I know you’re gonna think I’m merely hating on laptops because I come from an older generation, but believe me, I have my justifications. Most of these issues I have are for Ableton specifically, while other issues also relate to Serato and Traktor. Basically, it is the laptop itself that I dislike. I will still spin on Serato from time to time, but here is my personal list of reasons I dislike laptops at gigs.
Everyone with a laptop can DJ now, and everyone has a laptop. It’s too accessible now. There is little fight or battle anymore. Granted, digital music is partly to blame for that, since it’s so easy to acquire songs, but some of the beauty of early DJ culture was the struggle. There is still a struggle today, but now the struggle has shifted it's focus to promotion.
The physical laptop literally causes a divide by setting up a wall, separating you from your crowd. How are you supposed to connect with your audience when your face is hidden behind a screen and no one can see you. (and yes I see the irony given that I wear a mask, but you can still clearly see my “face”) If you use a laptop, I urge you to have it off to the side. Also, it always looks like product placement when I see a DJ on his laptop. I hope these big DJs are getting free merch from Apple because they sure as hell are giving them loads and loads of free advertising in all of their pictures and live performances.
Laptops can also be easily ruined by beer, dropped, or stolen at a club. Then these DJs try to set up benefit parties or start asking for donations to replace it. I’m highly against that practice, but I’ll save that rant for another post.
The light from the screen also temporarily blinds the DJ. After staring into your laptop, you try looking out over the crowd and all you see is a blurry black haze. It takes at least 10 seconds for your eyes to adjust. That’s like 5 minutes in DJ years. Also, every laptop DJ looks like a brain dead zombie when they are blankly staring into their screen.
Computers also crash all the damn time and totally ruin the vibe with dead silence while they wait to reboot, or someone accidently unplugs the USB cord. It makes for an awkward experience for both the DJ and crowd.
Ableton's mixing is also not 100% accurate all the time. When the computer glitches out and starts train wrecking songs off beat, it is almost impossible for people to guide the songs back together. Alternatively, a good DJ on turntables can easily make those adjustments to realign the tracks.
Ableton DJs tend to squeeze way too many songs into one set. I personally like hearing a good song play for more than 45 seconds. How can people get into a groove when you snap them away from their zone so quickly?
It’s also the biggest pain in the ass to set up a laptop and controller while another DJ is performing. Many times there is no room for it all in the DJ booth, even with a laptop stand over the mixer, which itself can be extremely flimsy.
Ableton also makes it too easy to cheat and pre-plan sets. It’s also too easy to be lazy and just recycle old sets from your archives.
Not actually spinning is such a huge deviation from the tradition of DJ culture, that it is kind of a slap in the face to the pioneers before us. By definition, you can’t really call yourself a disc jockey because there are no discs involved. You may be a performer of sorts, but you aren’t a DJ. I know things evolve, but for some reason, it just looks like a much more exciting performance when I see people mixing, and it's the backbone of this whole culture.
Laptops have almost completely killed scratching culture. There are almost no youngsters coming up in the game today, who want to DJ, and are learning how to scratch. It is becoming a lost art.
I guess that is the end of my rant. I don't hate anyone for doing what they do, it's just not for me. I'll still book plenty of laptop DJs and go out to watch them perform. Hell, I even spin on Serato pretty frequently, but I have to explain why many of us older cats feel this way about the medium, rather than just blindly talking shit on facebook with no explanation.
I encourage any laptop DJ to speak out by writing an article on the benefits of performing with a laptop so I can have a change of heart. If it is well written, by a prominent figure, I will happily post it on this blog as a separate article.