by Zack Ferriday

Four-deck DJing: A beginner’s guide

We ask some of our favorite four-deck DJs to enlighten us on the art of mixing across four channels.

Back in the 90s, pioneers like Jeff Mills and Carl Cox doubled-down on their decks, and introducing third and fourth channels to their sets. It marked an evolution in DJing that saw a shift toward real performance, flexibility, and experimentation. Nowadays, plenty of booths will have four or more players of some description set up, whether vinyl or digital, so four-deck mixing has definitely left its mark. While four-deck DJing might seem best-suited to techno, DJs across the genre spectrum use the extra channels to bring something new to their sets.

For the uninitiated, spinning on more than two decks might seem like you need an extra pair of arms – but the results can bring a whole new dimension to your mix. We asked some of our favorite four-deck DJs,  (all with just two arms each) to give us an insight into the art of mixing across four channels.

Why start mixing on more than two decks

Extra channels bring an extra element of performance. So for the chilled out Sunday BBQ sessions, it might not go down so well with a beer and a burger in the other hand.

“The idea of producing music live is what inspired me to use more than two decks,” says TOMI TRIBE, “especially with the genre I prefer to play – afrobeat/afrohouse – many tracks have crazy drum breakdowns I can mash up with other songs and sounds.

Injecting the unexpected is a big part of defining your own style. Having a third or fourth deck means you can do this while keeping the energy level high. “The opportunities are definitely endless,” Richie from The ANMLS tells us.

Ultimately, it’s all about freedom, which 41ISSA sums up pretty nicely:

“My first time playing 3 decks was opening Robert Johnson b2b with Avbvrn – we played different genres with ambient and R&B. It was so much fun to not stick to the rules, to jump between parts of tracks, play whole tracks with filters on. It inspired me to experiment with the gear and see it more as an instrument than just a player.”

Incorporating new sounds

Four tracks playing together at full-pelt will invariably sound messy, not to mention be tricky to mix. The key is to think in terms of elements and contrast.

“I generally try not to have too much going on” explains Chris Liebing, “I normally stick to records or individual stems that have some sort of powerful sound, like vocals or acapellas that suit the vibe, just to add a little spice to what’s already playing.”

This is a common way to use additional decks, as a way of introducing singular elements that together build a wider soundscape. Karizma uses it in a similar, but perhaps more eclectic, way: “I have vocals and key parts that I can loop and play with on the fly, so it makes my performance totally different every time.”

And it also helps to think outside the box when blending sounds. Last year, SAMA’ told us she uses environmental sounds like planes, cars, and birds in her set, influenced by her background in sound design for film.

No Shade member Kikelomo has a similar approach: “ I’ve recently started experimenting with playing snippets of my favorite speeches, poems, and documentaries to evoke more emotive elements in my performances.


Four-deck tips and tricks

More decks definitely means there’s more to think about at any one time, so the freedom comes with some added responsibility. There are a few ways to make things easier when getting started.

“Use whatever software you’re using to make sure the tracks work together harmonically,” Kikelomo tells us, “there’s nothing more satisfying than hearing them playing together and sounding great.” Acapellas are a good first step: “Percussion-heavy tracks work well with acapellas and melodic instrumentals. It’s like putting together a well-balanced recipe!”

It also helps to make sure your tracks are beatgridded properly, especially when using sync, or when using things like the Remix Decks in TRAKTOR.

If you’re also a producer, testing out new ideas is a good way to introduce unique elements, and also see if your productions work on the dancefloor without clearing it if that loop that slapped at 3AM in the studio doesn’t sound so good in the club.

Richie takes a fairly structured approach to setting things up with his own sounds:

“I’ll usually start off by having my go-to tracks on two decks, on the third deck I’ll have some beats, drum loops, and grooves that I came up with in the studio, and the fourth I’ll dedicate to some acapellas or vocals. Once everything is loaded in it’s just a matter of catching the vibe and experimenting to see what sounds cool.”

Ready to dive into four-channel DJing? The new TRAKTOR KONTROL S3 is our new, essential four-deck DJ controller.

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