In this exclusive full-length interview, New York DJ duo AndrewAndrew tell Phil Morse about DJing with satellite radios, why they asked Mark Ronson to use a click track, and how they got thrown out of a club for only playing records with certain words in their titles…
I had just finished moderating a particularly closed-minded pile of replies to our recent Why Theo Parrish is Wrong About Laptop DJs post, and was browsing for something to cheer me up when I came across a New York Times article about AndrewAndrew: “The IPad DJs”….
Reading on, I was fascinated to find out that these two DJs use iPads wirelessly, spending much of their time out of the DJ booth and right there on the dancefloor, with their crowd. Curious, I got in touch with them for an interview. Turns out that they’re not only DJing in an original way, but they have strong views on what DJing is and where it’s going as well.
Who are AndrewAndrew?
Well known both as DJs and artists in New York, AndrewAndrew are performance artists, übergeeks, writers, designers… and strangely enough, they are also a two-man “collective”; they’ve dressed, worked and even eaten exactly alike for more than a decade.
Their names actually are both Andrew, and for the record, I haven’t got a clue who said what…
A history of unconventional DJing…
Tell me about how you got into DJing, and your DJing history up to now. It seems from what I’ve read that you’ve always favoured the unconventional in your DJing…
Yes, that’s true. We have been DJing for many years. We’ve been together as AndrewAndrew for 10 years, and we were DJs before that. We both come from DJing backgrounds – in fact, we’re staring right at our record collection now – maybe 3,000 records. We’re trying to get rid of the lot of them…
It’s also true that we’ve always played with what it means to be DJs. We used to play at clubs where every song would have to have the same word in it. So we’d be playing all genres of music with “magic” in every song title. “Interventions”, we called them. Some people would get the joke and love it, but sometimes we got kicked out of gigs! We used to run a weekly party like this and every week was a different word.
We used to DJ opening nights in art galleries where we’d have the entire playlist recorded! And nobody noticed, except sometimes other DJs who saw us take the needle off a record and the music carried on! We didn’t do it because we couldn’t DJ, more to make a statement about the state of DJing at that time.
Or we would open for ourselves. We’d dress up as rockabilly guys and play an hour of rockabilly, as goth guys or hip hop dudes and play that music, then we’d be saying “AndrewAndrew are nearly here!”, “AndrewAndrew will be on soon!”, then we’d put a particular long record on and go off behind a curtain to change, and come out as ourselves and start our gig proper.
We were deliberately trying to invert it all – it was a response to the superstar DJing thing that was happening.
A little later on, we got into iPod DJing. The idea was that we’d have two iPods set up and anyone who wanted to could come and DJ with them. We were deliberately trying to invert it all – it was a response to the superstar DJing thing that was happening. Our iPod parties lasted 5 years, and were a hit in England too, after British DJ exported what we were doing over there.
We were talking about the link between geeks and DJing in a recent article. You guys come across as kind of geeky…
We’re not geeks – we’re übergeeks! We have a real tendency whenever new technology comes out to go right ahead and try and DJ with it! When XM radio and Sirius came out, we went off and bought the first prototypes we could find, one of each, just because we wanted to see which was best. And then we were like, hey we’ve got 2, let’s try and DJ with them!
We DJed a Fischerspooner party with two radios and people didn’t even notice! I’m trying to get something that makes sense on my radio while Andrew is playing something on his radio…
On DJing with iPads…
So you’re now known as “the iPad DJs”. Tell me exactly what your DJing set-up is, how you DJ nowadays…
At its simplest, we have the latest version of Ableton Live on a MacBook, and an Apogee Duet sound card patched into the club mixer or preferably straight into the PA. We then have our two iPads running TouchAble, allowing us to control Ableton Live from anywhere within WiFi range. We set up the MacBook and sound card in the booth, and we are then free to DJ from wherever we like.
Sometimes we back up with another laptop using Serato, because there can be strange interferences that stop the iPads working properly sometimes – in hotels, it strangely seems to be the worst.
We use Mixed in Key to scan our tracks. Our entire set is organised vertically by tempo and laterally by key using the Camelot system in Ableton Live. We colour code all tracks with the exception of the beat loops and sound effects, which have their own coding system.
What’s it like DJing like that?
It’s very different to normal DJing. Especially early on, we spend a lot of time walking around the venue – later it can just get too busy to do that. The crowd have the opportunity to mess us up by touching our iPads without asking!
You know, 9 times out of 10 people think we’re geeks and nerds at a party who have nothing better to do than play with their iPads! Our favourite trick when people say: “Are you really DJing with that?” is to turn the volume right down and reply: “What did you say?” Of course, we’ll usually throw an echo or a flange on that so we don’t totally kill the mood in the club…
To be able to be DJing right next to a speaker because there’s no chance of feedback is great. DJs tend to feel restricted but to realise you can go anywhere and it will sound fantastic is liberating.
Having said that though, our residency is a small venue, and the sound system is fantastic. The other week the laptop was vibrating so much we felt we were in danger of skipping our hard disk! Just because it’s a laptop it doesn’t mean there isn’t something round spinning at some consistent rate somewhere at the heart of it. We’re more careful where we position the laptop in the booth now.
Do you find yourselves staring at your iPads a bit too much?
Yes, it can be a problem. There’s something seductive about the iPad and you tend to get engrossed, so one of us is always aware of what’s going on on the dancefloor as the other is DJing. There’s this horrible tunnel vision you can get with the iPad – it’s the biggest pitfall that we’ve come across. But then again, anything we lose by staring at our iPads a bit too much we definitely regain by being in the crowd.
It must feel strange not being in the DJ box…
We actually have found a new appreciation for architecture and for the way we view parties – because you realise that a venue always looks exactly the same way from a DJ box.
There’s something seductive about the iPad and you tend to get engrossed
If you’re bored in the booth and it doesn’t look like it’s rocking, you can go and stand somewhere else.
That way, you realise than from another viewpoint, the party can look totally pumping, that you can see more people dancing and having fun and so get a different perspective on things.
So your DJ set-up is two iPads connect wirelessly to a laptop running Ableton Live. What do you think of Ableton Live as a DJ program?
People were talking about how great a thing it would be for DJing, you know, like “you can do all the beatmatching first, then drink as much as you want”! Well it may have “Live” in the name, but I think to DJ properly on it on its own it’s going to need some serious tweaks. Of course we use it totally differently because of interfacing with it using our iPads.
One thing that’s really amazing about it is that using it is like digging for records in a record crate used to be, all over again. You’re going back to a physical organisation of your music, as opposed to something popping into your head and you saying “oh, we should totally play Dolly Parton” and just typing it into a search box, because you’ve got all of your music right there at your fingertips.
With Ableton you organise your music like a giant spreadsheet, and in this way organising music is analogous to preparing a box of records – you know, when you’d pack 10 tunes for the beginning of the night, 10 wild cards, 10 floor fillers etc.
Selecting and laying out your tunes before a gig in Ableton is just like throwing records in a crate, and later on trying to find them again when you’re doing your thing is that same maddening process of “where did I put that” as you’re desperately searching!
It’s funny though, because when you’re searching for music on an iPad, it’s in a way just like flicking through a crate of records: The finger movements are similar whether you’re quickly rifling through a stack of vinyl or swiping your hand across this gorgeous multi-touchscreen in order to hunt down that elusive Whitney Houston record.
On DJing in a partnership…
You mentioned that while one of you is DJing, the other one is watching the floor. How else does your partnership work out for you when DJing?
We’re definitely more approachable. It’s not that DJs are necessarily awkward people, but some of them can be and a lot of them don’t want to have anything to do with their public because they think they’re going to have some horrible request…
We’ve always been unique in that because there’s two of us, and that there’s a theatrical element to the way we dress the same, there’s always been a sort of a mandate for the crowd to approach us – you know, asking “What’s up? Why do you DJ this way? Where are there two of you?”
But even if someone’s being drunken, boorish and horrible, one of us can fend them off while the other one does the job.
We’re really riding that fine line between hosting and DJing at this point in what we do…
We’re really riding that fine line between hosting and DJing at this point in what we do, though.
Also because there’s two of us, we always go back and forth – a series of one-upmanships, very obvious ping-ponging.
We used to have a rule of one tune each: This led to frantic, intense dance moments! Every DJ has their go-to songs, so we’d be racing to play the song we knew would incinerate the dancefloor, and it pushed us to find new songs, to rediscover older classics, or just to be the one that played something new that was really significant.
When you only have that one song to play, it is like every song really counts…
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