Dennis Ferrer

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We catch up with the New York house icon for a chat about whether the EDM boom means anything to him and why digital DJs need to get a little more creative with their controllers.

Attack: 2012 has been the year when the world suddenly realised how big dance music has become in the US. How does it feel to you to watch the rise of ‘EDM’?

Dennis Ferrer: It’s the same as before, honestly. This rise is cyclical. It happens to always coincide with majors taking an interest in exploiting the scene. Fair play, though, as this is what a record label’s core business is about. Exploitation is the name of the game.

Big money gets thrown around, big name artists from other genres get remixed by ‘popular’ commercial dance music producers who then get bigger, command even bigger DJ fees, need bigger venues, command bigger studio production fees and now all involved need huge returns on anything to do with such producers or artists. Voila! There ya go – a bubble of proportions unlike any other that will explode, leaving the majority in tatters and exiting in droves like a disgusting urinal when the original invested parties are not seeing the gains they want or need.

It’s nothing new, actually. After this it will be business as usual for all of us. Underground dance music at its core will remain as it has always been in one way or some sort of slightly altered form. Same as disco, same as early 90s house, same as early- to mid-90s techno, etc.

“Seeing how much money gets thrown around excites me a bit sometimes.”

I watch… not holding my breath.

How much do you think it impacts on what you do?

I’d like to think it has no effect on me whatsoever but seeing how much money gets thrown around excites me a bit sometimes.

What the hell… to each their own, though. At this point it’s just pop, honestly. Anyone worth their salt will attest and admit to that.  I’m not here to judge, per se, but I’ll definitely say what most of the so-called underground and purists are thinking.

Some of the new fans who’ve discovered dance music through EDM maybe don’t even know the term ‘house music’. Is that a problem or do you think there’ll be a crossover as newcomers discover the roots of this music and the culture behind it? Will that have a positive or negative impact on house?

In all actuality, I can’t really hate on what’s happened. Some people who would never have been exposed to dance music are finding underground artists and it’s refreshing. I know it’s benefited me a bit somewhat. Now, it doesn’t happen in any large percentage that’s measurable, but I suppose we can live with whatever fallout we get. In the end it won’t have as much impact on the underground scene as most think. Again, it’s cyclical. It’s happened before, and here we go again. No need to get too excited.

You’ve been talking on Twitter and Facebook this week about the ongoing debate regarding digital DJing. You’ve been quite outspoken about your belief that laptop DJs who use controllers should do something special with that equipment rather than just hitting sync and mixing in the same way that might be expected of a CD or vinyl DJ. Can you sum up your thoughts on the issue?

Let me clarify. I stated that if all you had was a controller – no CDs, no timecode control CD or vinyl, or just vinyl in general – and all you did was select a track and push sync then you are not DJing!

Sorry… Nope… Don’t even try to argue it.

DJing is synonymous with using a round plate to beatmatch and/or show feats of skill like a turntablist. It is the possibility of train-wrecking a mix that affords you the luxury of that naming convention. This is not my definition, but the one I was brought into and live by.

Now, if you’re doing interesting things like mashing loops together with FX, playing beats on pads or keyboards and in essence doing something to create your own music, then you, my friend, are a controller-ist and what you have is a pseudo-‘live show’. Controller-ists get full props from me.

There are no ifs and buts about it. In the end the only ones bitching about this, of course, are the button pushers claiming to be DJs.

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  • Date: 10th December 2012
  • status_six Wrote:

    In the same way as the mainstream latching onto (and flogging to death) a musical genre is cyclical, so is the argument against those taking advantage of new technology not being DJs. Remember when CDJs first appeared?

  • S1re Wrote:

    Massive respect to Dennis Ferrer, but I’m going to have to disagree (somewhat). I do agree that you can’t just hit sync and mix in the “traditional sense,” but most DJs who use controllers do use effects, loops, etc. It’s simply just a new way of doing things, and if your selections and blends are tight I don’t really care how you get there. Wasn’t DJing originally supposed to be all about the music in the first place? Again, much respect though.

  • Xavi Wrote:

    ^this guy here is a sync dj :)

  • aaroninky Wrote:

    S1re, if it’s “all about the music”, then why are you defending the controller-ists’ activity? Sorry, but caking your outputs with attention-defecit levels of tacky Traktor effects and loops is not keeping it “about the music”. If anything, it draws attention away from the tunes (i.e. someone else’s creativity) and draws it into the fact that you’re using a little digital toy. I’m fully behind controllers as an exploration of live-MIDI performance (‘controller-ism’), and as an entry-level affordable solution for people interested in DJ’ing – people who otherwise can’t afford or don’t want to take the risk on an expensive vinyl or CD-J set-up. But they really are poor substitutes for DJ’ing qua DJ’ing, in its purest sense. The jogwheels and tactile feedback on all but the highest-end controllers is terrible… so the user ends up using Sync and FX merely as a crutch, rather than a creative tool. Of course, as with all technologies and applications, there will be some that come use it for great creative advantage – the Richie Hawtin’s, say, of the industry – but let’s not pretend that the vast majority of controller users are bottom-line inept kiddies with a new toy.

  • Juan Wrote:

    For a laptop DJ to just hit the sync and play buttons, he needs to prepare the mp3s correctly (because computer programs still get thrown off when reading waveforms), if not, he’ll have to manually beatmatch the songs the same way a vinyl/CD DJ does. Bitching about laptop DJs who don’t have their mp3s prepared is like bitching about the fact that they’re getting from point A to point B using a different platform. Like the interview mentioned, the top points are (and will always be, in my opinion) track selection and crowd reading.

  • ChuckyFunk Wrote:

    DJing used to be a manual skill, now it’s not. That said, there were plenty of shit vinyl DJs “back in the day”……believe it. Big respect to Dennis Ferrer, the guy is a really amazing DJ and producer.

  • S1re Wrote:

    I see what you’re saying aaroninky and I agree that most “controllerists” are pretty awful at what they do. But Juan makes a good point in that an argument about different methods of getting from point A to point B is just stupid in my eyes. Assuming that anyone who DJs with a controller has a bad ear or doesn’t play good tracks is ridiculous as are the people who will rag on an otherwise excellent set simply because they know it’s being played on a controller. And yes, I do play with a Traktor S4. It’s also true that I am fairly new to electronic music and bought the s4 because it was much cheaper than buying a mixer, a pair of CDJs, and monitors. Still, I can use it with sync off which isn’t all that different from playing with CDJs, and I don’t play crap music (really). Trainwrecking is still entirely possible if you don’t have your files setup perfectly. Do I consider myself a DJ? I guess, it doesn’t really matter in the end. I can blend, play high quality electronic music, and make people move. It’s just really not all that different and doesn’t matter that much.

  • m@earth Wrote:

    Keep the selector off the stage. Dj, controller-ist. Whatever. Keep them off the stage. Put them where they can see the crowd, but the crowd cannot see them.. Put them up the stairs and in a booth. Put them in the back of the room on the dance floor and let the crowd figure out what to do with the stage, and keep the person selecting and playing the music off of it.

  • axel Wrote:

    Lot of negativity in this interview. DJs using CDs would be “more DJ” than those who use mp3s? Come on, the risk of “train wrecking” is so low anyway …I think my grandma could learn to mix with CDJs in a couple of hour. There’s no skill other than crowd reading, track selection, and creative transitions.

  • Flapjack Wrote:

    Dude has some good points, mad respect for his career, but he comes off like a giant douche.

  • b Wrote:

    boring discussion.. of course you need to reject to something again..
    playing with cdj’s or ableton. the difference is really small.
    a vinyl dj turning back from his crowd to select a record. spending minutes to sync it… goodbye interaction and crow reading. a dj who plays digital doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad dj. the screen should be put aside. see it as a record box. the musical selection is what counts and the way he brings this to the people. you could say that the medium is not the message in anymore. it’s the music and enthousiasm. there’s always uninspiring dj’s, music and bad quality sound combined in clubs… it’s never one thing.

    there’s even uninspiring vinyl dj’s. yeeeeeesss they exist.. do they?? yeaaaahh.
    playing that holy medium?? yeaaahhhh

    the electronic music landschape is saturated by possibilities just like many creative industries are over saturated by technology… but the discussion about the medium is really outdated. people are not stupid anymore. they feel it if it’s genuine. there’s plenty of well known techno dj’s that play digital these days. energetic, passionate. and people keep crying.
    vinyl is wonderful. timeless, but that’s just one medium. a digital dj can be just as selective as a vinyl dj. it’s a matter of taste and discipline
    .
    and besides wasting your hearing on a beat match with crappy monitors next to you is middle aged. just like going to a club without earplugs.
    some dj’s are wise enought to see that and safe their hearing. you could say it’s part of the job but that is very naive to think.
    not every person has a rock solid tank hearing as mr ferrer. hear me ??
    for the love of dj’ing/entertainment but i’m not gonna spend the rest of my life deaf on the couch with my children.

    i think mr ferrer played in too many uninspiring environments recently.

  • phishu Wrote:

    “[if] all you did was select a track and push sync then you are not DJing!”

    Tune selection is the important thing (what to play, when to play it, and what tracks to mix) – who cares if they use sync or not?

    DJs, historically, are people who choose what music to play and they did this for decades before tempo matching became the norm. That the process of beat matching is now automated does not negate the act of DJing.

    The reality is that syncing cannot turn someone who is clueless about music into a DJ .

  • body & soul Wrote:

    ^ phishu is a button pusher lol

    “There are no ifs and buts about it. In the end the only ones bitching about this, of course, are the button pushers claiming to be DJs.” (Dennis Ferrer)

    spot on D

  • ibiza frk Wrote:

    the guys frustrated about something….

  • Livingston Dell Wrote:

    I don’t think he’s saying he’s against the sync button, more against the uncreative and lazy use of it. I think the point he’s making is that most DJs who don’t bother to learn to beatmatch the traditional way (even if it’s easy) also don’t put effort in other aspects of DJing as well such as record dogging to find really good tunes, so they buy comercial compilations instead. I would actually agree on that with him.

  • Opinionated British Fool Wrote:

    Interesting how whenever this topic gets discussed, people always seem to indicate that beat-matching and blending is a very easy skill to master. I’d like to see some of those claiming it to be ‘so easy their grandmother can do it’ actually performing under pressure to a massive clued-up crowd for hours on end. I reckon the ‘ease’ to which they refer would suddenly seem all the more difficult. I appreciate all good dj’s whatever the medium, however I appreciate a dj actually ‘working’ the mix much more. The art of careful and accurate mixing all adds to the tension and ultimately the excitement of the performance. Imagine a drummer just having some automated mechanical arms bashing away on the drums, to some pre-set arrangement? Slightly boring…….

  • dj JusFacts Wrote:

    EXCUSE ME– as a dj From NY City who grew up in the 80’s where the art of real djing began primarily in HIP-HOP, –the dj’s job was to read and excite the crowd with timely selections and manipulations-of all genres of music not just hip hop as it is referred to today. When I went to a Africa Bambatta dj set— he would mix run dmc, blondie, james brown, talking heads, fat boys, the clash, aretha franklin, kraftwerk– in that order ! seamlessly transitioning from genre to genre and selecting the funkiest parts of each record —that SKILL is what made it hip hop. Im baffled at how this generation of EDM djs get so much money for mixing basically the SAME uptempo bpms which is SO EASY with sync or manual. Blending mainly instrumentals between 126 and 140 is the simplest of tasks., thats why you see the edm djs dancing and prancing behind the decks cuz they have nothing else to do! You guys are lucky that this generation of listeners are musically uneducated , undemanding and non critical–(especially with the help of drugs)– hip hop crowds tend to be a lil more discerning and it takes a skilled dj to get them on the dancefloor
    Now lemme see you go from 100 bpm to 60 to 118 to 170 and back to 80 — SMOOTHLY. this is what GOOD hip hop djs are required to do nightly. ..and without a snyc button or efx. tiesto would break his thumbs trying to get thru a playlist like this!
    I cant be mad at yall for riding the wave and getting that money where u can, cuz its not about djing SKILLS in edm , rather its about your MARKETING, IMAGING, and REMIXES that will determine success. These traits are actually a skill in itself i guess, the same as a good publicist.

  • Alex Wrote:

    i think same way technics were a new toy for most of djs who had
    the opportunity to beat matching using pitch control instead of just
    finding the right groove and tempo to mix,nowadays,the sync on traktor
    is doing the same thing but without the manual feeling of touching vinyl.
    its very simple.i understand dennis ferrer as i prefer vinyl to play my sets but
    honestly speaking you need to adapt to new technologies in djing.