Even if you are not a Traktor user, the Traktor Kontrol F1 could be one of the reasons you consider switching, as the Remix Decks offer something quite unique in DJ software. But then again, you may be one of those people who thinks “I really don’t get this at all!”
In this article, we take a look at the Remix Decks, why you might want to use them, and how they stack up against innovations elsewhere in the DJ world. Hopefully you’ll have a deeper insight as to whether they’re for you by the end of it, and whether you should be hot-footing it to your local store to buy yourself a Kontrol F1…
Traktor: A complete DJ ecosystem
As any reader of Digital DJ Tips will know, there is a huge selection of DJ hardware and software on the market these days. The DJ industry seems to contain almost an unlimited combination of gadgets, toys and software options for you to create your ultimate DJ arsenal. Serato and Traktor seem to always be battling it out at the top, with new emerging software offerings from Pioneer, Virtual DJ, on iOS… the list goes on. Each system has its benefits and its downsides, but hell can it get confusing!
But there is clear water between the brands. Serato is friends with a whole variety of hardware companies, allowing for some interesting integrations, but Native Instruments, like Apple, appear to want to own the whole experience, with its own hardware and software. (Maybe that’s why new third-party hardware for Traktor nowadays is pretty thin on the ground…)
One area where this can be seen is in the introduction of the Remix Decks. In a nutshell, adding the Remix Decks to Traktor is similar to integrating a stripped down, baby version of Ableton Live right into your DJ experience. So what actually can they do for you when DJing?
More about those Remix Decks
Native Instruments created “Sample Decks” back in 2012, which later morphed into what are now called the Remix Decks.
For those who don’t know the basics, a Remix Deck is a grid of cells four wide and 16 down. This allows for a combination of 64 individual sounds to be triggered, all part of one “deck” (imagine a Remix Deck replacing one of your “track” decks). These sounds can loop, in time with your DJing, or one-hit samples.
Each cell inside a Remix Deck can be manipulated in a number of different ways. You can sync the sample, change the key of the sample, reverse it, stretch it, chop it, adjust the start point, loop it or set it to be played like a keyboard and play samples as you hold a button down. It’s very versatile, but of course this is why having good tactile controller for the Remix Decks is a must: Doing all this with the mouse/trackpad and keyboard is no fun at all.
So while the Remix Decks can be used on their own, without a controller, the functionality and usability is greatly improved when introducing the Kontrol F1. (Note that the new Kontrol S2/S4 Mk II units can also control aspect of the Remix Decks; we will be delving further into that once we have the controllers to review).
Introducing the Traktor Kontrol F1
Owning a Kontrol F1 is like owning: A drum machine (although note that the pads are not velocity sensitive), a keyboard, a loop pedal, and 64 separate turntables all in one! Each column of pads has its own independent volume control and filter, which is further contolled by the master volume slider for the deck that your F1 is set to control.
This basically breaks down your chosen deck (typically one of the third and fourth decks, so let’s say, deck C) into four channels. Using the bottom two decks in Traktor as Remix Decks therefore gives the user eight channels of “Ableton Lite”-style fun in the bottom two decks (ie decks C and D).
(You can actually control all four decks as Remix decks with just one F1 controller should you feel the desire, but far more typically, you’d use decks A and B for your “usual” DJing, and decks C and D as Remix Decks.)
So do I need the F1 to use the Remix Decks?
OK so let’s be straight here: You don’t need the F1 or the Remix Decks, period. This is a creative but also undeniably quite involved add-on to the Traktor DJing experience. However, assuming you have the time and dedication to work out the best way to use the Remix Decks in your DJing, they’re certainly going to stand you apart from those who don’t use them (and from those who bought an F1 and put it in a cupboard when they realised it would take a bit of work to get up to speed…)
As far as the F1 itself goes, with its tight mapping (being part of the aforementioned “Traktor ecosystem”) and RGB lights to show you unambiguously what’s going on on your Remix Decks, it’s a great choice. However – quite apart from the control offered by the forthcoming Traktor Kontrol S2/S4 Mk II as mentioned earlier – the option to use other controllers for controlling the Remix Decks does now exist too.
Prior to the 2.6.2 release of Traktor, the ability to map the Remix Deck functions to a third party controller was on lockdown. In other words, you were not able to assign the functions to a Midi controller. (Well not without in-depth knowledge of how to hack computer software, anyway.)
This was a turn-off for many and as such perhaps one of the reasons why adoption of the Remix Decks was maybe slower than it might otherwise have been. But in Traktor 2.6.2, Native Instruments unlocked the software, allowing more options for Traktor’s user base. This caused an explosion of mappings and other options of control to flood onto the market including Midi mappings for the iPad.
Opening the software to be mapped in this way was great for innovation and usability, and the result is that Traktor users now have plenty of choices when it comes to controlling these functions. Many people can now control the Remix Decks with hardware they currently own, without having to invest in the Kontrol F1, as long as they can find (or are prepared to work out how to progam) the right mapping. But having said all of this though, it is still true that the Kontrol F1 was designed just for Remix Decks, and as such it is still the ultimate controller for use with them: It “just works” and requires zero set up.
Real-life uses for the Kontrol F1 and Remix Decks
So you may own (or want to own) a Kontrol F1, but you’re having difficulty figuring out how best to integrate the Remix Decks into your DJ sets. Read on: we don’t want you to become one of those people who just gives up…
Yes, admittedly at first it seems like a lot to implement and the workflow for using the Remix Decks is not typical to standard methods of DJing. It basically introduces a new way of DJing into the mix, so of course there’s going to be a learning curve – but climb that curve and the rewards could be a real differentiator between you and your peers. Using the Remix Decks is more akin to a live performance: launching clips, sampling loops on the fly (hint: this is probably the very best way to use them, as it negates the need for hours of tedious prep…) and general mashing things together.
Here’s a Native Instruments FAQ about integrating the Kontrol F1 into your existing set-up, and in the follow video, I talk you through how it integrates into DJ set-ups, and if it will likely integrate well into yours:
Video: Ways to use the Kontrol F1
If you take some time every now and then to put in some careful preparation, and learn how to sample to the Remix Decks “on the fly”, you can deliver amazing remixes and mashups to your audiences. If you’re into production and have began making your own beats and basslines, using the Remix Decks is a great way to showcase your productions in your live DJ sets, seamlessly. You’ll definitely want an F1 or a controller you’ve carefully mapped to your requirements in both of these cases.
The Remix Decks can also be great for launching radio jingles or a few one-shot samples into your standard DJ sets. You’d definitely be underusing them, as the old Sample Decks could equally do this just as well, and in this user case, the need for a Kontrol F1 is not so great; you can get by with simply setting up some hot keys to use the slots, or even mapping some unused controls from your existing,Midi controller.
If you are more into just playing records and keeping things in their pure state, then ultimately the Kontrol F1 and Remix Decks may not be for you at all. This whole system is definitely for DJs and DJ/producers who like to manipulate their music, people who likes to experiment and conjure up new productions, and really tweak things.
It’s definitely a bold move by Native Instruments to push this was of working, and to integrate it so tightly within its own hardware and software. Because of this commitment by the company, it seems that the Remix Decks are here to stay; your choice is whether want to use them or not. The style doesn’t suit everyone, but it’s there if you choose to use dabble – and nowadays, there are more ways than ever that you can do just that.
Do you use the Remix Decks? How? Have you been tempted to take the plunge but not done so yet? Do you use them with hardware other than the F1? Please share your thoughts about them and how you use them in the comments below.