With BPM coming up, I decided to make a plan of action. I had such a tough time deciding! There is so much to do and learn for the budding DJ/Producer in the form of fantastically informative seminars to every analog nerd’s dream, a room full of brand new hardware! From fresh drum synths to new, grainy modular devices, I became lost in the wonderful world of analog and hybrid soundwaves. Pioneer product specialist, Rob Anderson took me through some of their latest technology. Pioneer have been seriously busy on the innovation front this year and had some very impressive gear on show, most notably for me, the Topiaz SP-16 drum machine and sampler hybrid.
Rob explained how the team set out with the goal of bringing something raw and modern to the table, with Pioneer finally dipping their toes in the production market, and their desire to build a machine that seamlessly synced with current Pioneer gear whilst also having huge capabilities as a completely standalone piece of hardware.
With a highly sensitive and well weighted step sequencer, integration of the fantastic sounding and world famous Dave Smith analogue filter, in depth wave manipulation, built in FX and 8GB of internal memory capable of designing and storing custom samples, the Topiaz SP-16, in collaboration with Dave Smith is set to fly off the shelves and straight into studios around the world. With new firmware currently in development which will expand capabilities even further, it is, for me, the most exciting machine I viewed at BPM Pro.
Pioneer have also taken a journey into the world of vinyl this year with their new PLX 1000 turntable. Many were eagerly waiting the unveiling and were excited to see what Pioneer could bring to the market to compete with the might of the established Technics range. Rob went on to say how the team at Pioneer spotted a gap in the market, with no other turntable being able to hold its own with Technics.
He explained how they wanted to bring Vinyl into the current era and was more than confident the PLX 1000’s could win over the old school vinyl users. The PLX 1000 boasts the highest torque of any turntable on the market, designed to keep feedback to a minimum whilst looking just as good as it sound, and it really does look great! Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try it out for myself, but it is one bit of kit I am eager to test.
Roland DJ specialist Mak Toniga walked me through their new collaboration with Serato, the Roland DJ808. I, like few others, was quite skeptical of the DJ808 following the announcement of its development, but after a demonstration, I can see the benefits of live gigging with it to some. I personally think it would be a great tool for beginners to learn track structure, especially in conjunction with the likes of Beatport stems.
Some of the features incorporated in the Roland DJ808 are, of course, that step sequenced drum machine which doesn’t seem pretty far off the TR-8, a built in 4 channel mixer, highly sensitive jog wheels and capability to load up your own samples. There is even a built-in voice transformer like the Aira VT-3. Another great feature is the potential to seamlessly link the unit between other models in the Aira range to take your live performance to the next level. So the Roland DJ808 may appeal to those, who, as Mak says, are “looking to blur the line between production and DJing”.
I was also keen to check out Roland’s new Boutique models and it seemed many had that idea too, the stand was packed from start to finish! Boutique specialist David Ahlund explained how his favourite in the new line was the VP-03 Vocoder, based of the famous 80’s era Vocoder, the VP330. Roland have created a machine with the perfectly aligned characteristics of the original model it is based off whilst adding more functionalities like formant tweaking, a modern, high-quality gooseneck mic and a built-in audio interface to link up with your favourite software.
David also talked me through some pointers regarding the new TR-09 and TB-03 models. I was impressed by their compactness in comparison to the originals, they will certainly fit into the current studio with ease whilst also impressively maintaining the warm sound of the 909 and 303.
I saw a bit of worry floating around from vintage collectors who were of the belief that these new units would saturate the market and take that special feeling away from the vintage pieces, but that just isn’t the case. Vintage will always be vintage and the differences between them are easily visually distinguishable in shape and size, whilst the sound of the underlying components remain.
The built in audio interface is made up of 5 outputs accessible via USB link, although it remains to be seen whether the interface is an improvement on the TB-3 and TR-8 models. Although, I can say with certainty that I was very impressed. At £245 a unit, they are also very affordable for the average consumer and opens up a whole new consumer base for Roland.
The omnipresent Korg have also been busy knocking up more high quality studio hardware this year with all of their latest products, including the Korg Micro-S on display. The Micro-S shows off a big bank of 256 sounds split into 4 smaller banks of 64. According to the demonstrators, they have “taken a winning formula and modernised it” in the development of the Micro-S. The analogue modelling synthesizer has a wonderful, crisp character and a fun Vocoder contained within the unit, (Vocoders seemed to be the thing at this year’s BPM).
I believe the Korg Micro-S to be a valuable tool for producers alike and would be just as capable on the road in a live setting as it would in the studio. For the modular heads, Korg have also redeveloped their famous Arp Odyssey range with multiple models available. I was presented with both a rack mount model and a standalone model with a built in keyboard, both utilizing the famed circuitry and powerful oscillators of the original. The knobs, switches and keys don’t feel totally solid or weighted, but the whopping sounds it can generate make it a fully fledged modular mammoth and a great tribute to the first Arp Odyssey.
It wouldn’t be a Korg 2016 demo if without a new model in the Volca line. Everyone who has tried out Volca beats would tell you the kick drums have a lot of bang for their buck and Korg has quickly capitalised on this. They have taken the kick drum and created a full dedicated synth which is aptly named the ‘Volca Kick’.
Taking the filter from the MS-20, Korg have created another strong machine which is the 6th in their Volca range. The smooth, boomy low end can be turned into a wide range of kick sounds, from clicky high end thumps to sonic, low end shakers. The built in overdrive gives extra gritty character and their is the capability to store up to 16 of your own, custom made kick drums in the internal memory, accessible via the step sequencer. This is, yet again, a great unit for modern studios, especially for those taking their first steps into the world of synthesizers.
Out of all the DJ gear on show, nothing has quite built up the hype like Richie Hawtin’s PLAYdifferently – Model One mixer, which was also a favourite of rising star Corey James who I managed to grab a few words with. Corey went on to say how he “loves the surgical eq’s and the great sound of the filters” and how he thought it was a “brilliant and innovative new type of mixer” with a sound quite like nothing he had heard before. He also signed off with a great bit of advice “Work hard, put the hours in, but most of all, keep smashing it!”.
Moving on to Allen & Heaths latest masterpiece, the DB4 mixer which was also on show. The artistic design is super and something the demonstrator said “Was created to be flexible and suit the needs of each individual DJ.” With 50 incredible sounding FX to choose from, a 4 bar internal looper, isolator EQ’s and the capability to be really bold or extremely subtle, it is a mixer that will seriously appeal to those who are all about the highest of sound quality.
Dancing Divaz producer and house music veteran Ian Bland took us through a master class in the arch nemesis of all producers, the mixdown phase, and he showed off his 26 years of serious house music knowledge. The producer, who was signed by The Prodigy’s manager Nick Hawkes back in the 90’s, has built up a discography of great funky music over the years released on some top labels around the world.
Ian talked us through his latest release, the truly joyous ‘Funk That’. He explained the importance of referencing your favourite tracks at the mixdown stage and showed us a simple tool you could use to do this, called Magic A/B, which quickly and easily switches through your project and the track you want to reference.
The Dancin’ Divaz star also talked of his love for the Slate Digital line of plugins which emulate some of the best FX hardware the world has seen, including his favoured Neve FG-N EQ, FG-116 Compressor and talked of the bright character of the Valhalla Reverb plugin. The self proclaimed musical magpie finished up with some words of wisdom and inspiration, “Use your ears and your heart above anything else”. Keep those magical words in mind! I had such a great time at BPM Pro, there was so much to do and so much to learn.
There was great entertainment from upcoming and established DJ’s at the various stages including stars such as Doorly and Austen & Scott, engaging and interactive demos with some fascinating, futuristic hardware on show and even a bar to sit back, relax and have a nice pint. The highlights for me were most certainly the seminars, who doesn’t love to learn?! D.Ramirez, Doorly, Riva Starr, the Toolroom A&R panel, the Label Worx crew and so many more got in on the action. The positive vibes and gleaming smiles that echoed around the arena painted the whole picture for me, it was a great event to attend and next year is already marked in the calendar!
Photo Credits: BPM