The digital divide: a technical perspective on Zedd and Porter Robinson’s Ultra sets
While Pioneer CDJs were easily the platform of choice for DJs at Ultra, both Zedd and Porter Robinson took to their MIDI controllers on Sunday for two hours of rapid and thrilling mixing. Though the world of DJ’ing has been continuously dominated by variations of the CDJ for more than 10 years now, Zedd and Porter’s rise to fame has been facilitated not by the trusty digital CD player, but by Native Instrument’s small, compact, all-in-one MIDI controller: the Traktor Kontrol S4. Both Zedd and Porter have received heat for their use of the controller, as the age-old beatmatching argument is constantly evoked. At the end of the day, however, both Zedd and Porter are two of the most entertaining live performers in the business, ultimately begging the question: does it matter what platform a DJ mixes on?
I arrived at the last day of Ultra to a clustered sea of fans boisterously dancing and chanting to the frenetic song selection of Zedd. With a crowd extending far beyond the narrow Ultra Korea tent, the German phenom proceeded to move through tracks and genres at a breakneck pace. From staples in his set like “Shotgun” and “Codec” to newer additions like Dirty Disco Youth and Dumme Jungs’ “Uncle Sam,” Zedd’s set was pervaded by thundering house drops. Aside from the heavy-set 128 bpm tracks, Zedd surprised the crowd by dropping Brillz’s awesome trap remix of “Clarity,” a dubstep remix to “Mercy,” as well as an unidentified remix to “Harlem Shake.” Zedd encountered some technical issues towards the end of his hour slot (likely due to the blistering heat) but on the whole delivered a gratifying and diverse set.
Porter Robinson followed Zedd in the Ultra Korea tent, working off a similar formula of instantaneous transitions and pounding, minimal house drops. Porter’s mixing style is quite possibly the most “ADD” in the business, in the sense that Porter will play a song for anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute before transitioning into the next. The result is an creative amalgamation of different build ups, drops, and samples effectively blended together at an astounding rate. At one point, for instance, Porter mixed in to his own “100% in the Bitch,” while using Dillon Francis’s “Bootleg Fireworks” for the drop. At another, Porter used Oliver’s “MYB” for a build up, before a brief silence preceded the menacing drop of Borgore and Carnage’s “Incredible.” Porter even found time to sample Purity Ring’s blissful downtempo track, “Obedear.” The point is, you never know what to expect when Porter Robinson is behind the decks — but that’s the beauty of it. Porter keeps you guessing, and his midday set from Ultra Korea was one of Sunday’s best.
Could Zedd and Porter Robinson have delivered the same fast-paced, genre-defying sets on a pair of CDJ-2000s? Probably not, but then again, you’d be hard pressed to find any DJ mixing that quickly or daringly on Pioneer’s revered machine (with the exception of James Zabiela). There’s something to be said about building the energy of a set by playing songs all the way through — just catch a Pryda or Above & Beyond show to verify that — but there’s also an enticing magnetism to Zedd and Porter’s “ADD” mixing methodology.
There’s an inherent spontaneity to a Zedd and Porter Robinson performance that can’t be found on any average main stage set. While their tracklists are likely planned out ahead of time, their appeal rests in the fact that, as an audience member, you have no idea where they’re headed next. One second it’s an intoxicating progressive house vocal, the next second it’s dark and malevolent electro, and the next it’s a funky moombahton remix. Zedd and Porter force the audience to stay on their toes throughout the entire set, and a result, cater an entirely more engaging experience.
Whether facilitated by the SYNC function or their use of bootlegs, Zedd and Porter both make for two of the most exciting live acts out there, and, at the end of the day, isn’t that what’s most important? The performance? We certainly don’t need any more DJ’s spinning the same big rooms tunes at the same predictable pace, and Zedd and Porter both offer a creative and stimulating alternative to that model.