This past weekend we had a special visitor in the TechTools labs, the renowned Grand Master Q-Bert came down with his Thud Rumble crew to check out our loft and get a feel for what controllerism is all about. We were honored to host them and somewhat surprised when a big camera crew came in tow as well. They set up shop in our labs and held an off-the-cuff interview featuring your Facebook questions along with a impromptu jam session. Having not touched my Midi Fighters in 6 weeks, I felt ill-prepared to session with such a world class musician- but we made do and had a great time with all the guys. Continue reading for a full transcription of the interview, plus a short video clip of us jamming.
Our apologies to those in the forum who were legitimately pissed that we made no word of this get together. As one member put it: ” Why was there no mention?.. This is big for some of us guys. Hopefully for everyone..”
To be honest, I was just expecting a casual get together, not a full on live stream with a camera crew. The Thud Rumble folks mentioned a camera guy, but with all the craziness at the office lately, the magnitude of it all kind of slipped past me! The good news is that we have one solid clip from the experience bellow and a full transcript of our interview for all those that missed the event. More jams are planned for the future including a possible live show together in San Francisco this spring.
_this was recorded in front of a live streaming audience with questions piped in through facebook. Ted from Thud Rumble hosted the interview_
Ted: Alright, I’m here with DJ Qbert and Ean Golden of DJ Techtools from DJTechtools.com and also the pioneer of the Midi-Fighter. This is a very historical moment, we’re also live-streaming right now on Facebook.
These are two pioneers that we have right here. The first question, we have for Ean… obviously with controllerism there has to be some influence from turntablism.
Ean: Oh, absolutely. I mean, this guy right here (Qbert) was a huge influence on me, hands down my favorite turntabilist because of your jazz approach and just the zone that you get into, and the voicings, and how much you can do with one little snippet in time. I think that’s a huge influence on me. Unfortunately I played with turntables for years, but I just never felt like that was my instrument. So I started building my own and trying to get as much of the same voicing and expressiveness out of these boxes as Q gets out of his turntable. It’s really remarkable because of the way that it’s designed- he gets attack and sustain and amplitude and all of the elements of musicality there that makes it sound so expressive. There’s no doubt that it’s a total instrument. So with controllerism, it has been my goal to try and make controllers as expressive as that. I gotta say, I don’t think we’re there yet, but we’re getting close and each year is more fun as new ways of messing around with stuff in the computer gets more expressive.
Ted: Alright, so this next question is for Q. You’re known as “The Last Samurai” of vinyl. We know you’ve been embracing the new innovations in DJ technology. Just looking at this setup here, would any of this – the Rane Fifty-Seven or even Ean’s custom Midi-Fighters – would you incorporate that into your set?
Q: You know, I was asking him earlier if he could make a little box for me to play MP3 beats and they would just loop- because sometimes I bring my iPod out and play beats and loop them on my iPhone or whatever. But when you press it on the iPhone there’s a delay, on these things you just press the loops right away. I would use like a little box, instead of bringing my computer and all this stuff, I just would bring one turntable and one of these little guys right here and just play beats on there and scratch them all day.
Ted: The fans have been waiting very patiently, so we’re gonna relay some questions from Facebook. ” What do these guys think about the future of controllerism and turntablisim”
Q: I think we should jam together again. I didn’t even know he lived here in the Bay. When he first came over to my house, I was like “Man, this guy’s so crazy” – I thought he was from a different state or something. It’s like why would he be from my own hometown? He just tripped me out, it was like “Wow, this guy’s some genius”, cause you came with the…
Ean: The VCI.
Q: Yeah, the VCI, and I think the Traktor guy, right? Yeah, and that guy, he’s from Europe, and I was like “These guys are legendary.” You know how you think they’re all mystical in your head and everything goes all crazy. Now that I know you live here, we should all jam together some more, cause that was really fun; this guy’s a genius.
Ean: This guy’s a genius (QBert). Seriously. So to answer the question, the future of controllerism and turntablism. It’s just kind of a mixture. The really cool thing that Richie Hawtin mentioned in the interview that I had with him a few weeks ago is that more and more, it’s becoming about what you want to play with. Previously, the tools were sort of given to you- you had the the 1200s and you had a few good mixers, and some people like Q and others innovated to get mixers that would do new things, to allow them to do, you know, different sounds, but now there’s all this technology and all this different stuff you can do. So I think the future is just picking instruments and combinations of instruments, like a little beatbox with a turntable that fits your style and allows you to express who you are musically. I don’t think it’s any one piece of gear, I think it’s a whole lot of different pieces of gear and lots of little cool niche companies making rad equipment that’s really special and made for DJs, not big companies making gear for everyone to buy.
Q: Yeah, totally, the future’s what you make of it. You make the future, pretty much.
Ted: Alright, now like I said before, this is a historical moment. We have two pioneers here, QBert obviously the innovator and also educator for scratch turntablism, and then Ean, the pioneer and really the godfather of controllerism. But for all of our new generation DJs, what do you guys feel is the core of the foundation of becoming a DJ? Besides the technology and the records that you use, what really makes up a good DJ?
Ean: Before I answer that, I just want to point out one thing that I think a lot of people may not realize about Q, is how much of an educator this guy is. I know our audience may not, you know, with the scratching notation, and our site is about educating and pushing forward and sharing your techniques with others, not trying to be a selfish DJ who says, you know, “These are mine, I’m better than you, screw you.” But I think DJs with really positive attitudes that share with others make a huge difference and a huge example, and I think Q’s been a great example of that with the Scratch Academy, with the notation, and all the stuff you’ve done with sharing your knowledge and your experience with others.
Q: Oh yeah, and you as well. The first thing as soon as I got here, I just drilled him on a million questions. I asked him about all these types of things, like what you were saying with all this timbre and attack and things like that, and he was on the guitar showing me, what was that, the pentatonic scale? I was learning a lot from him. This guy has a lot of knowledge, so if you guys have questions, you know, right here.
Ean: So, what was the question again?
Ted: What’s the heart, what’s the foundation in becoming a successful DJ?
Ean: Gosh. I think maybe just really believing in what you’re doing and really loving what you put out there. It’s amazing the power of energy that people project from themselves, so if you really believe in the music and what you’re doing, people will pick up on that. And if you’re really confident and you really love the music that you’re playing, I think others will too.
Q: That’s right, that’s right. And if you’re loving it, then everyone else will love it, cause there’s a hidden element which is, you know, if you’re happy than everyone else will feel it as well. I guess it also depends on what is your act, what are you trying to be? Are you trying to be a clown onstage? Are you trying to be a jazz musician on the turntables? Are you trying to play hip hop? Are you trying to be a party rocker? It really depends on what your stage act is, so as long as you perfect that and always continue to make it better, I think you can’t go wrong if you make people happy.
Ean: Yeah. Practice. I know this guy practices like mad, like a ninja, like all day, everyday long.
Q: I try to, I try to.
Ean: Unfortunately, I also have undertaken the running of a growing company with employees and a huge audience.
Q: Congratulations with that way on that.
Ean: Thank you very much. Which is a lot of work, so it allows for very little time to practice. This is actually the first time that I’ve played in literally six weeks.
Q: Couldn’t tell- I heard no mistakes or anything.
Ean: It was a little sloppy, but thank you. So practice, just literally like everyday, even if you don’t feel like it. You have to schedule it, even if you don’t feel like it, you have to schedule like an hour at night, and I’ve read that shorter sessions are good, you know maybe like 15 to 20 minutes, three times a day, rather than like one hour or two hours. But really just regular, consistent working on your craft. It’s the guys who stick around and who last, and get better, and improve constantly that are still there after 20 years.
Q: That’s right.
Ted: Well, something I want to point out to the audience is that the two musicians here, they’re very similar in their careers, where their music composition is very technical, but also both of you guys own your own companies. Q, you own Thud Rumble and you also run qbertscratchuniversity.com. Ean, you’ve got DJTechTools and Midi-Fighter, and you’re also a liaison for Traktor. How do you guys balance your professional careers?
Ean: Well as I was saying, it’s hard, especially as we get bigger, you know. We have ten people working for us now, and it’s a lot of effort to keep everyone happy and keep the technology going out there.
Ted: And to keep making Midi-Fighters, right?
Ean: Yeah, exactly. You know to be honest, because I know that Q has one excellent guy behind him, I think it’s having a great team behind you. I know I couldn’t do it by myself- there’s just no way, it’d be physically impossible. Linking up with like-minded, really talented people who have their own areas of expertise and letting them really run with the ball and then focusing on what you do really well, which in my case I love designing interfaces and coming up with new ways of interacting with music. I’ll let Q speak for himself.
Q: That’s right, yeah. It’s definitely- when I started I had a partner, DJ YogaFrog, so we split the whole thing. I would just do the art, and he would do the business side, and from there he just got a bunch of workers that were like-minded, like you said, and they’re strong in their areas, and they run the whole company and stuff. And I get to concentrate on the raw, you know, the root of it all, the scratching and all that.
Ean: I think it’s cool that we both kinda came to the same point in our careers where we could no longer do what we wanted with the tools we had, and you teamed up with Vestax and made the QFO, which is an amazing instrument, and that in both our careers there have been technological innovation sections, which is really cool cause then you get to really express who you are. Not waiting for someone else to make the perfect instrument, and just kinda making it for yourself. That’s pretty cool.
Q: Yeah, we’ve been very fortunate.
Ted: Alright, we’re gonna take some more questions from the fans. This one’s from Johnny Morgan, it’s for Q. The question is: “What is your opinion of the Vestax Controller One?”
Q: I actually have one of those in my house, and it’s really cool. Any kinda thing that manipulates sound is an amazing thing.
Ted: Alright, we’re getting a lot of requests here for you guys to go on tour. You think you could fit a tour in your busy schedule?
Ean: It’s tough, touring is really hard. People don’t realize that going out on the road and playing night after night, staying up, not seeing your friends and family – that’s hard. And it’s really hard to maintain your practice schedule and your company and your personal sanity and still tour. The guys who do that – much respect.
Q: Definitely. That’s dope.
Ted: Alright, we got a question here. JJ Pryor asks Ean, “Any news on the DJ TechTools online school?”
Ean: We were just talking about that, actually. You’ve got an online school, which is doing really well, and that’s good. A lot of people get a lot of value out of it. I mean, at the end of the day, we’re here to serve, so if enough people need that and feel like that would be valuable, let us know and we’ll make it happen. We’re here for you, so if that’s what would be the best value for our time, then we can put some time into that. We aren’t currently planning an online school, but…does it work well for you?
Q: It does, and if you one, I’ll be your first student.
Ean: We can trade classes, because I want to be your student.
Ted: Alright, next question is from Christian Williamson, and this is for both of you guys. What’s your opinion about the sync button feature that’s in all the latest DJ technology out there?
Q: The sync button, it lets you mix automatically? I mean, if you’re doing a party, yeah, why not? Who cares? But you know, if you’re doing something like scratching, then that’s not really gonna work. It depends, if you wanna do a shortcut and save time for other things, then why not? If your act is like “Hey, I’m mixing, look!”, then you may not want to have that sync button. You know, it really depends. It’s like when the fork was invented, it was like, “I like using my hands, what do you think about the fork?”
Ean: I don’t like forks.
Q: I use my feet.
Ean: I use my feet, too. It’s really kind of awkward at dinner parties. Sync button? I think, you know, you shouldn’t take shortcuts. If you know how to mix, and you can mix by ear, and you can know if two songs are synced up, then I would say it’s ok if you need to get into a song really fast. One reason I do use the sync button is when I’ve got to drop a song in two seconds, literally load, sync, get the tempos matched, not so much sync and automatically mix, just to match the tempos in a couple seconds, and then I’ll use it. That’s when it’s super, super handy. But the problem that a lot of kids today get into is that they use the sync button and they assume that it’s going to create a good mix for you, which it maybe does 40% of the time, and the rest of the time it might be a little bit off because they haven’t trained their ears properly to notice the subtle balance of rhythm and of swing, then they might not know that and the dance floor suffers.
Q: That’s right, and it does take a lot of the fun out of learning how to mix. Learning how to mix was pretty cool when you finally got it and it was like “Oh, cool, I can blend two records together.” It’s definitely a neat skill to have. Especially if you’re in a studio and what if you don’t have that feature, and you want to sample something or whatever.
Ean: Mixing in and out of other DJs, that’s a challenge, there’s no sync button for that. There’s opportunities when you’re going to need that skill if you’re a professional DJ, so you should have it.
Q: Yeah, especially if you’re scratching and you’re scratching a phrase, you’re gonna want to be able to get that phrase on beat with the music and stuff, so it’s a very handy skill.
Ean: Well, scratching doesn’t work with sync at all, and neither does controllerism because the whole idea of it is that you’re moving, you’re floating ahead and behind the beat. I remember seeing one of your videos when you were talking to a student, you were teaching him, like my drum teacher taught me, how to intentionally fall behind the beat.
Q: Yeah, how do you do that? There’s a certain swing in the drum that makes it feel like it’s going slower?
Ean: Yeah, the relationship of the kick to the snare. But if you’re playing over a drum beat, you know, you can play on top of the one. I just remember seeing a specific video where you said “Hey, you know, you’re too on the beat, try sitting behind it a little bit.”
Q: Oh, right.
Ean: So sync, by definition, is gonna line those beats up perfectly and it’s going to be very quantized and very stiff, and very kinda white. So if you wanna be funky, you gotta kinda learn to fall behind the beat, and you can’t do that if it’s automatically quantized to the beat.
Ted: Alright, we’ll take a couple more questions from the fans here. This one’s from Rize Guzman. His question is for Q- “Do you plan to have any MIDI controllerism lessons on the QSU?”
Q: Actually, I was just gonna say that. I was gonna invite him to do a class, that’d be great.
Ean: Yeah, that’d be cool. I’d be into it, just cause we don’t have the infrastructure and we’re not trying to necessarily set up a school right now, so that could potentially be cool.
Ted: Alright, and the next one is from Giamarco Palsing, and his question is for both of you. “What are your thoughts on the ‘everyone is a DJ’ phrase that applies now more often than ever? Do you believe it is undercutting of a lot of DJs that have been doing this for years?”
Ean: Well, when you’re old enough, and there’s a lot of guys that are way older than I am, but when you’re as old as I am and as old as Q, you’ve heard that phrase used in a number of different contexts. You’ve heard that when CDJs came out, you heard that in the 90s when everyone had a turntable- I’ve head “everyone wants to be a DJ” multiple times. So, it has nothing to do with the technology, it just has to do with trends. You know, right now in popular music electro is hot and dance music is hot, and so people want to be DJs, and I think that’s pretty cool.
Q: Yeah, you know, there’s gonna be good ones and bad ones of course, and everyone should be able to play music, and everyone should be original too. I mean if everyone’s going to be a DJ, you definitely should know that you guys are all different, everyone has different fingerprints, so keep honing your skills until your real originality comes out and you stick out more than the rest, or you’re just going to be like a regular DJ. You know, like one that no one really trips off of. So definitely stand out and be original.
Ted: Now, just to play off what you said, standing out- let’s say a decade ago when Final Scratch first came out, I mean now there are double the amount of DJs and the DJ industry is becoming very competitive, especially with DJs who are trying to get out and get gigs. What are some elements that a DJ needs in his bag of tricks to really stand out, be unique, and really make it as a professional?
Ean: I think that’s a great question, and it leads to something really cool. So everyone has access to a computer and MP3s. The obstacle to become a DJ is certainly lower, I think we can all agree on that. You don’t have to buy the 1200s, there’s not a $2000 investment there, you don’t have to go to the record store and get those records. All those obstacles that we had to go through 15 years ago are lower, there’s no question about it. So, you have to step up your game in other ways, and I personally believe that the future of the next two to seven years of DJing is much like the heyday of turntablism in the 90s, where it was about the performance. You had to bring some skills to the table. It wasn’t enough to mix some songs, it was like what else can you do? How can you change up the song? Show me your personal creative flavor. Personally, I believe that people are getting a little tired of paying $40 to go watch some guy hit “play”. And I think that as a DJ, if you really want to stand out, you should be doing more. If that means grabbing a turntable and learning how to scratch really well, cool, that’s awesome. If that means grabbing a controller and interacting with the music in a creative way, cool, that’s awesome too. I just think that people need to step up their game a little bit and do more if they want to stand out from the “everyone’s a DJ” crowd.
Q: Yeah, I was pretty much gonna say the same thing. It’s all about doing something different and- I think you’ve said it a million times already- just be unique. There really is no rule, so don’t try to follow a trend, try to make your own trend, pretty much.
Ean: Absolutely, and that’s the power of technology is that you don’t have to necessarily follow a trend, you can literally- each of these devices I’ve set up for my own personal expression in the way I want to play, which you know sounds different that everyone else. And I frequently will go to a club and have people say, “Man, I’ve never heard a DJ sound like you before.” And that’s not because I’m all special or anything, that’s just because I took the time to craft both the sound musically and technically, which produces different results, which some people like and some people don’t.
Ted: Well, nowadays, with the access to technology, how important do you guys feel that the production element is to DJing, where DJs are now starting to produce their own songs, their own remixes? We just had the latest wave of bootleg, bloghouse, I mean, what’s your view on that? Do you think DJs should start getting into GarageBand, Logic, Ableton and start producing their own tracks and custom edits?
Ean: Well, I’m a little bit old school, and I think and assume Q’s a little bit of the same way. I would personally rather be standing around the Octagon playing with other musicians and interacting with humans rather than sitting in front of a computer moving little blocks of audio around to make a song. So, I don’t personally produce very much, I’d rather just play and interact with other people but it goes without saying that the big producers are the big DJs today, so if you want to be a big superstar DJ, you probably need to make some good tracks.
Q: Yeah, once again, it’s just preference. If you wanna do that, go ahead. If you wanna stand on stage and pull your pants down and pee on everyone, that’s a different act. It really depends on what you want to do. You know, what do you want to do? Do you want to produce? So it really doesn’t matter. For me, if it’s entertaining, it’s entertaining, so if I see someone with 3D glasses on and jerking off, I think that’d be pretty funny as a DJ. So, I don’t know, it really depends on what you want to do. But of course, producing skills are really cool. I like to listen to great hip hop and DJs that can make really good drum and bass and hip hop and drum step- that’s a cool thing, you know. If not, if you’re just gonna play stuff, that’s cool too. It’s all cool, as long as you’re making people trip out, I guess.
Ted: Ok, I think just one more element, I mean, you guys are very similar in style but different backgrounds. If you could give the fans who your personal influences were when you were first starting out your careers.
Ean: Miles Davis and Jimmy Hendrix.
Q: Exact same thing.
Ted: You can’t steal his answer!
Q: Well, yeah, greats like that. Even after music, there’s people like Picasso and stuff. The painters, you would get into their psychology and stuff, try to figure out what they were doing, and Picasso was doing this weird Cubism thing and you can kinda try to make that relate to scratching when you want to make your sounds sound all 3D-ish. You can always try to relate things that are out of the box and switch that into your art. That’s kinda like what I do. Or like great people that are go-getters, like Anthony Robbins. I’ll listen to them, they’re very good inspirations for their positive words and that makes you kinda become a go-getter as well. Anyone who’s really a genius in their craft, I’ll look into them. Like this guy right here, like I said earlier, I was just asking him a million questions.
Ean: I like the Anthony Robbins mention because I think that if you’re going to be a really great DJ, you should be really well rounded. It’s not enough to just play your instrument really well, you have to interact with other people, other DJs, with promoters, and so you’ve got to be a well-rounded person. You’ve got to know a little bit about business, and interacting with other people and how to have a positive attitude, cause people will want to work with you. I think a commonly misperceived notion is that you’ve gotta be hard and kind of a dick and mean to all the other DJs because that’s the mentality. But frequently that doesn’t actually work, it’s not gonna get you gigs. But making friends and influencing people- and that’s a great book by the way if you wanna check it out – that’s the way to go. In addition to honing your craft and linking up with people like this guy. And if they’re this much better than you, then if you got to half of his level you would be stoked. So surround yourself with really talented people and just try to absorb their energy and absorb their positivity and make it work.
Ted: We have another question here from Giamarco. His question is for both of you guys. Now, with traditional DJing, there’s the blending and mixing element, and Ean, with what you’re doing with cue juggling and cue points, there are producers out there right now calling themselves DJs and there are the mashup DJs, and all their stuff is pre-recorded. Now, do you think they’re at the same caliber?
Ean: So, is the mashup DJ…I think what they’re probably asking and what I hear you saying is more the Ableton direction, you know, you’ve got a bunch of different clips together and they’re assembling pieces. I was thinking earlier when you were talking about how to play and how to get into it, you know, it’s all about transcending the moment and getting into the zone. There’s this great book about playing jazz piano called something “Mastery”, I’ll give it to you, it’s really good. And I think this guy plays like that, you just kind of forget about all the people watching you, forget about where you are and just kinda listen and get into it and put onto paper or put into the speakers or put on the wall what you’re going through. And if you do that with clips in Ableton, then cool. That’s sweet. It’s just another palette to paint with.
Q: Yeah, I mean in every case there’s going to be good and bad in every area. You know, it’s all good. Usually it’s only 10% of the whole 100% is actually doing something different in that category, so I guess you just have to look out for the guys that are dope in those things.
Ted: Alright, we’re gonna take one more question here, and then do you think you guys could play us out with another performance? Alright, final question is from Jan Tremlay, and his question is, “What inspires you guys to create a routine? Is it a sound sample, a song you hear on the radio? What sparks that moment?”
Ean: That’s a good question. That’s actually really hard, they don’t just come out of anywhere. For me, it’s hearing a song and thinking “I love this song”, but here’s what I could do if I could change it around and rearrange, and if it was played in this context with this song, then it would be really cool. I just hear something different, and I want to try to reproduce it live, and that’s where the routines come from. But that doesn’t come often. So, like with the S4 videos that I shot, those routines I was banging my head against the wall for like two months, and I was getting really angry at myself because I didn’t have anything until a week before the shoot. I just was not inspired. And then one day it finally hit, and I heard this Ozzy Osbourne tune that I really like and I was like yes, I wanna do that.
Q: Yeah, it definitely comes. For me, I search for sounds all day and stuff, and sometimes I won’t find it. Sometimes I’ll find a little bit, and there’s something in that sound that can be like a seed that grows into other things too. But I don’t know, sometimes you just don’t find something, but seek and you’ll find. So just keep going and eventually you’ll find something. I remember this Native American guy, he said these painters in the tribes, they don’t even do anything. They look at the canvas for three days and on the third day this inspiration comes to them, so sometimes that happens too. I’ll just be at my drum machine or something and be like “Damn, what do I do?” and then on the third day I’ll wake up, “Oh! I just had a good dream!” I don’t know, sometimes it works like that. There’s all kinds of ways for inspiration to happen. Sometimes I’ll see a dog swallow his own vomit and I’ll be like “That’s a good title for a song. How would that sound?” Kind of make the theatre, think of it as a show and then you make the background music for it. A lot of weird things can inspire me or you too.
Ean: That’s a really cool story about the Native Americans. One thing I noticed about you in particular that you do is that Q will go to the turntables and before he plays, and this is similar for a lot of great jazz musicians, he’ll wait. Not just like jump into it and start playing. It’s like pause, listen, and kinda get yourself into the moment, and when it comes, then you play. And I thought of that book- “Effortless Mastery”, it’s really good.
Q: Oh, yes, I heard about that.
Ted: Alright, well we’re almost out of time here. I wanna thank the DJ TechTools guys again, thank you guys.
many thanks to Q, Ted, and the guys from Thud Rumble – a very classy crew, you’re welcome back any time!
Check out Ean’s powerhouse controller, the Midi Fighter Pro, in our online store!