Bluffer’s Guide To Traktor’s Remix Decks, Part 1

Last updated 6 November, 2017

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remix decks
Still in the dark when it comes to Traktor’s Remix Decks? Our new series of tutorials will get you up to speed on using this overlooked feature, and help you get started on incorporating it into your live DJ sets.

Nearly two-and-a-half years ago, we first saw Traktor’s Remix Decks in operation, with Shiftee performing on them at an NI party in LA. Yet still we get asked over and over again: “What exactly are they?”, “Should I be using them in my DJing?” or alternatively, we hear DJs saying: “I’ve bought the hardware, and it’s gathering dust – help!”

This three-part tutorial series is designed to help the non-übergeeks with understanding Remix Decks, and to show the amazing shortcut into using them offered by Remix Sets. Native Instruments appears to be serious about this part of its software and hardware, and is supporting the concept with some high-profile artist involvement, so there’s never been a better time to finally understand them and work out if they’re for you…

What’s in the series

Today we’ll focus on introducing you to Traktor’s Remix Decks and Remix Sets, explaining the fundamentals and giving you a high-level view of what’s creatively possible with them. The succeeding articles and videos will give you a solid foundation on how to use the Remix Decks as a tool for live performance and improvisation, and more importantly, will attempt to show you why you should be using them to take your DJ set to the next level.

With us so far? Great, let’s dive right in…

Part 1: Introduction

So what exactly are Remix Decks?

Remix Deck
A Remix Deck is a variation on the regular track deck within Traktor Pro 2. Instead of just having one piece of audio (like when you load a song on a track deck), Remix Decks let you load a variety of samples, loops, and even entire songs into separate cells, letting you trigger  each one of them individually.

Traktor’s Remix Decks give you additional performance options by adding an exciting new type of “deck” in addition to the “track decks” that you already know (ie a deck that you load a single track onto). Designed to be used during your DJ set, a Remix Deck behaves in some ways the same as a “track” deck, but it contains lots of sounds and loops (usually, though not necessarily, that complement each other) that you can trigger individually to add a different flavour to tracks that you play.

With carefully chosen elements in the Remix Decks, you can essentially create re-edits of tracks “on the fly”. Alternatively, a collection of one shot samples and sound effects triggered from a Remix Deck can punctuate breakdowns, add more drama to buildups, and even help make difficult transitions sound seamless. You can even perform a series of pre-made songs using just your Remix Decks!

Blank Remix Deck
An empty Remix Deck looks like a grid that contains four rows and four columns, giving you 16 empty cells. Do note that a single Remix Deck houses up to four pages of this grid, effectively giving you 64 cells total.

A Remix Deck is best thought of as an empty grid with “cells” that you can fill with audio files. The cells can be filled with any form of audio, ranging from quick one-second samples, to loops, strings, vocal samples, basslines, even entire songs.

A Remix Deck “takes over” a deck slot in Traktor Pro 2, meaning you can do all your usual transport functions like hit play, pause and stop, or even scratch the deck with your controller’s jogwheel if you want to. You can also use sync with a Remix Deck, letting you get perfectly in line with whatever other music you’re playing in Traktor. Add just a single Remix Deck alongside your two “normal” decks and you’ve got a cornucopia of creative possibilities right there.

OK, so what are Remix Sets?

Remix Sets
Remix Sets are ready-made audio packs that contain songs disassembled into audio elements that fill up a Remix Deck. These can be anything from drums, bass, synths, and percussion, among others. You simply load them onto a Remix Deck and you’re all set to trigger them during a live performance!

If you get the idea now, but are thinking that it sounds like a lot of work to gather all these sounds, samples and so on, “Remix Sets” are your friend. These are packs of audio that you can download from the Native Instruments website or partners such as Beatport. Once a Remix Set is imported to your library, you can load it onto a Remix Deck, where the empty cells get populated with loops and samples.

What you get varies from set to set, but more often than not you can expect a collection of drum loops, bass loops, synth and effect samples arranged in a sequential manner from top to bottom, meaning one row will usually equate to one segment of a song, and the next row the next segment, and so on. Think of Remix Sets as rows of dance music that you can trigger the parts of individually, to taste.

Beatport
You can download some free Remix Sets online thru the Native Instruments website, or you can purchase sets created by top shelf producers over at partner sites like Beatport.

What gear do Remix Decks work with?

Remix Decks come standard in Traktor Pro since v2.5, and since Traktor Pro 2.6.2, work with any kind of Midi controller, as long as you have or are prepared to write the proper mapping for it. If you want comprehensive, simple, out-of-the-box control (and who doesn’t?), we suggest using the Traktor Kontrol F1 controller, which is purpose built for performing with Remix Decks. Otherwise, you get limited control with the Traktor Kontrol S4. Generally, you’re going to want something that has a button grid to make launching clips easier.

Traktor Kontrol F1
The Traktor Kontrol F1 is a hardware controller made by Native Instruments that gives you intuitive control of the Remix Decks. Do note that you can use any kind of Midi controller to take control of the Remix Decks, as long as you have the mapping, or are keen on making one yourself.

We’ll focus on using the Kontrol F1 throughout this series as it’s the “path of least resistance” when it comes to getting to grips with the decks. Do note that Remix Decks aren’t a standalone application; you’re going to have to use them within Traktor Pro 2. Also, note that you can “use” them with any DJ controller, in the sense that you can continue using your existing DJ controller as you always have, and “add on” the Remix Decks by also plugging in a Kontrol F1 (or something else). You could even use the mouse and keyboard if you just want to have an experiment.

Is this a totally new concept?

Not entirely. If this all sounds a little bit familiar, that’s because in a way, it is. Traktor’s Remix Decks operate a lot like production software such as Ableton Live, where clips are arranged in a grid and are launched by clicking on them with your mouse or pressing a corresponding button or pad on your controller. There was even once an effort to bring them into DJ software called The Bridge (an Ableton and Serato project), but I think it’s fair to say it never really got off the ground, due to limited “deck-like” control and the need to have both pieces of software running, plus just general overall complication.

Ableton
Remix Decks function quite similarly to grid-based studio production software like Ableton Live, except that Remix Decks are designed for live performance use, so it’s a lot simpler to operate. Remix Decks also run within Traktor Pro 2, so you don’t have to buy or launch a separate piece of software to make them work.

The advantage of using Remix Decks over software like Ableton or existing solutions such as The Bridge is that you don’t need to purchase a separate piece of software to do that; it’s all nestled within Traktor Pro 2. This also means that you don’t need to launch a separate app alongside Traktor, which could bog down your computer and lead to crashes during a performance (ie the bane of digital DJing, as it were).

But perhaps more importantly, most innovative clip-type software is primarily designed for producing music, meaning inside a studio as opposed to in a sweaty club. Ableton Live is arguably a hybrid production and performance software, but it’s way too complex for most DJs in the booth, and will definitely be too daunting to the vast majority who just want to “DJ”, but are still open to pushing things a bit past “two-decks-and-a-mixer”.

Kontrol Z2 F1 X1
You can use the Traktor Kontrol F1 alongside any DJ controller you already own. In fact, you can even use it as a stand-alone device if you wanted to!

Remix Decks bridge the gap between DJing and performing songs live in an easy and intuitive manner. You don’t have to worry about twiddling a lot of knobs or getting lost in a confusing mush of hardware and software. That means if you’re prepared to put in just a little effort (and acquire some Remix Sets), Remix Decks are a great way to get ahead of other DJs who just “press play”, to borrow a term from everyone’s favourite deadmau5.

Next time

Now that we’ve hopefully explained a little more clearly what Remix Decks are and how Remix Sets can be used to effortlessly “fill them up”, next time we’re going to hopefully get you excited about why you why you should be using them during your DJ sets, with five solid use cases for the Remix Decks.

This week’s video

Here are the other parts in this series:

Are you one of those people who never “got” the Remix Decks? Or have you been happily using them since day one? Do you have a Kontrol F1 gathering dust, or have you found your favourite Remix Sets and are happily triggering away? Share your thoughts and ask your questions in the comments.