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DJs' darkest hour: Indestructible eventually meant irrelevant for Technics turntable

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By James Coulson

The Technics SL-1200 turntable is to dance music what the Fender Stratocaster is to rock: the key to a musical and cultural explosion. There’s even a pair of the iconic decks on display at the Science Museum in London, where they’re hailed as an invention that shaped the world.

It’s weird to think that hip-hop, house and techno wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for some Japanese engineers on a quest to build a hi-fi for the audiophile market. But the uncluttered Technics SL-1200, with its high-torque electromagnetic motor, pitch adjust, precision tone arm and ability to take whatever abuse was thrown at it, was form and function in harmony. From its 1972 debut on, the SL-1200—particularly in its MK2 incarnation—became the bedrock of sound systems at the world’s best clubs. It served as a platform for people like Grandmaster Flash to discover how to scratch records, and folks like Larry Levan to beat-match them.

When CDJs established themselves in clubland in the mid-’90s, rumors began to circulate about the imminent demise of Technics turntables. It would end up taking a lot longer than that, but after 38 years and 3.5 million units sold, the day that vinyl DJs and turntablists always feared has finally come: the SL-1200 range is going the way of the dodo.

In a sad irony, the sheer durability of the decks has meant that they’ve outlived the companies that manufacture their otherwise redundant parts. Manufacturer Panasonic cited the increasing difficulty of sourcing analog components—the same ones it had been using since the beginning, in order not to compromise on quality—and a 90% drop in sales over the last decade as reasons for discontinuing its iconic product.

If the Technics SL-1200s and their accompanying 10kg record bags are the Sony Walkman and cassette box, then the laptop and its Traktor DJ software is the iPod. The latter is smaller, lighter, more convenient… but does it really sound better? And more importantly, has it got soul?

That’s a question which will soon have to be answered. Jeff Mills will be deftly mixing three decks at once for a few years yet, but the next generation of DJs won’t be starting out on turntables. In the hyper-competitive world of DMC scratch contests, the DJ Kentaro-style champion of the future will be cutting up a selection of digital WAV files on a virtual “scratch pad.”

Ultimately, Technics turntables were a victim of two things: the digital revolution and their own success. They’re so good that if you buy a pair, you’ll never need to replace them—and therein lies the problem.

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

36 Comments
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Pretty sad when wannabes go out to buy these instead of spending their money actually learning to play a musical instrument.

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music is an art. and art has no limit. sad to see you have none.

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Good article.

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Comparing a turntable to a Fender is like comparing a DVD burner to a 1930s three strip technicolored camera. Without the one, there would not be the other. (or not the other as we know it). A fender creates music, a turntable plays what the other creates. Kind of like Tarantino.

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benhur - creating music is an art. pressing play on a turntable (and needing Ectasy to enjoy it) is pathetic.

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benhur- art has LOADS of limits or we could call your JT post art. If anything can be considered art than art becomes meaningless. Turntable music is plagiarized riffs that real musicians created on real instruments. Its as much an art form as is your ability to push the buttons to select songs for your i pod.

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I used to make mixed tapes back in the day before a long drive. Does that make me an artist? Sweet!

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LOL people arguing "What is art?" Good luck with THAT discussion as it has been going on for centuries.

That said, DJ's take existing media (records) and blend them together using various techniques to produce an amalgem that is (hopefully) better for dancing than the original media. Those that are able to consistantly pull this off could be said to be turntable artists.

@KaptainKichigai: Read the article again. It doesn't directly compare the turntable to a Fender Strat, but equates their significance in their respective applications. In the realm of dance clubs, the turntable IS an instrument played by an artist. How the dancers respond to your skill determines your skill. If being a DJ were only about "pushing buttons", then you wouldn't have celebrity DJ's charging celebrity-level fees, because ANYBODY could do it successfully. So go ahead and prove me wrong. Head down to the nearest club and replace the house DJ because all it takes is "pushing a few buttons".

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KKichigai,

You probably already know this but thought I shud mention you really need an amp for good ole strat to make some music, nice old fender deluxe wud fit the bill!

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How the dancers respond to your skill determines your skill. If being a DJ were only about "pushing buttons", then you wouldn't have celebrity DJ's charging celebrity-level fees, because ANYBODY could do it successfully.

Fadamor - You might also add how much Ecstasy the dancers have dropped in order to enjoy the pre-programmed crap. The whole club scene (re: Disco) is a soulless, sad charade of people who are afraid of not being "hip". I could go to Tokyo this weekend, and if I was advertised as being from London or New York, would have people like you gushing over how well I pushed play.

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Obviously most of you folks have no idea what it takes to be a top club DJ. I am not talking about scatching hip hop artists(thats not my bag) but a club DJ. I can go into 3 different clubs with 3 different DJ's playing the exact same songs and tell you the difference in how they played them. How they blend, mix, cut, and "paste" certain elements from the discs causes some of them to rise to the top and others to be just local. Certain deep house Dj's charge 10,000 US or more for 4-6 hours because of how they have crafted their artform. Many of them go on to become producers themselves. Google Osunlade, Danny Krivit, LARRY HEARD, KERRY CHANDLER, Culoe de song, Ananda project (Chris Brann) for example. These are not the biggest but just my tastes. Soulful house artists who are all 'famous" producers as well. If we go more commercial like Miguel Migs or Roger sanchez you will see even more hits online. Ask these sometimes millionaire artists if they just play records. Many singers and producers beg these dj's to play and or remix their tracks which leads them to become creators as well. I am in a "real" rock/blues band and I still love my dance music.

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Just curious.... What clubs pay 10,000 for a nights work?

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at fadamor "The Technics SL-1200 turntable is to dance music what the Fender Stratocaster is to rock". That is putting them both in the musical instrument category. Actually the Fender Stratocaster is to dance music what the fender Stratocaster is to rock is a more suitable comparison as todays dance music has evolved from rock which evolved from the blues. at Virgo, there are loads of movie buffs that can break down every scene and every director and every influence and every 6 degrees to Kevin Bacon, but their ability to line up the best movies for a good nights entertainment doesnt make them film makers.

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or movie clips for that matter.

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hoserfella; you sound like a maniac.

The Technics SL1200, along with a lot of other Japanese music technology shaped the music of today; it is not just dance music that uses stuff made in Japan; all music has benefited from these innovations.

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@DuraAce just as all movies have benefited from the Dvd player and Dvd formats. But it doesnt make the Dvd player a camera. It doesnt CREATE movies, it only plays what others have created. You can Blue Ray the movie and add all kinds of features, but it always remains the creation of those that originally created it. the operative word being "original".

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I enjoy electronic music and have zero experience with drugs.

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"The Technics SL-1200 turntable is to dance music what the Fender Stratocaster is to rock". That is putting them both in the musical instrument category

I think that's debatable depending on how you decide to take the comment... I honestly feel the same way that fadamor does. The phrase is not used to directly compare them, but to show their importance within their own 'product range'.

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@hoserfella & @KaptainKichigai.

You are missing the point entirely. Most DJs don't claim to be 'artists' or 'musicians', they claim to be, if anything, 'DJs'. Does every guy strumming a Jack Johnson song on an acoustic guitar claim to be a musician or artist? No, that would be ridiculous. So what's wrong with DJing? What is it that is so offensive? Why does everyone get so fired up that people like to play records on a set of turntables? No one is denying that someone else (usually) made the music. No one is claiming credit where it's not due. Good DJs get credit where credit is deserved, that they are a good DJ; that they do what DJs do well, which is to select and play good music that is appropriate for any particular time, place and situation with good technical ability. As was incorrectly claimed by loserfella, the music DJ's play is not "plagiarized", it is either straight out "played" or if remixed or edited it is "sampled" which, if you want to bring scholarly conventions into the debate, is the same as "referencing" which is totally ok. They are not imitating, they quoting, paying tribute. And as for all the movie analogies pertaining to how the turntable does not actually create music, the turntables are directly responsible for the creation of hip-hop, house and techno, the only three genres of music to push the boundaries of pop music since rock'n'roll came around. We aren't talking about cameras and DVD players and your use of them to metaphorically explain turntables is both misguided and poorly executed.

To bring in the age old 'needing ecstasy to enjoy it' is a poor argument if trying to claim the moral high ground for other forms of music. Jazz (weed), Punk (speed), Folk & Progressive rock (acid) to name a few were all deeply influenced by the drugs connected to the subcultures they were part of. Johnny Cash and Ray Charles were two great musicians who fought addictions to heroin. Get off of your high horse mate. And for the record, if you came to Tokyo under the pretense you were from New York or London and played anything remotely 'pre-programmed' you would be laughed at, that is exactly the opposite of what a DJ does. @Virgo, I'm not sure DJ fees are the best argument on this one, we all know some of the least talented artists get paid the most in the pop world.

It's not about genres, it's about good music.

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I'm a Gibson man myself, and much prefer my SG and Flying V to any Strat, although the Blackmore model is OK. That said, I use my old McIntosh Labs turntable to actually play and listen to my vinyl collection. Gatefold albums are perfect for deseeding - can't do that with an MP3. I don't think Technics was around when I bought my first Budgie record. Damn, I must be getting old!

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my2centworth - I have no problem with DJs who know they are only that. A DJ sits in a booth and hits play. there is zero artistry or skill involved unlike that of, as you say, a guy strumming a J Johnson tune on an acoustic guitar. At least that guy has actual musical talent. He (or she) has learned to play an actual musical instrument after Im sure hundreds of hours of practice. I DO have a problem, however, with the wannabes who claim to have any musical ability or talent simply because they bought a turntable and managed to push a lever back and forth. That is an insult to those with any musical knowledge whatsoever. I won't get into the vapidness of house, drum and bass, trance, whatever you want to call it cause there isnt enough time in the day. Its all still disco music wrapped in different packaging.

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Cheers to my2centworth- one poster here who isn't banging out an ignorant opinion. I've been Djing since the mid-80s on technics and the debate wether turntablism is art or plagarism is a pretty stale one. I've seen skilled Djs pull vinyl apart so it's sound becomes indistinguishable from what was originally recorded on the record (and these often don't even start off as someone else's music- they can be spoken word, sound effects, ambient/found sounds or sampled noise). I sometimes throw old records into my own recordings and on the vinly I do use I doubt the original producers would recognize themselves as contributers after its been chopped, spliced, stuttered, etc...

I can also walk into a club and tell a good Dj from a bad one pretty quickly (9 times out of 10 they're bad). But this is where the argument gets messy- as I feel alot of the DJs are crap because they are A: playing bad music, B: mixing MP3s from a laptop by yes- pushing a few buttons, C: Usually both.

Good Djs that play good music- Coldcut, The Chemical Brothers (check out 'live @t the social volume 1'), Bonobo, Jazzanova, Gilles Peterson (low on skills, but always good music), Andy Votel (his obscure 60`s rock mixes are krazy), Diplo, Andrew Weatherall, the list can go on forever.

Good Djs that make the music their own- Dj Shadow, Dj Krush, The Avalanches, Major Force, Amon Tobin, Cut La Roc, Kid Koala, ...etc

I can't speak for these folks but I'm pretty sure they're all indebted to their 1200s, they'll all admit that the article above is spot on (although I've read those Japanese scientists that invented it were doing so with the intention of using it for Kareoke purposes) and that although they'll miss spinning on decks when they disappear completely, they won't waste too many tears lamenting the loss; Djs have always been a forward thinking and innovative bunch that understand progression.

I'm pretty surprised by how ill informed some of the posts above are. Ectasy? Really? 1992 is over dude.

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Movies and music are both comparable mediums. Experts on either abound. Analyzing them, splicing them, mixing them etc.etc. A turntable is for playing records. A dvd player is for playing movies. Neither creates the medium they show. If you have a venue using movies you spliced, snippet, or "reference" using sound bytes and charge money calling it your own- or if you have a venue using songs spliced, sped, snipped, mixed or "reference" using sound bytes and charge money calling it your own-you are plagiarizing. Every hip hop song that was written to another artists music pays royalties. Its not a debate about plagiarism- hat word is definitive not debatable. Your blah blah posts about "ignorant" opinions and poorly executed metaphors is irrelevant to the fact that if you didnt write the music IT AINT YOURS. you are NOT a musician, you are a glorified electronics aficionado with delusions of grandeur that makes a great mixed tape for people to dance to. That is it. Just be accountable for what you do and dont try and sell a turntable as a musical instrument. Its a record player that plays other people music, and so is a DJ.

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And before you think I am accusing DJs of stealing music, I am not (only if they consider their mixes "original"). and I dont mean to imply DJs are talentless. I think they are very talented, as is the man who fixes my computer, or the guy who knows how to hack his xbox. Becoming efficient with electronic entertainment is very lucrative and handy. Just remember, you are NOT making music, you are PLAYING music... other peoples music. And i am sure you are doing it very very well. Ok? egos satisfied? shoulder chips back in place?

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Those turntables got famous in the late 1970's because of guys like Larry Levan and Flash, not vice-versa. Technics will always be revered by those in the know but hip-hop would still be here without them. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool. Give some credit to the beat box, mixer and echo chamber while you're at it.

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I'm just impressed that KaptainKichigai actually managed to squeeze out a few posts without equating dance clubs to Ecstasy.

I'm 50, so I've been around since before Disco and the Hip-Hop generation that followed Disco. My experience in the DJ booth (as an assistant, not the actual DJ) pre-dates MP3's and CDs so my view is skewed in that aspect. The DJ in the club I frequented would be considered only a "house" DJ, but he absolutely did NOT just push buttons. His 'tables could very well have been SL-1200's but my memory about minutiae like that doesn't work that well 25 years later. His collection included milk crates full of house mix (i.e. extended) versions of the songs. While the current song was playing, he was selecting the next song based on the mood he wanted to set/maintain, beat matching to the current song, and cueing it up to where he wanted to start the blend. Once it was time to mix in the second song, he needed to run it on headphones for 15 seconds or so to match down-beats using his thumb on the edge of the platter, then cross-fade the tables. Then you're going through the whole routine again for the next song. You'll notice I didn't say anything about "scratching". That came after my time but adds even more difficulty (when done well) to the job.

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@ Fadamor, I have no idea why that impresses you. I never said word one about the music quality or the enjoyment factor of the music DJs play. That was horsefellas opinion. I stated that DJs are indeed talented. I just dont agree that a turntable is to dance music what the fender is to rock, which is the backbone of my entire string of posts. I never said dance music, club music, techno, hip hop etc. was only enjoyable with drugs. I dont think a turntable is a musical instrument and I dont think a DJ is a musician anymore than I think a vocalist who sings other peoples songs is a musician, a glorified Karaoke singer-yes....talented-sure...musician...not at all. To be a musician, you have to play a musical instrument and write music. Again- turntable is not a musical instrument. Now what qualifies as music is another issue altogether.

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I am sure Dr. Johnny Fever and Wolfman Jack (as you are qualified to remember at 50) wouldnt call themselves musicians or consider their turntable in a comparison in any capacity to a Fender.

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The Technics 1200 absolutely DID shape the music of today;

If it was not for decent direct-drive turntables (of which the Technics 1200 is the ultimate example), dance music would not have gone in the same direction.

The Technics allowed DJs to develop beat matching, and as a result, dance music standardised to allow for easy beat matching; the standard 16 bar sparse intro only started to creep in to allow easy matching in the middle of a set. The fixed BPM is also a direct result of mixing requirements.

If it was not for the Technics, things would sound a lot different.

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If it was not for the Technics, things would sound a lot different.

And the world would be a better place.

Just kidding.. :) Interesting to see the amount of interest an article on turntables is causing.. thanks for the informative posts.

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Kaptain, Maybe you think DJ's aren't musicians, fine. But to say they are not artist's when many of the DJ's I mentioned remix songs by deconstructing them and adding elements that were not there. Sometimes changing the genre of the actual song. Sometimes all that is left from the original IS the vocals. You may not think it is an art but many of us do. Problem is that you seem to be stating your opinion as if it were fact not just your feeling. To me even though I do have an emotional connection to the dance genre,realize that all are not into it. But it is hard to respect the opinion of someone who seems to be able to define art. We have no idea of your actual knowledge of current world class dj's producers or what they do with the records they didn't create. It is truly an artform. Too bad you don't see it. So great vocalists aren't musicians? I know you didn't exactly say that but it feels to be insinuated. Let me know if I am wrong. Aretha Franklin is considered a God by almost every musician she ever worked with because of what she can do with her voice. Yes she can read music and can play piano/keyboards and has written songs but by her voice alone they consider her a musician because she can use it as such. She is an artist right? And to the person who asked, there are DJ's who command 10 grand at events not just local clubs. 3-5k is the norm for the good ones at places in NYC/Tokyo/Miami and such.

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I'm skeptical of the 10,000 figure because I can't see how a club can cover costs with that kind of payout. They'd have to charge concert level entry fees... Of course maybe that's what they do :)

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Where do you live? It costs 3-5000 yen at many events in Tokyo. If a super DJ is doing an all night set like 6 hours he is the main act. It is of course not usual as I said 3-5000 US is the norm. I worked with a promoter for years. It has been done. Ageha for instance gets over 5000 people for huge events. One headliner and a bunch of lesser paid locals. Body and Soul always gets over 5000 folks and tickets are $50 US to 70$.DJ's from NYC. This is not to say they all got 10,000, over 5000 each but it depends on the other costs associated with the venue. Licensing stuff depending on location. Ever been Ibiza? People travel from across Europe ans the US JUST to attend certain events.......L.A. parties when a top commercial house DJ headlines with a bunch of "name" people in the audience. Easy money. Remember in the US even certain party guests are compensated to attend. "Appearance fees" of 3-5000 dollars for someone who is currently among sought after up and coming celebs. Hell Kim Kardashian gets twice as much to show up and take pics for an hour. Shocked? Welcome to the world of the rich. Just left L.A. recently and there are places that pay a top DJ that amount as well as charge 15-20 dollars for top shelf drinks. Do the math.

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5000 people at an event. Not many Tokyo clubs can do that. Different scope. Ibiza? Well that's another thing, but you're talking maybe half a dozen people in the world.

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True not many "clubs" get 5000. Ageha can. Body and Soul events are held outside or once at the Sumo arena and at the old but now gone Velfarre. Maybe less than 20 Dj's in the house scene get $10,000 at a particular GRAND event. True. But in L.A. and Miami it is a different story for more mainstream DJ's at rich folks events. Anyhow, usually a decent house DJ in Tokyo does a loop usually including Tokyo, Osaka, and Fukuoka and/or Sapporo's legendary Precious Hall. They negotiate down for the non-hot-at-the-moment jocks because they have to shelter him and provide transpo. 3-500 is more norm but if David Mancuso shows up for one of his Legendary "LOFT" parties, some places are willing to take a loss just to have him. Beleive me he gets paid. Check WIKI if you don't know him. He used to only play Precious Hall believed to be the best sound system in Japan. Maybe has branched out these days, I don't know. When Dj Harvey plaid the "Rainbowdisco" party in Japan on may 2nd (see metropolis article) it was 6,000 yen and thousands attended. He got PAID big time because he is considered a legend in Europe and people begged to see him. He played again albeit for a smaller fee at club ELEVEN 6 days later. (The former legendary CLUB YELLOW)

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Yeah, I thought about what you said. If you're paying people half the dj's fees just to be famous and show up then it's not so much, I guess... Particularly if you're comparing it to 10,000 yen for crappy seats at a concert...

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