. Indeed today, a great engineer knows his way around a tape machine just as well as a computer, in the same way that a great DJ today should know his way around a turntable.
Norman 'Sailor Jerry' Collins never shied from technology; on the contrary, he loved it. Norman was fascinated by electronics, and was always tinkering away in his shop in Hawaii, building a new power supply or perfecting needle formations. He did all this whilst holding those aforementioned old school, traditional values and fiercely protected principles. He embodied someone who could be a traditionalist that stayed true to an authentic way of being and expressed himself with absolute integrity, yet would welcome change when he felt it was positive change. I'm sure he'd think MP3s were as truly crap as I do, but I bet he'd be stoked to see someone playing great music from a laptop, and wouldn't give a damn about those who saw it as a cop-out.
So, I love vinyl, it sounds better, and means I avoid the flak from purists, but really how many records am I going to fly from London to Miami for a 90 minute set? Overly preparing my set in advance to reduce weight would, in my mind, be far more of a cop-out than bringing my computer and (virtually) digging there and then. I guess the answer lies in what I've written above, about standing in both camps. Embracing the new while respecting the old. I can bring a box or two of 45s, get that sound, get that feel, but if the proverbial hits the fan I can take the easy way out and let my laptop save me. That'll save me precious time to enjoy a sip of rum between tunes now and then, and that's no bad thing in my book…