Pioneer marketing director Karl Detken explains how the new DVJ-X1 will “create a new artist.”

By John Landers

       This year, the big buzz during Winter Music Conference wasn’t about a hot track or an emerging artist. Instead, everyone in the industry seemed to be talking about technology. In addition to the excitement surrounding digital “record pools” and ring tone licensing, people were obsessing over a radical new product: Pioneer’s looping, scratching, adjustable-pitching DVD deck, the DVJ-X1 (MAP $3,299; available in July). As soon as we had somewhat recovered from the non-stop daily panel discussions and nightly parties, we caught up with “Karaoke Karl” Detken to find out what all the fuss was about. As Pioneer’s Director of Marketing for North America, Detken is uniquely qualified to discuss the development of the DVJ-X1, as well as its possible impact on our industry. Also, as a working DJ, he fully appreciates the creative potential of this funky fresh DVD player, and how it might forever change nightclubbing as we now know it.

How was your trip to Miami Beach this year? It was excellent. It was a busy week for us especially, because we were involved with everything from the UltraMusic festival, the Dance Star Awards, the Remix Hotel, the Winter Music Conference and some event parties, too.

How long have been working for Pioneer? I’ve been with Pioneer almost 12 years now. I work closely with our product planning group in Japan, and we meet two to four times a year around the globe to discuss the next generation of Pioneer products, to help the engineers develop what’s coming out next.

I’d like to congratulate you and everyone else at Pioneer for winning the 2004 Club World “Best DJ Product” award for the CDJ-1000 MKII. Thanks. We are very proud of that technology and that the CDJ-1000 has become a standard over the last three years. It’s our flagship model, and as you know it’s very popular in our industry. I remember right after we introduced that product in 2000, I asked the engineers – the white lab coat geniuses, who live on a secret island off the coast of Japan, in an underground lair [laughs] – in my unqualified engineer voice, “Listen, guys, if you add a DVD chip or a DVD lens to the CDJ-1000 or whatever you need, create a DVD version of this next year…we could revolutionize the industry.” At the time I didn’t understand why they laughed at my request. Now I do! Manipulating video is much more difficult than audio. To give you some perspective, it took 40 engineers four years to develop this DVD turntable. That’s the largest team of engineers and R&D we’ve ever had working on a single project. Now, as you can see, they’ve finally engineered a way to take the CDJ-1000 features and use it with DVD or CD. They exceeded our expectations.

Was the similarity to the CDJ-1000 something that Pioneer was determined to have from the beginning? Absolutely. At the time we hoped that the CDJ-1000 would become a standard in the industry. We wanted [the DVJ- X1] to be backward compatible and very intuitive to the DJs who have become accustomed to the CDJ-1000. Essentially, we’re creating a new kind of DJ, a DJ that not only creates his own music, but also can create his own videos. So if we got too different with the features or too crazy with the design, and the aesthetic look and feel of the player, it could be harder for the market to accept. I think we just made a conscious decision that we needed to make this player familiar. There’s that initial apprehension when a new product comes out: “This is something new. I don’t know how to use it, it feels foreign to me.” We wanted to make this so they sit in that driver’s seat and say, “Wow, this feels just like I’ve been here before, it feels like a CDJ-1000.” Since it’s backward compatible, you can actually put a CD in it and it’ll function exactly like a CDJ-1000. A DJ can now take it a step further to create the video content on his computer, burn it onto a DVD disc with his music, and control the sound and vision, thus touching the soul of the audience. “Sound Vision and Soul” also happens to be our company slogan.

It’s all about the user interface, then. Anybody who’s used a CDJ-1000 would be comfortable with the DVJ-X1. Can you do the same sorts of things, such as pausing, back spinning, looping, or even scratching? Every single one of the features works exactly the same as the CDJ-1000. There are just two added items on the DVJ-X1. One is an emergency loop button right next to the looping controls. With the touch of one button, because it’s got the automatic BPM circuitry built into it, the DVJ-X1 will create a four-beat loop without having to set the in-point and out-point, or without even hitting the in-point on the beat. If a DJ is busy taking a request and he turns around and sees that he’s got 10 seconds left and nothing cued up on the other table, then he can simply hit that emergency loop button. It will start looping the audio and the video and give him a chance to get the next song ready.

“It took 40 engineers four years to develop this DVD turntable. That’s the largest team of engineers and R&D we’ve ever had working on a
single project..”


So the screens don’t go dark and the club doesn’t go quiet. Exactly.

What’s the other bonus feature on the DVJ-X1? Just like the CDJ-1000, it’s got three hot cue buttons. You can also keep them in permanent memory using a provided SD card, so that the next time you put that DVD in, whether it’s a week or a year from now, it’ll remember those cue points or loop points. A key difference from the 1000 is that because this is a visual medium, it can send a preview visual out so you’ll be able to view those cue points as JPEGs on your monitors, and you can scroll through those to find the one that you want. So you’re visually recalling those cue points. And you can save 5,000-plus of those cue points depending on the size of your memory card.

Do you expect to see some of the innovations from the DVJ to trickle-down to the CDJ series? I’m sure they will, but it
really depends on the feedback we get from DJs. When we’re developing products, we travel around the world and meet with hundreds of DJs from a variety of skill levels and backgrounds. All of that input gives us an idea of what features DJs would like to see. If we put out a product and nobody really uses a certain feature, we take note of that. The next time we’ll save the engineering costs and design something else.

On the hardware side, what else would you want in a club’s DVJ booth? There are a couple of things that need to go along with two DVJ-X1’s. Obviously, you need an audio mixer, but in order to transition between videos so you’ll also need either a video mixer to fade back and forth, or a simple $30 A/B switch to make a cold changes between video sources. It’s more than likely, though, that the club will invest in some sort of video mixer, spending anywhere from $400 to $1,000. A preview video monitor system is also an essential, just like headphones for a regular DJ.

Instead of just hoping for the best, what can we expect next from Pioneer in the way of DVJ products? We’re currently developing a combination mixer that will do both audio and video, with some onboard video effects. One fader will be able to control all of it. We’re really looking into the future with that.

How do you expect the DVJ-X1 to change our current collective nightclub experience? What effects do you think this product will have on the marketplace and on club culture? Currently 70 to 80 percent of nightclubs have some kind of video presence. They’ll have projectors or plasmas, and they’ll have a VJ that runs visuals throughout the evening.

If they’re lucky, they’ll have a VJ, as opposed to some random screensaver or videocassette. Yeah. A lot of the world-renowned DJs are traveling with their own visuals now. Paul Oakenfold did a gig at the old Limelight, which is now called Avalon, in New York on New Year’s Eve, where he used visuals choreographed with his music. Bad Boy Bill is using DVD visuals in his performance, [as is] BT. Many, many DJs see the importance of controlling the visual stimulation during their performance. I believe that not since the creation of the Technics SL-1200 has there been a product that can change the way a DJ delivers entertainment. It might take a few years, but I think the DVJ-X1 is going to create a different kind of DJ entertainer, a combination DJ-plus-VJ, or DVJ, if you will. As mentioned, there’s already a lot of interest from international DJs, including DJ Shadow and Sander Kleinenberg. These guys can create their own video content on a computer and burn it onto a DVD with their music. The DJ will have the control of the video – not just the auditory stimulation that he’s creating for his audience during that four- or six-hour set, but the visual stimulation as well. I don’t think that it will eliminate the VJ – VJs will be needed for content creation – but it’ll give the DJ more control over what the audience is experiencing. I think as DJs and their audiences start to see it, experience it, to use it, they will start to realize what a powerful tool the DVJ-X1 is for artistic expression. It creates a different artist.

That will also give dedicated VJs an opportunity to author a lot of new material for the clubs and DJs that adopt this technology. What kind of response did you see during Conference? Anyone who’s worked with uncompressed video by itself knows how complicated it is to manipulate it, i.e. to scratch video, tempo-change video, loop video, instant hot cue recall, etcetera – they can appreciate the DVJ-X1’s power. Up until now they needed a $60,000 Avid computer system to do this. The first impression to the DVJ-X1 is always, “Wow! I can’t believe you can do that on a single, stand-alone player.”
Some of the big artists are visionaries, trying to find a new angle to what they’re doing. They want to take it on tour. DJ Shadow recently did a review for Rev magazine and indicated he would like to take it on his Blackalicious tour next month. He sees the potential. He already has video content, and attaching that to his music, and scratching it over the music – it gives him a new level of control.
It’s going to take a little time for others to find their application. There will be two types of DJs using this product. Some DJs will mix record label produced music videos (like MTV) that are provided to DJs via companies like Promo Only. Others aren’t necessarily going to be using MTV videos – they will be creating their own music, making their own video content, and burning it to DVD at home or in the studio. From the initial buzz, I think Pioneer has hit a home run again, and to paraphrase Neil Armstrong, “It’s one small step for the DJ, one giant leap for club entertainment.”

Copyright 2004 Club Systems International Magazine
Copyright 2004 TESTA Communications