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(Photos: The above two photos are from an October 2003 noWax night in East London. The bottom image was taken at APT in New York City.)

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Goodbye Turntables
The New DJ Revolution: mp3j's (and iPods)
Date Created: 10/30/03 Last Updated: 11/18/03 Author: J.LOVE

Imagine this: You are a DJ but you don't have any bulky gear. You don't need to drive to a gig, the subway/underground will do just fine. You also don't need an assistant to carry milk crates of heavy vinyl. Everything you need is in your pockets and the size of a cigarette pack. You only have 2 iPods, but together they hold enough music to play for several months straight, 24-7, without a single repeat. You are a mp3j.

Somewhere in East London the turntables are motionless. The only thing spinning is a chorus of iPod hard drives, or the ceiling (if you're friends with the bartender).

The club's name is Dreambagsjaguarshoes and the event is called noWax. The concept for noWax is simple: MP3s, not wax. iPods, not decks. On noWax nights, mp3js bring their iPods and wait for the automated projector above the DJ booth to flash their number. Then they plug-in and mix three songs back-to-back against another mp3j. noWax is a public competition very similar to ‘Rap Battles’, a la Eminem’s movie 8 Mile. Whoever mixes the best set of songs and doesn't get booed off stage wins. They continue to hold their place on the stage until another mp3j can dethrone them. "People who never normally get to play tunes in bars or clubs are getting a taste of the glory, and they love it!" says DJ Charlie Gower, co-organizer of noWax.

noWax is the latest instance of a new trend hitting clubs and pubs around the world. It's called MP3Jing (also called 'iPoding' by dorks) and the reasons for its popularity are obvious. The iPods compact size combined with its unbeatable user interface and sheer mass of musical storage make it the default choice for digital music heads around the globe. Apple has sold millions of the little gadgets and people carry them around everywhere, including the bars. "It's practically insane when you think about it," says Zak Carr, a recent iPod owner. "At any given night, there could be a half a million songs in one room."

East London's noWax isn't alone in embracing this mp3j trend. Clubs in New York City have also started “iPod Nights” to lure in customers. The New York City venue, APT (pronounced A-P-T), allows patrons to sign up by grabbing a ticket from a deli dispenser and mix a couple songs off an iPod. The event is hosted by two guys both named Andrew who pre-select a giant playlist every week. It is best described as a do it yourself jukebox/Karaoke system for the crowd.

November 7th, 2003 @ noWax

noWax vs. APT
The Crowds: Shoreditch for London's noWax. Geek-chic at APT in New York's meat packing district.The Shoreditch area in East London is full of media and art based folk. It started as a place that just had artists studios and then became pretty trendy, and now has lots of bars and young companies. So if you have been to downtown Manhattan, picture a Greenwich Village smack dab in the middle of East London. "Quite a fashionable area!"
says DJ Charlie. Where would you rather go? East vs. West. Let us know, especially if you've been there.

There's two ways to DJ with an iPod. The first is to go
"pure Pod" and set up with two iPods and a mixer. This method is less perfect and more for the crowd's geek-fun of it all. The mp3j's doing all the mixing are usually audience members like at noWax or APT. The other way is to go "pro Pod." People who actually get paid to DJ can hook their iPods to a laptop and use programs like DJ Studio or Final Scratch. They can then pretty much pre-program the entire night, but that's no fun is it? You might as well just turn on the jukebox.

Sure it sounds great, but MP3Jing has its drawbacks. Especially for the professional DJ. Which would you rather pay money to watch: a DJ sitting behind a laptop/iPod pushing buttons, or the real deal spinning vinyl and rocking that cross fader? Unfortunately with the MP3Jing method, gone is the expert physical touch of a DJ and his vinyl. And some people feel that it's just not the same.
"I paid $25 one night for some DJ I didn't even know. DJ MegaByte or something stupid and computerized like that." says Laura, a connoisseur of New York City's 'house' music scene. "The bouncer at the door said he was really popular, so we kind of felt a little better. But then he was just up on stage with a computer. He probably hit play on a CD and was checking his email or something all night." The public is used to that familiar background hiss of a record playing and the fancy finger work that goes into a "live" DJ's show. They want the DJ to feed off their energy and have that energy reflex in the music that is being mixed.

On the other hand MP3Jing has plenty of advantages in its favor. For one, a professional DJ could download a new tune from a friend, while at the DJ booth, and play it minutes later. The digital immediacy of it all is a very cool and a underused factor. Another great advantage is the size vs storage aspect. The iPod is about the size of a tape cassette and the 40GB iPod can hold 10,000 songs, or four-weeks of music played continuously 24/7. That should be long enough to DJ your next
desert rave, right? And if your goal is crowd participation, like with noWax, then MP3Jing is the way to go. Everyone can just bring their own iPod to the club and plug-n-play. Drunk people and someone else's expensive turntables just don't mix. Especially if they are yours.

Without a pitch adjuster on the iPod, you can't match two songs up exactly. All your transitions are gonna be chunky DJ Shadow style. That's not exactly bad, but your mix just won't always have a nice easy flow.

Scratching - tap the center button of the iPod and gently jog back a second or two to make the music pause. It actually sounds more like a CD is skipping, but what are going to do?

Every time new iPods or iPod firmware gets released, things get better. But the improvements don't always have us DJs in mind. Maybe they could make special iPod DJ firmware. Hey Apple, are you listening?

  • Add scratching. Press and hold the center button to activate a touch pad "seeking mode" that could simulate scratching
  • Add an auto sensing BPM (beats per minute) feature in iTunes and/or on the iPod. Or have CDDB (CD Database) add this info to their online database. That way DJs can better plan their sets by matching.

Contributors to this article:

DJ Charlie Gower - Mr. Gower is a DJ, promoter and creative consultant working out of London. He specializes in the field of idea generation, brand representation and development. With the help of cutting edge English based companies like Sense Worldwide, Cake and Canoe, Mr. Gower has organized some of the most successful club parties in town. His Tantramar night is quietly hailed as one of the best underground nights in London. Always a trendsetter, Mr. Gower with Raj Panjwani and Sense Worldwide launched a new event that’s taken London by storm. Their love for technology, music, and the DJ craft helped inspire them to launch noWax.

Special thanks to the following people for their help:

  • Walter
  • Bern Dog

This article has been reported on by the following publications:

MacObserver - iPods Take The Place Of Turntables For Some DJs
"...we are delighted to see this article. It's great exposure for Apple."

MacCentral - iPods and 'MP3Jing' profiled

Mac News Network - The New DJ Revolution: mp3j's, (and iPods)

Mac Minute - 'MP3Js' battle it out in London with iPods

iPod Hacks - The MP3J Revolution

MacMerc - Geek News: The New DJ Revolution: mp3j's (and iPods)

MacGeneration - La révolution mp3j

MacRumors - The New DJ Revolution


(look for this article in the February 2004 issue of MUDDLE magazine)

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Goodbye Turntables: iPod DJ's & MP3J's
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