Every now and then a surprising way to use popular DJ gear makes even the most seasoned veteran do a double take. Today’s featured unique technique, chopping, is a modern take on a classic DJ style. For years, DJs have been matching tracks and bringing them in and out of the mix – but chopping, popular in the riddim scene, takes it to the next level.
Keep reading to watch chopping in action and to learn how to do it yourself with a 4-channel mixer that can send MIDI (like the DJM-900 NXS) and Ableton Live.
Editor’s note: Many of the videos in this article have loud / heavy bass music in them, so make sure you check your volume levels before hitting play. Even if riddim music isn’t your cup of tea, it’s worth reading a bit more about the technique itself that has become popular in this subculture.
What Is Chopping?
Chopping is a pretty basic concept – it’s bringing tracks in and out of the mix in time with the song – always lining up any fader movements with either the rhythm of the song or with major phrase changes. The songs should also be well matched in energy, and synchronized – not just in BPM, but with phrasing (so breakdowns, major phrase changes, drops, etc all stay aligned). This works best with music that follows the same basic structure.
Wait, “Chopping” means something else! Many DJs would be right to point out that the word “chopping” is already used in a lot of other DJ/production techniques, like sample chopping, vocal chopping, chops and stabs, and others. Yes, using this word for yet another concept is confusing, but we didn’t come up with the name.
As with most DJ techniques, there’s always an auteur – an artist whose style is heavily intertwined with the concept itself because of their prolific use of it. This style of chopping has been popularized and evangelized by a DJ in the riddim scene, SQUNTO. Here’s two of his more popular performance videos:
Chop 8 Tracks With A 4 Channel Mixer?
SQUNTO’s videos are full of performances (“megachops”, “turbo chops”) that combine four different songs. But the real fancy version is known as an Octochop – combining eight different songs into one quick performance. He even has built a pretty epic live visuals component that allows the audience to see the fader action and waveforms in real-time (that’s the video at the top of this article).
It’s a bit of clever MIDI mapping that makes this 8-layer track version possible – mapping the DJM’s crossfader to Ableton Live’s crossfader, and then assigning four Ableton channels to the A side of the crossfader, and four more to the B side. The performance video below has screen capture and a basic explanation:
There’s not a lot of tutorial content out there on how DJs can build their own chop routines. That’s likely for a few reasons – it works well with a very specific type of music, and it’s not that complicated of a technique once you figure out songs that work well together. That said, we did spot a comment on YouTube of a few tips for the aspiring chopper, written by iHatePossums:
1.) Make sure the two tracks that you’re chopping are set at the exact same bpm. if you have them at different bpm rates it can f**k up your set and the chops will sound like trash.
2.) Match both tracks to drop at the same time for a smooth, unnoticable transition after you chop the shi* out of your channel faders.
3.) DO NOT SLAM THE CHANNEL FADERS HARD. I have had an absolutely terrible experience because of this. I Chopped too hard and the knob for the channel fader flew right off MID-CHOP. it was such a heart breaking moment for the bass heads of the part. 🙁
4.) Have your 3rd and 4th deck prepped with a track to avoid the hassle of rushing to change tracks on your second deck. all you’ll have to do is switch to your 3rd or 4th. trust me this makes it much more easier.
5.) Last but not least, PRACTICE.
This might not be the most advanced DJing technique in the world, but it’s still fascinating to see in such heavy use within a specific sub-genre of electronic music. There’s plenty of aspiring YouTube choppers out there as well – even just using basic two-channel setups:
Do you know of a hyper-specific technique used in certain genres/subgenres of DJing? We want to know what else is out there, so share your best finds in the comments.