Rob Mullen, Senior Engineer and DJ

My name is Rob Mullen and I am a senior engineer at Nikon Precision Europe GmbH. I work a multi-varied role providing technical guidance, project management, background research & data analysis for our customers in the semiconductor industry. I always had a strong interest in electronics and computers from an early age. I studied Electronic Engineering & Project Design and I currently hold a Masters in Electronic Systems (major in Nanoelectronics & Phonics). I am based in Leixlip, Ireland, but I have supported projects at customer facilities worldwide, including in Israel and the US.

My downtime outside of work and family life is music – creating, listening, or attending events and festivals both in Ireland & across Europe. I have been obsessed with music since the age of 3. My musical taste has changed over the years, but I still have the same passion now as I did when I was younger.

My interest in DJing began when I bought my first set of turntables and a mixer in 1999. Like most 15-year-olds at that time, I was listening to a lot of dance music, which was fuelled by the super clubs like Cream, Ministry, and the whole Ibiza scene. I began buying vinyl records that I would hear at the local nightclub and started making mix tapes. In 2002, I joined External Sounds (www.externalsounds.com) – a collective of DJs, producers, and visual artists. We spent the following 16 years hosting events in Drogheda with both national and international artists (Wolfgang Flur [Kraftwerk], Don Letts, Ashley Beedle, and Norman Jay to name but a few). We curated unique venues for Body&Soul at Electric Picnic in 2008, 2009, 2010 & 2011, including running Body&Soul FM at the festival in 2009. In addition to supporting our guests at these events, I have performed at many events and festivals nationally and internationally including the UK, Germany & Croatia.

Photo by Niamh Moriarty

My setup for DJing varies from event to event. Sometimes I play events that are specifically vinyl only; some other events, I use CDs or my Traktor vinyl digital setup. In the last number of years, I have also used USB keys (my setup may also be any combination of all of the above). Generally, before a gig, I find out what setup the venue has (turntables, CDJs, CDJs with USB functionality, etc.). Regarding music preparation, that depends if I am playing a night that is strictly confined to one genre or sub-genre of music. In this case, I will pick out records that I feel will work knowing the club and time that I will DJ at. For events that have an open music policy, I will generally bring a broad collection of music (80s, house, disco, funk, northern soul, alternative, ska, reggae, etc.).

The most memorable nights of DJing for me was when we (External Sounds) hosted a monthly club night in The Purple Room in Drogheda. This was a very small venue that was closed at the time, and we talked the management into letting us put on a club night once a month. We played an eclectic mix of music, with live visuals (sometimes, we also had bands playing). We started booking international DJs and acts – through this, we built up a following. The venue could only hold less than 250 people and it had no in-house sound system. We used to hire a sound system from a good friend of ours, Col Doyle. I still remember the first time we set up his Funktion One sound system in The Purple Room – the sound was incredible! Everyone who attended the nights was really into music of all genres. It was a great underground music scene. Drogheda is a great town for music and always had its different musical eras (The Abbey Ballroom, The Boxing Club, etc.). Looking back, the nights in the Purple Room definitely felt like another chapter in Drogheda’s musical landscape.

Photo by Niamh Moriarty

When I was 14, I started making electronic music on a Pentium 3 PC. I was using this basic software program called Hip Hop eJay. At the time, I was just making instrumental hip hop beats. 3 years later, I started using software called Reason. This software had synthesizers and drum machines that you could program. It also had these virtual connectors that you could freely wire to each module and create all sorts of crazy sounds. I made various experimental electronic music using this software under the name of Alpha Satori. A few years later, I bought a hardware sampler and starting making music using Logic Pro Software on a mac. Around this time, I joined a band called Copious with two friends. At the time, the music we made was very original; we also did some covers of a more obscure nature (Aphex Twin, Beastie Boys). In 2005, I bought an Akai MPC 2500 sampler. This was a sampling drum machine where you could record, edit, and manipulate sounds. It had a sequencer that allowed you to compose arrangements and run multiple tracks. I really fell in love with making music on the MPC. Every piece of music equipment has a specific workflow to it inherent to its design, and I just found making music on the MPC very natural.

I was very busy studying engineering, and with the DJ gigs at the weekend, I had less time for making music. A few years ago, I started slowly getting back into music creation and I had bought some hardware synthesizers and drum machines and started recording some ideas (again, the MPC was still central to this). Last year, I sold my MPC2500 and bought an Akai MPC Live. This was the first new hardware MPC made by Akai since the MPC2500. It had the same fundamentals as all the previous MPCs (the first MPC60 was released in the 1980s) but had modern enhancements like a touch screen to edit sequences, ability to run software plugins, and an improved suite of effects. As of late, I am exclusively using the MPC Live for making music, so much so that I am selling some of my other hardware synthesizers and machines simply because they are not getting used. I have been making lots of beats, but it is really only now that I am actually starting to arrange the content into tracks. I create various types of electronic music: Dub Techno, Hip Hop beats, Ambient, and Experimental. I am looking forward to being able to create more music with this set-up.

Photo by Niamh Moriarty

In my 20 years as a DJ, the technology has changed greatly. A lot of my earliest gigs involved carrying around a large bag full of records. A few years later, this changed to having some CDs instead of records. Some recent gigs I have played, I only brought two 64Gb USB keys that contain more tracks than what I could physically carry (either vinyl or CD). I still buy vinyl, but I don’t always play it when DJing. Nowadays, people who start DJing can download most of your vinyl collection overnight for free, albeit as poorly compressed MP3s.

I think for some styles of electronic music, the advances in technology have made DJing more performance-based. It is no longer just mixing two records. You are now running 4 tracks or loops simultaneously; you have an endless array of effects and filters. Over the years, the medium has changed: vinyl, CD, USB, and I think it will change again. I think the next paradigm for DJ technology will be the ability to play tracks from an online streaming source (Spotify, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, YouTube, etc.) and have the same control (such as pitch and effects) in real time as other mediums. There is such a large catalogue of music on these platforms and it would allow people to DJ without owning a collection of music.

I think it is important to have a creative passion and it is interesting to read how other people in tech spend their downtime. My advice to anyone who wants to start DJing is to do what you love. Play music that inspires you. Don’t get caught up in trends if your heart is really not in it. These days, it is so easy to start out with inexpensive setups for both DJing and electronic music production. Don’t feel you need to buy turntables or some pricey rotary mixer. Buy some cheap second-hand equipment and learn how to use it by watching YouTube videos. There are endless tutorial videos online for most of this kind of equipment. The art to DJing is 60% ability to read a crowd and 40% technical ability. Keep people dancing and, above all, have fun!

 

To hear some of Rob’s music, be sure to check out the following link:

Rob Mullen Mixcloud

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