What should DJing software look like, anyway?

It’s just a teaser, but for once, the idea is simple, straightforward, and clear. Native Instruments have taken their DJ software, Traktor, and combined it with a grid of pads for sample triggering and loops. The upcoming hardware/software combination we expect later this spring.

At the risk of stating the obvious, what’s significant about adding loop triggering to any DJ set is that you can more easily move beyond playing and mixing tracks. Even without drum machines, this kind of manipulation is part of the grand tradition of DJing, made all the more impressive when ground-breaking DJs were able to accomplish it using only a turntables. (It’s perhaps a triumph over the linearity of recorded music in the 20th Century that, at last, artists found a way to subvert recorded music’s permanently-frozen state and reclaim the playback device as an instrument.)

What the upcoming product does is to take the virtual deck metaphor of Traktor and makes each deck a sampling machine. Each deck can trigger one-shots and loops, coupled with the mixing, cueing, and effects possibilities of Traktor as a DJ tool.

The obvious comparison will be to Ableton Live, but here, it’s as significant what is different as what is not. This wording from NI’s description will admittedly sound a lot like Ableton Live and colored renditions of the monome: “Stylish multi-color pads trigger loops and samples, allowing for on-the-fly remixing.” There’s definitely some influence there.

But the grand-daddy of all these things is sampling drum machines, the first instruments to popularize triggering one-off or looped audio content from a grid. (Tip of the hat here to Roger Linn and his designs.) Ableton’s breakthrough was taking that sample-triggering grid metaphor and cross-breeding it with the DAW, the all-purpose studio workstation with its channel strips, tracks, and arrangements. In Live, the track is king.

NI’s breakthrough here promises to be seamlessly making each deck – not each track – the focus for sample triggering. And their hardware literally combines the DJ mixing and effects functions with those pads. In the future Traktor tool, the deck, not the track, is king. And that makes all the difference. The deck will behave like a deck for cueing (a common complaint about Live), for one, but it’s also important that whereas Live gives you as many tracks as you want, you’re forced into the limitation of four decks in Traktor. That limitation is neither positive nor negative, but rather something that will influence every other decision you make. (Having looked over the shoulder of Richie Hawtin’s impossibly-enormous Live set recently for Plastikman, with tracks that scrolled on seemingly endlessly, I can tell you this isn’t a minor point.)

Of course, the other amusing point is the timing of when NI is tipping their hand. NI already makes a popular sampling drum machine, Maschine, combining a dedicated controller with software. Akai has just entered the ring with their own revision of the MPC – combining a dedicated controller with software to make a sampling drum machine. NI, for their part, here reveals that their next move is a new dedicated controller/software combo that also adds in DJing.

Anyway, for now, it’s just a video, so everything else is speculation. Feel free to have a look and let us know what you think, which, knowing comments, I’m certain you’ll do in no uncertain terms.

Side note: My brain is fuzzy; can anyone remind me of the capabilities of 4decks? This was, as I recall, a Reaktor patch that combined looping and decks.

  • so what do the different colours show?
    i find this multicoloured stuff very 'tacky'

    • Armin De Ghetto

      It would be very useful if you're colourblind.

    • i imagine it could work as flexibly as our monomes, APCs, and launchpads do: LED state indicates whatever we want. more information is available at a glance with multicolored LEDs than simple on/off for bistate devices, like monomes.

      this thing definitely looks like it's taken a page from monome, novation, and livid. while samples and one-shots are definitely useful, they're not as fine-grained as spinning the vinyl to the exact point you want. i notice that NI isn't suggesting that this thing can replace turntables entirely, but offers its controller (with all the informative colored LEDs) as a way to add more creative possibilities to your existing setup.

      i wonder if it's just a midi controller, or a full-up audio interface…and if it'll work on linux.

  • Bendish

    The fact that music tech is moving so ridiculously fast right now will stop me from ever committing to any new fangled rainbow light pad effect synth dj contraption that does everything….

    My Remote SL looks positively old as f$%^ next to all these gizmos….

    Software is the way to go for me….no obsolete hardware littering the room in two weeks when Trakschine 150000 is released….

    • peterkirn

      That's fair. I think that's also why so many people are interested in modifying those hardware devices, to allow them to do what they want and to work with whatever software they want. William Light has done some great work making the Maschine controllers work with Linux, for instance, and as for control, these devices – and your Remote SL – can simply function as MIDI controllers.

  • s ford

    I have been djing with records for quite a long time.  I watched that video and was impressed but had absolutely no idea what was going on! 

    Technology really is moving fast these days.  Even though I'm 'just' 29, I feel I am too old for the new Traktor. 

  • Joghurt

    For me, it reminds me of the Novation Twitch.

  • Bendish, I have to disagree on the hardware side. I think if you buy a dedicated hardware instrument it'll work for so many years to come but those NI controllers will cycle to EOL after a couple of years. That actually kept me from buying Maschine and I instead went with a Mashinedrum. I hope they will not fully commit to the every-year-a-new-controller route …

    I think Traktor is a great piece of software and I wouldn't mind to get a Traktor Studio version of it. Imagine you could get this piece of software to record in separate audio tracks, which you could edit later on. Ableton live is OK to record a mix but the immediate fun of Traktor is not there yet  … Probably this comes as a natural next step with all those production functionalities now.

  • Mutis Mayfield


    If you want to know WHY use colours instead monochrome pads/buttons then check the "old" (hehe) text that I made at octinct wiki.

    About scratch on the fly integration… http://www.flyloops.com

    @Peter: Also check your mail. I sent you a link about Luppp linux app that maybe you will find interesting to a Ableton vs Bitwig smackdown!


  • Bendish

    For sure…. hardware synths, samplers and drum machines etc are awesome and if I could afford to watch them dust over while i check my email…fine….I was talking about the whole ghost in the shell midi controller graveyard….

    My Remote SL is just fine by me….I'm just wary of new fangled dead before they lived midi gimmicks…a Jupiter or whatever tankish 80s synth will still be ace in 10 years but this thing here will mos def not….

    Don't get me wrong I love gadgets and extraneous luxuries like the rest of them….but it's just a piece of inert plastic aint it….

  • elk

    interesting…  but i also think it looks terribly colorful.. 

    • elk

      as a sidenote: imo launchpad/apc have a perfectly sane palette of colors, but every other multicolor grid controller i came across provoked eye cancer

  • DjFred

    Though the piece is new, 4 Sample decks being triggered by a controller is old.

    I am not impressed with colorful controllers, I am however interested to see what improvements they are making on the software, for those of us who have already mapped sample decks to a controller.  I have an Akai MPD which triggers 4 sample decks and it is pretty flexible.  I really hope they are making a 4×4 grid for each deck!

  • 5meohd

    so its basically a condensed version of what I've already been doing with traktor, live, maschine, and my apc40… I'm guessing with much fewer possibilities? Damn.. sounds nice.

  • king majo

    im the only one than find the device too weak and small?

    btw this will add some tipe of preloading samplelists for sample decks in traktor, some major thing that ppl was asking some time ago

    i feel one can do the same than the video with just a nanopad ( and not much different build quality )

  • jasonmd2020

    One thing in the vid that'll have me upgrading. At 0:46 inthe video it shows vinyl control of the sample decks!

  • peter

    How do I get a job suggesting new products? Would love to see some combination of Melodyne and Ableton's transient slicing function be added to dj software, so you could, for example, trigger the synth from one track with the hihat pattern from another, at completely the wrong tempo if you wanted.

  • word up to DJ Fred.. spending hundreds of dollars on USB only kit is a sore point for many of us..the thing about the MPD for me is that it is class compliant and has on device editing abilities and can still function without a USB cable if need be. While high tech some of these new devices are just not very forward looking..

  • It'd would be interesting if someone manages to get the APC40 working with that.
    Plus, after all (and I don't wanna chime in with those crying for an Ableton Update to version 9) it's interesting to see Ableton getting more competition in that field (Traktor in terms of DJing – though they are hardly any Ableton-DJs left nowadays I think – and the Bitwig thing in terms of production).

  • Mutis Mayfield

    RGB leds aren't old fashioned?

  • prevolt

    This would be more impressive if you could do it with video files. Wonder when Traktor will get around to that?

  • I have no problem with them coming up with new fancypants controllers every year.  They have to do it. They need to sell the New Shiny to keep the doors open.  

    The curious thing about the new controllers is they seem to have two sorts of customers: Amateurs with lots of disposable income, and DJs with large gear budgets.  The former rarely contributes much musically, and the latter has their willingness to to pander to the lowest common denominator to thank for their gear budget.

    When I think of the DJs whose performances have really moved me, they rarely had much more than a mixer and a record box (or the modern digital equivalent).  What makes DJ'ing vital is taste, timing, and mixing skills.  Sometimes you could barely see them from the dance floor — the show WAS the dance-floor, not some gurning hands in the air fool on stage.

    I'd love to see a DJ with some cutting-edge blinkenlights gear do something next level with it.  Unfortunately the guys I've seen who have the fancypants gear are trying to make their boring minimal techno more interesting with effects tricks, or using it to make their Brostep bass drops even more face-melting.

    Not exactly 'Body & Soul' you know?

  • kommerzo el produco

    wtf.. triggerpads? seriously?
    any new ideas?
    every dumb drumpad can do this with the right software..ok well the colors are fancy 😛

  • TRAKTOR KONTROL… here the first schematic picture… http://j.mp/yGcjI7

  • Ezmyrelda

    I believe.. and this is just speculation, that the different colored lights correspond to the the frequencies of the one-shots and loops they are assigned to. Yeah, rechecked the video. That’s definitely what one purpose of the different colors are. I think it’s neat. It’s a good simple cue to remind you what you are hitting without having to make you look at the lappy. 

    I really like the look of this new controller, but I believe I am starting to become a bit of a fangirl. To me this controller is a bit more logically laid out than the X1. I think the thing about having a wide variety of controllers on the market is that one is bound to please a person and be the most easily adaptable to that persons workflow.

    I have one workflow dream that is never going to be manufactured by any large company. Which is why I am going to buy a Livid Ohm and create my own breakout.