How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Remix Deck

Remix Decks. Meh.

If you’re anything like me, and unless you already own an F1 controller or a MIDI Fighter 3D, you’ve had no real desire to use Traktor’s Remix Decks since their appearance over a year ago.

In their first year of release, without a suitable device, you had very limited control over them by only being able to map a standard MIDI controller to just four samples per deck. Of course, it’s possible to use your mouse to control all 64 samples but where’s the fun in that? Using them without a dedicated hardware controller proved to be a frustrating experience. Firing off samples, especially one-shots, only feels right if you’re pressing buttons with your fingers, not clicking buttons on-screen with your mouse. Because of this the Remix Decks, although a nice idea, had always been relegated into the, ‘I really must get into this at some point’ list and then eventually forgotten about.

There were makeshift solutions and projects that used other methods, such as using a controller to simulate mouse clicks, but these were fiddly, cumbersome and often unreliable. What was really needed was for Native Instruments to make Remix Deck mapping fully available so that other controllers could easily be used. This would give more people the opportunity to use them to their full potential. NI said they’d do this eventually, but after a year I was beginning to doubt whether this would actually happen.

Traktor's Remix Decks




Thankfully, as they promised, Native Instruments have recently opened up almost all aspects of the Remix Deck for MIDI mapping, meaning that you can now use any MIDI controller to load / assign all 64 samples, trigger them, reverse them and edit their properties. This didn’t invoke the huge wave of rapture and excitement for the Remix Decks from the DJing community I’d anticipated though. There was no excited buzz in the many DJ / Traktor forums about being able to finally use an external controller with the Remix Decks.

Why was this?

Well, it seems that the people without an F1 had already disregarded them for their lack of functionality or were not really prepared to come back and learn a whole new part of Traktor. The 2.6.2 update itself, which finally allowed full Remix Deck control, went by unannounced by NI and only a few DJ blogs picked up on what a big deal this actually was. So this exciting new addition to Traktor went very much under the radar of most Traktor users. And, from what I’ve read on forum posts and comments sections, many of those who were aware of the update had already lost interest in using the Remix Decks several months ago.

I was certainly one of those people. I didn’t want to splash out on a new controller just to try out something I wasn’t even sure I was going to like. But even when the update arrived, I must admit I was still quite reluctant to use them. I understood their use but had no idea how I would incorporate them into my own sets or whether I’d actually enjoy using them in the first place. Running this website, which is predominantly about Traktor and MIDI mapping for Traktor, meant that I would need to make mappings for them sooner or later, but I still had no real desire to learn how to use them either. This worried me a little. I really enjoy mapping but doing it for something I had no interest in seemed pointless. To me, using the Remix Decks seemed a bit daunting and using anything more than just two decks was quite new to me. Although I love new technology and am eager to take on new and exciting ways of controlling Traktor, I can still be quite set in my ways in the way that I still like to DJ using just two decks. Whether they’re virtual decks or regular ones doesn’t really matter to me, but adding anything more to this and having three or more things playing at once tended to always end up confusing me!

Epiphany

All my fears, worries and confusion just melted away, however, once I’d mapped the first page of Sample Cells to a simple 4×4 button grid on TouchOSC and actually started using my iPad to trigger samples. The Remix Decks had finally grabbed me! It all just felt ‘right’. I ‘got’ it.

I spent several hours just going through the free Remix Sets included with Traktor, playing around with them, then mixing them with other Remix Sets or tracks from my MP3 collection. I had a bit of trouble syncing them to other decks (and to each other) at first, but once I’d worked out that leaving the Remix Deck playing and synced to Traktor’s own BPM as Master, muting and stopping individual Sample Slots rather than stopping and starting the whole deck, I found that I was soon effortlessly creating mashups and having a tremendous amount of fun in the process! The fact that I was finally using a device other than a mouse gave me the freedom and inclination to experiment a little too.

Next came making my own Remix Sets from sample CDs, as well as existing projects I’d already started in Maschine and Ableton Live. I was particularly impressed with how you could just drag and drop clips and samples from Maschine to the Remix Decks’ Sample Cells and create sets within minutes. This made creating mixes of my own tunes (or parts of them) really easy. Having a ‘stock’ set of sounds from a particular genre is nice too, so, for whatever style of music I was mixing, I’d have an appropriate set of hi-hat patterns, kick and snare patterns as well as FX like risers, impacts, etc., loaded into a Remix Deck which could be blended with the tracks I was already playing. It finally all made perfect sense to me. I could layer other loops on top of my mixes and it sounded good, not forced. It felt intuitive and comfortable.

Traktor Remix Decks for TouchOSC




The real fun, however, came when using the Loop Recorder to sample live external sources (like a microphone) and taking loops from tracks that are already playing, adding them to a Sample Cell, applying FX and creating live, on-the-fly remixes. This took a little more getting used to and it was a while before I became comfortable with it. This is where the true power of the Remix Decks lies though and once you’re comfortable doing this, you’ll find that new ideas for interesting mashups seem to just present themselves to you as you’re mixing and sampling.

If you’re not quite ready for layering new loops and patterns over your regular DJ sets yet, then using Remix Decks just to trigger one-shot samples is great fun too and perhaps the best place to start. You don’t need to worry about syncing or beat matching either, just fire off a bit of spoken word or an occasional air horn sample to break yourself in gently! You can also get way, way deeper though with one-shots and even use your Sample Decks as an instrument to accompany your sets. Just have a go with the ‘Moldover’s Guitar’ or ‘Smells Like Flowers’ sets and you’ll see what I mean! So much fun to be had there.

You can’t fight in here. This is the War Room!

So I urge you, ditch any fights you may have had with NI for not providing this functionality earlier, or any fears you may have of learning something new, and embrace the Remix Deck. It breathes a whole new lease of life into Traktor and your DJ sets and, with just a small amount of practice, can be incredibly rewarding. The Remix Deck is your friend.

There are lots of tutorials on how to use Remix Decks (see links below) and the Traktor manual contains all the info you need to get you started, so there is little point in me providing a tutorial on how to use the Remix Decks themselves.

What I haven’t been able to find yet though is a tutorial on how to map all the functions of the Remix Decks and what they all mean. With this in mind, I hope to make a tutorial video soon on explaining the mappable Remix Deck functions and how best to assign them to a MIDI device.

Remix Decks – Resources & Tutorials:

Traktor Manual: An essential starting point – check pages: 274 – 282.

My own Remix Decks mappings for TouchOSC (iPad / Android), Lemur (iPad) and Maschine.

Free Remix Sets by Native Instruments

Free User-generated Remix Sets by Remix Deck Set website.

Dubspot tutorial on making Remix Sets in Maschine and Traktor.

NI’s intro video: Very much F1 orientated but a nice introduction to what can be done in Remix Decks.

Tutorial by The DJ Podcast: a nice introduction to all the basic features of Remix Decks.

Tutorial by Dubspot’s DJ Endo: another F1 based video but a decent overview of how to use Remix Decks.

Interesting video by DJ Tech Tools about an alternative approach to using Remix Decks.

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