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Mike Callander: The Bridge Between DJ and Producer

Mike Callander began his musical journey in 2001 and has gone on to become one of the country's most respected DJ's and producers. He's played along side some of the worlds biggest names and held residencies at some of Melbourne's most iconic venues (Honkytonks, Revolver). Having co-founded two successful record labels and a DJ/Production school, Mike was recently recruited by The Avalanches to use his production and programming skills in bringing their live show to life. Mike was nice enough to write this blog post and give us some insight into what he's currently working on, a little about his studio workflow and how he's experimenting to narrow the gap between his DJing and production.

When I turned 18 in March of ’98, instead of buying a car I bought two turntables and a mixer. In the two decades since, I’ve spent more time DJing than anything else. First I started in my bedroom, spending hours every day learning how to put two records together, and then in nightclubs watching other DJs do it for Melbourne’s mad punters. By 2001 I had at least figured out the beat-matching thing and was landing my first paid gigs. With a friend I started my own club night, and by 2005 I was booking enough shows to make a living from DJing. Since then I’ve travelled the world, co-founded a school for DJs and producers, started teaching music production at one of Australia’s best universities, and started two record labels.

Throughout that time, the technology for DJing and production has changed dramatically. In 1998 there was no Traktor, no Ableton Live, no Rekordbox, and the guy who sold me those turntables said I was lucky to have a 3-band EQ on my mixer! Now the possibilities for DJs are endless, you can even make some kind of personal statement with your choice of devices and formats. DJs argue about Pioneer versus Allen & Heath, .wav versus mp3, digital versus vinyl, and then they argue about rotary mixers and sync, and talk about #djscomplaining. When we’re not complaining, arguing or mixing, we’re often exploring new toys and new ways of pushing the boundaries beyond beat-matching and button-pushing.

My DJ journey has taken me in a direction where I’m exploring some new methods and new machines, and using these alongside some of the gear I started on. After many years of using CDJs (and loving it by the way!) I’ve been experimenting with turntables again, and most recently with locked grooves on vinyl (where the record is cut in such a way that the needle will get stuck in one of many endless loops until you move it to the next). Subsequently I’m trawling Discogs every day to find whatever’s out there in this format.

I have a kind of double-motivation for this… I’m still DJing every weekend, so it’s good for business to be trying new (old) stuff, but I’m also studying a Masters in Music at Melbourne Uni. That research requires me to articulate what it is that I actually do for a living, how I see myself as an artist, and how I distinguish my work from other DJs. More importantly it’s pushing me to understand exactly what I want from the craft. What I’ve discovered is that I want there to be more fluidity between what I do in the studio and what I do behind the decks, and I want the music I’m making to be put together in the spirit of performance.


An explanation of locked grooves

So, my mission at the moment is to use locked grooves alongside some loops of my own construction to see how it influences my work, both in clubs and in the studio. These grooves need to be exactly 1.8 seconds long to ensure a smooth musical repetition of each bar that’s cut into an infinite loop on the vinyl, so I’m messing around with some very (VERY!) short ideas in the studio, then whacking these on a CDJ via USB, and playing them alongside the locked groove records. The plan is to create a new DJ setup for myself using 3 turntables, 2 CDJs and a drum machine for a total of 6 channels, which makes use of every available channel on my DJ mixer, the Model 1. Funnily after two decades of DJing I’ve chosen a mixer that doesn’t have a 3-band EQ, but instead has some bloody incredible high and low pass filters on each channel, and a fantastic sweepable EQ in between. Each of these channels can also be sent to two auxiliaries, and to round out this new setup I’m trying out different combinations of guitar pedals for looping, delay and reverb that can be sent back to the Model 1’s return tracks.

One of the least obvious challenges has been figuring out how to manage the audio signals between pedals (at instrument level) on the return tracks, turntables (at phono level on the three channels where the Model one has RIAA preamps), and the two CDJs (at line level) plus my little drum machine, the Volca Beats, which needs a LOT of help to be loud. I’m not much of a physicist, so this stuff kinda breaks my brain, but the drive circuit on the Model 1 has helped a lot in smoothing out the differences between these, especially for the Volca Beats, as it’s probably not an obvious choice in this setup, but I love it. It’s got a LOT of character, but because it’s not the loudest machine around, I can use the drive circuit to match this alongside the mastered signals coming from records and CDJs, without eating up too much headroom that I would if simply turning up the gain dial.

So, the 20-year DJ journey feels like it’s got a long way to go yet. I’ll spend most of 2018 and 2019 working through this DJ performance stuff, and figuring out how it relates to my studio production. I’m looking forward to see (and hear) what happens. I might stop back to this blog again soon to let you know how it’s going.

Cheers,

Mike.


Mike running us through the features of the Model 1

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