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Play Nice With Others: How to DJ With Your Friends

The time will come in your career, if it hasn’t already, when you want to join forces with another DJ – either as a dynamic production duo or just for fun around the house. The experience of DJing with one (or more!) collaborators can be really fun and unearth powerful new ideas you might not uncover on your own.  In today’s article we provide a few templates for successful ways to perform with others.

First, a bit about your host. Over the course of my 17-year career, I’ve spent a lot of time developing various multi-person DJ groups, including: a 2X4 DJ duo (GoldenSol), a full band that played with me (Lyve) in 2k person venues, solo instrument accompaniment, playing with other DJs in a open jam format (like in this session with Qbert), and lately, three DJs playing samples in a more jazz style (with Mad Zach). Each of these styles have strengths and pitfalls, so my hope  is to provide you with a solid map of the territory.

THE CLASSIC TAG TEAM

Let’s take a look at the different methods used by DJs to play together – I’ll attempt to offer great advice about each path and some prominent examples in the real world.

Method 1: Standard Swap

In this method, two DJs use the same setup and trade every few songs, with each person picking the songs when it’s their turn. I’ve also seen duos (and trios!) that all are working collaboratively on the mixing process at the same time – with a headphone splitter, you can easily get a couple of hands on the mixer, building a mix and making adjustments

Veteran Advice: When you’re starting out in this style, let each person play at least three songs, otherwise it’s very hard to maintain any cohesive direction or movement with the sequencing. A classic example is Deep Dish. These guys would play about one hour each and then swap- so their individual musical styles created a interesting counterpoint and balance through the night.

Method 2: Classic 2X4
In this method, there are two dual DJ setups running into a common mixer. The traditional term used to describe this setup is a 2X4, referencing the four turntables used. Each DJ has their own mixer and both run into a master mixer, or one DJ has control over the other’s input.

Veteran Advice: One person should really be “driving” and have the master mixer. They are responsible for always having music on deck with the second person mixing in songs when appropriate. Some planning here is required if you want a 2X4 to go smoothly. The goal should not be to get four pieces of music playing together concurrently, but rather to construct interesting and powerful transitions that would not be possible with one person. Perhaps the non-driving DJ keeps a common acapella on deck and sprinkles it in over three to four songs for continuity. One person should be charged with picking the right songs and holding the dancefloor, while the other can add layers of extra juicy samples on top.

Classic Example: DJ Dan and Donald Glaude – you can get a pretty good idea of their setup and performance style in this short video from 2008:


Method 2: Modern 2X4
This method is a modern take on the classic 2X4 setup, simply replacing turntables with digital controllers running into a single computer. One DJ play’s on decks A/B, while the other controls C/D. This modern 2X4 solves one of the ugliest problems of two novice DJs playing together:

“It can be very hard for multiple DJs to stay perfectly in time with each other”

Both DJs playing on a common computer running the same DJ program is the easiest way to ensure all the tracks stay perfectly in sync. It also makes it possible for one DJ to apply effects and manipulate the other’s music during a mix, allowing that first person to focus on the blend and timing of the mix. As long as the roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, this setup can yield great results.

Veteran Advice: Communicate! Talk about who is in charge of picking the music and for how long, otherwise ego can quickly erode the fun times to be had. In terms of gear,  I personally have found VCI-100s or Kontrol S2s work really well for this in terms of balancing portability and feature set, with both controllers connected to a single common computer. Supplemental controllers like the X1 also work well – check out this cool example below we found online.

Method 3: Split Personalities

This method is more about each person serving a particular function that aren’t necessarily connected by intense activity collaboration – each person dedicated to a particular task. You’ll often see pairs of producers who DJ together using this method, with one person mixing tracks while the other handles effects, hype, champagne pouring and general fun activities. In a producer duo it’s common to find one person that has more experience beat matching and DJing, so he is usually tasked with the mixing duties while the other rocks out on effects, samples and general crowd hype activities.

Notable examples: Tommy Lee and DJ Aero, most major production duos including: MSTRKFT, Swedish House Mafia, and of course the party-loving Dada Life:

Now let’s move on to some more esoteric and creative ways to play with others:

THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

It’s not impossible to find a balance between live instrumentalists and DJs – so don’t be afraid to invite one of your musician buddies into the fray. A musician can bring a unique sound and twist to a set that audiences really connect with.

Some effective combos are:

  • DJ + sax (for the soulful vibe)
  • DJ + guitar (for a flexible sound that works well over many things)
  • DJ + drummer (hip hop is a good place for this one)
  • DJ + singer (any genre that has space)

Today with digital DJing you can very easily route live instruments into software and sample them for a more integrated sound. Avoid the classic musician mistake of “noodling”!

“It’s not the notes you play; it’s the notes you don’t play.” – Miles Davis

Veteran advice: Sometimes the musician will have a tendency to want to show of their chops and solo for 20 minutes straight. Gently remind them that simple patterns and clever melodies are much better than an extended ripping guitar solo that spans five songs.

Notable example: the late DJ AM and Travis Barker on drums:

THE DJ BAND

DJs can combine forces to perform together as a group, with each person playing unique parts through controllerism, scratching, or mixing. This is often the most complicated to set up and execute in a way that sounds good, but if you manage it, the results can be amazing.  You’ll want to make sure roles are clearly defined, and everyone knows the “instrument” or part they are playing. Who is drumming? Who is holding down the melody? Who will play solos? 

Notable Examples: Invisibl Skratch Piklz, Birdy Nam Nam, Kireek, C2C (see one of their DMC Team Championship winning sets below)

Currently the Bangerz do a bang-up job of executing this concept, with a variety of styles and instruments – including the Midi Fighter 3D! The recently formed Mostly Robot was Native Instruments attempt at forming a DJ supergroup.

THE JAM BOX


Lately a style has been emerging from DJTT HQ that we’re really enjoying. It’s far from a trend, but personally, it’s possibly the most musically rewarding group DJ activity I’ve done so far. Some of our weekly sound packs contain several pages of sounds including bass, drums, and leads. If you are lucky enough to know three people who can finger drum somewhat proficiently, then plug in three Midi Fighters or other pad controllers and drum away. Each controller can be easily pointed to a page of sounds, so that people can trade instruments and find their own personal style. This 100% improvised jazz-style playing with electronic sounds can sound amazing when done well. The most important thing is to have one individual with great time holding down the rhythm while the others experiment with parts.

Veteran advice: Start off with a loop running in the background so your new group does not have to hold it’s own time. Avoid the “one man band” syndrome where each person wants to play all the parts (this is possible with a single controller, i.e. Jeremy Ellis). Instead do less, and find interesting ways to negotiate with the welcome space.

OVER TO YOU! We know that some of you play in DJ groups and duos – what’s your favorite style? What DJ duos or groups have you seen that produced excellent results?

Ean Golden - Author

Ean Golden is the founder of Dj TechTools and a worldwide Dj specializing in controllers and new performance technology.

Follow Ean on: Twitter  Facebook   SoundCloud   YouTube 

  • SOUND PACK:

    Anyone got a copy of the sound pack used in YouTube video “Controllerism with Your Friends ‘Jazz Style'” that they wouldn’t mind sharing with me? I subscribed some time
    after this sound pack was made available in the newsletter, and so it’s
    no longer available from DJ Tech Tools.

    Email me at jeffwong.vancouver@gmail.com. Thanks!

  • Will

    How do I set up a Modern 2×4? What is the right software? Thanks/

  • DJ QuickPheet

    Does anyone have this sound pack??

    i would like to have it and jam out with my buddys but i cant find it 🙁

  • secretseven

    i am also looking for this Ableton sound pack

  • secretseven

    i am also looking for this Ableton sound pack

  • JimKro

    Speedy J & Chris Liebing’s collabs sessions deserves a mention: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sk0IDcTnHA

  • Super late to the game, but I would like to mention that Dirtyphonics are an awesome example of a DJ Band. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZjUMQdmpas

  • This has to be the best mix i have ever seen!

  • Cool article with great ideas! I enjoyed watching the MF jam with the guitar sounds. I agree that Trentemøller does an amazing job onstage with a DJ in his group. Here’s a good routine from Turnstylez, one of my fav oldschool DJ groups. http://youtu.be/9z_4I251DUI

  • Justin

    Myself and a buddy of mine currently use S2’s and wanted to run both of those through a common laptop, each of us controlling 2 decks (A/B + C/D respectively) is this possible?

  • An effective DJ / musician combo I’ve enjoyed has been spinning with a floutist. I played tribal house on the beach in Ventura with a guy jamming on flute and it really melded well with the tribal vibe! We also had a rhythm section with hand drums but that combo goes well without saying.

  • Ludwig von Breakhoven

    We currently have a set in which an Ableton Live mastertrack in routed into one of Traktor’s decks (using Jack). There is also a sample deck and two regular decks. I personally focus on Ableton live, in which I do a live set (which could stand on it’s own) and my buddy controls the four faders coming out of Traktor and does a regular DJ set with samples, following the lead of my live set.

  • How come there is no mention of running Rane SL4, Sixty Eight or Sixty Two?
    The SL4 can even tag team into a 2 channel mixer.
    By faaar the most convenient way to tag team.
    And remember, those 2usb port Rane mixers support Ableton & Traktor too…

    WarpNote, tagteam dj for +10yrs…

  • hey just wondering what type of stand you guys are using with these midi fighters?

  • Max Yankov

    Archie Pelago is one of the most intersting bands that mix live instruments and djing. Here they talk about their craft:

  • luiscript

    How can I download this package, I already subscribe to the mailing list, please send me a link 🙂

  • heres one of me and old school battle champ Vinroc doing a tripple threat type set but over Deep House. I’m on traktor + Maschine while Vin is on an s2 + mpk mini /soft synth using his own computer. All are slaved to my traktor’s mtc. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pKm72A-ke4&list=UUojM7AuobNeQCQ4JEv21CFw&index=3&feature=plcp

  • here’s old school battle champ vinroc and I doing a tripple threat type set but over house. i’m on the turntables + maschine and Vinroc is on the s2 using his own laptop. all slaved to my traktor. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pKm72A-ke4&list=UUojM7AuobNeQCQ4JEv21CFw&index=3&feature=plcp

  • love how the clean guitar riff paraphrases Enter Sandman! Really inspiring technique to live playing!

  • DJArctic

    What about the Glitch Mob? They use their Lemurs in much the same way as you describe in the Jam Box. They also throw in a smidgeon of live instruments with MIDI drums, which each of them use to play virtual drums in Ableton Live. It really is quite something!

  • DJ Gary

    I have used Normal Swap most of the time and we just agree an amount of time to play or when the current DJ needs a drink brake..I have also recently done a 5 DJ Swap at a party,.,

  • Chase

    Another worth noting: Big Gigantic!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYTkvTVyVW0

    • Chase

      (for best of both worlds)

  • PY

    great thread. you guys really should check out Montreal-based DJ Champion, who usually performs live with a 4-axe band (the g-strings). Awesome controllerism meets rock n roll combo. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNuSjLgRGrU

  • PowTron

    Like the 4 Deck clip of Nygaard and Louth 🙂

  • cwilly

    Fun article. As a non-DJ, it is quite interesting to read about how it all comes together. Thanks!

  • My choice is two computers with synced clocks on Ableton, each person hitting samples, and going between songs and/or drum and sample or live synth/piano work

  • DJ Paul B and myself DJ Housefly have recently started a DJ Duo called “the People Under The Steps”. The name was chosen due to us playing in a bar below a major Dub Step weekly event in New Orleans called “Church”. We sort of follow the classic 2 X 4 format but Paul B is on a Novation Twitch with Serato and i am on a modified X-ponent using Traktor. We run the controllers into independent channels on a rane mixer and share control of each others channels. This has caused us both to swallow our egos at times and respect each others creative decisions for direction of the mix. Sometimes the other person knows whats going to happen before you do and will drop your channel for a good reason. This is a hard thing to get used to, but the screaming dancefloor that follows usually keeps your ego in check. We have been performing for a few months and in my 15 years of playing live i have rarely had such a good time playing. The range of the controllers and blend of creative influences has given us the power to spread our sound over many genres from classic rock to drum and bass and hip hop to house. We have played a couple cities, earned a local residency and last week we were approached for a tour in the spring. DJTT has been one of many resources we have studied for tips and ideas and i am ecstatic to see you guys covering this topic. it stands as proof once again Ean and his team are on the forefront of our culture. Thanks for the great read and keep rocking it.

  • Toverdose

    Difficult one to fence. Where does it end up being a band? (Sun Project? Pendulum?) or becomes live production? (Nothing Beats The Drum?), But some are obvious (Underworld)

    • Toverdose

      Oh! and props for not mentioning Mostly Robot!

  • my fav duo … Raiz (Acid Circus) …

  • Rutger Willems

    my faforite group? Chriss liebing, the one men army! no serious, Daft Punk

  • Barging in! I think Trentemøller deserves a little time here as he usually tours with a drummer, bassist and a vocalist. And they create wonders on stage! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXZ-XLZ1XgE&feature=related

  • Rille Paz

    I was in spain once, at the beach. and i noticed some dudes setting up some speakers and a table and stuff. i didnt think much of it but an hour later they had a dj playing some techy house, one dude on a midisynth and a midi drummachine. this one girl had a mic and her vioce was beautiful and one hawaii looking on the sax. very good after beach wibe!

  • neotechtonics

    you forgot the combination of DJ + hardware.. drum machine/sampler/synthesizer. With software based DJing the possibility of syncing via MIDI can make this a very effective partnership.

  • cheese

    Nice article. Good theme for a contest dont you think?
    …i wanne win one of those 3Ds – or better two for my made and I

  • Anonymous

    When can we get this Ableton template? I am already subscribed to the mail list but aint received nothing yet!!! 🙁

    • Kevin

      Me neither ,hardzen .

  • djtt is getting better and better! nice job guys!

  • Nice article. I’d like to add another “type” – the residency partnership. I played in a successful residency partnership myself for over a decade, and also saw such partnerships work all over my hometown of Manchester, with a classic being Graeme Park and Tom Wainwright at the Haçienda, but there were others.

    This is where two of you dictate the music policy for a club night, and only book guests accordingly to suit the style you’ve developed. It works well for DJ/promoters, because:

    1) It gives you someone to fall back on (it can be very hard promoting a regular event); your partner can step in and “play from your box” when you can’t be there for whatever reason

    2) It reins in indulgences (you have to consider the other person’s style when developing your own, so they complement each other)

    3) It broadens the appeal of your club night (two tastes = potentially appealing to twice as many people)

    If you’re planning on promoting in order to get regular DJ work (and after all, promoting your own night is one of the best ways to do just that), I thoroughly recommend getting a DJ partner and learning each other’s styles, tastes and behaviours inside out.