How Portable Is Your Digital DJ Gear?

Phil Morse | Founder & Tutor
Read time: 3 mins
Last updated 27 November, 2017

Micro DJ set-up
OK, so I’m not suggesting using gear like this – but seriously, does DJ gear have to be as big as it is, especially digital gear?

Do you have a system you can DJ on anywhere, anytime? Something that you can throw in your bag on the way out the door, only to find yourself set up in the strangest of places, rocking the micro-party? If not, you could be missing out! This last couple of months alone, I’ve ended up DJing in a pigsty in Portugal, and practising a big-stakes DJ set while sat in an airport cafe in Copenhagen. Both of these times, I couldn’t have managed it unless I’d had portable DJ gear with me.

Case study 1: The pigsty in Portugal

We’ve got a nine-month old son – Dylan – and we had our first family holiday together this year, in rural Portugal (a few hours’ drive from our base here in Spain). Of course, I couldn’t stand the idea of two weeks without a quick spin or two, and so I popped my Faderfox DJ3 and my Altec Lansing iM237 speaker into my bag as well. You know, just in case… (The laptop goes everywhere anyway, of course.)

DJing in a pigsty
DJing in a pigsty, no outlet electricity required! Note the nameless DJ software on the left-hand laptop (I’ve been doing this for years and have no idea what he was using…)

Turned out the historic millhouse we stayed in was owned by Keith, an ex-blues promoter with a lifetime’s-worth of stories and a big collection of priceless music, and it also turned out that as he often DJed in the nearby town, he’d got a lot of it digitised.

He invited us and some other locals to a barbecue (which happened to be in an old pigsty) and insisted we make it a music event (I wasn’t going to argue). So while enjoying piri-piri chicken and baked potatoes miles from anywhere, we got talking music, and afterwards we set up the laptop, the Faderfox, a splitter cable and my little speaker, spending the next few hours ploughing through a pile of Balearic, blues and – as it ended up – 80s pop. A memorable DJ set in the middle of nowhere, and all thanks to a portable digital DJ set-up.

Case study 2: Spinning in the departure lounge

Just a few weeks ago I was asked to play a showcase 30-minute set at the BPM Show in England. Trouble was, I was going straight to BPM from a working trip to Berlin, so had little time to practise. Plus, I really wanted to do it on the Novation Twitch, a controller I love but have not had much experience with. The DJ set was on the Novation stand at the show, so no worries about them having a Twitch for me to use, but when would I practise?

Twitching on the airport
Skinny latte? Check. Within view of a departures board? Check. Larging it up on the decks in complete privacy? Check!

I accepted the gig of course, and luckily it turned out that I could fit my laptop, my trusty Altec Lansing speaker, my Xone XD-40 headphones (which fold completely flat: bonus) and my Twitch into a DJ backpack (the Lil Namba Remix) – as well as five days’ worth of personal stuff! It still weighed in at well under 10kg, and crucially was small enough to qualify as hand luggage.

So that meant that while I waited for a connecting flight in Copenhagen on my way to the UK from Germany, I got the chance to set everything up and run through the whole gig in my headphones. Same thing in the hotel the night before. Just these two complete practice run-throughs, with no distractions, made all the difference to the DJ set. It was only possible because the Twitch is a sensibly sized and lightweight DJ controller.

How to keep things portable

I think it’s a good idea to consider portability right from the off when you’re buying DJ gear. It doesn’t have to be big and bulky to be good nowadays – if it is, much of what’s in that box is empty space anyway.

Even if you choose to go for substantial gear, you can have a second system. And before saying “I don’t have the money for that!”, bear in mind you can teach yourself your software’s keyboard shortcuts easily enough – and with a cheap splitter cable and some compact headphones, you can have something it’s possible to set up anywhere. Of course there’s also iPhone and iPad stuff too: With a music collection synced over iTunes or iCloud, you could have all of your tunes with you, wherever you go – and be able to DJ at a second’s notice using djay for iPhone or djay for iPad, for instance.

When you come to think about it, isn’t portability one of the most exciting advantage of digital DJing? Even when you are in a pro DJ booth, aren’t you better off with a Kontrol X1 than something too big to be practical?

Do you have a digital set-up you can take anywhere with you? Have you had memorable sets that couldn’t have happened had you not been able to set up something portable? What do you use to play those gigs in weird places? I’d love you to share your thoughts on this subject below.

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