You may not recognize the name Jimmy Lesondak, but you've certainly heard of his tools in recent months. Lesondak goes by DJ ! (pronounced DJ Shift 1), and he conceived of using the motion-sensing Wii remote from the popular Nintendo console to DJ in clubs across California. WiiJing, as he calls it, is catching on worldwide.
Jimmy graciously accepted my invitation for an interview, and offered up some candid insights to his methods, inspiration and ideas for the future.
SW: Well before anything, Jimmy, I want to thank you for agreeing to the interview.
Let me start from the top. How did you think of using the Wii remote as a DJ tool? Is this the first time you've experimented with new tech in such an unconventional way?
JL: The idea came when I was playing around with using the Wiimote as a mouse. I opened the DJ software I used with it and started mixing via mouse pointer and Wiimote. I noticed that I was able to mix pretty well using it and started wondering what would happen if it was to be designed and coded as a DJ tool instead of a mouse. It turned out to work better than I thought it would and I started to prefer its controls instead of the MIDI controller I was using at the time.
It was pretty much my first time doing a hack of that type, though I was always impressed by other peoples ideas (beyond hacking a Wiimote) that were all over the web. HackADay.com is a favorite of mine I frequent, but lack the tech knowledge to do a lot of stuff on that site.
SW: What kinds of problems did you run into when you were first experimenting and using them at clubs? Did you have to modify your style at all or develop a new kind of learning curve?
JL: Surprisingly there weren't many problems! At first it was pretty basic, A button presses play on the audio; left and right crosspad to crossfade. So it acted as a MIDI controller pretty much, and worked well. When the motion controls were being introduced it was just a matter of tweaking everything to get the motion to work well. Its not perfect, but its damn near.
One of the most prominent motion controls is the flickstart, which is where flicking the Wiimote forward presses play on the audio. This was an interesting learning curve because it takes a while to get used to timing response of flicking the Wiimote forward to press play at the right time. Its like there is a sweet spot that nails it dead on and it can take some time to get the timing right.
SW: You don't seem to use the nunchuck attachment, instead favoring dual Wiimotes. Did you ever experiment with using the nunchuck instead or in addition to the Wii remote?
JL: I've thought about using the nunchuck but haven't really found an application that makes it more worthy than using another Wiimote. I've thought about using it as an FX attachment but I'm not a fan of the wire in between... though... your question has given me an idea :) ...
SW: Your Web site has a lot of tutorial videos, downloads and help files. What made you decide to share the concept in such an open way?
JL: The other choice was to try and patent the idea and sell it to a company - which I did about a month of research on this path to see how likely it could happen for me and my situation. The other idea of was trying to claim right as owner of the idea by sharing it. It would be more of an intellectual investment in that more opportunities may happen in the future from the publicity.
So I chose the share option since it seemed more likely that it would be the more successful of the two, plus any of the new ideas within the DJ scene started out as free ideas (scratching was never patented), so I saw it fit to keep it that way. Maybe one day Technics will come knocking on my door wanting me to promote and put on my seal of approval (endorsement).
SW: Music games are getting a lot more popular, especially on the Wii. Guitar Hero III will be coming out for it, Nintendo has Wii Music in the works, Disney is putting out High School Musical, and EA is working on Boogie. How would you feel about a company designing a game to simulate WiiJing?
JL: I would love it! I think it would be a lot of fun as there is a enjoyment or pleasure out of physical motion and music combined. Especially if they got me involved in some aspect!
SW: Now switching focus a little bit to the actual practice of it, I noticed in some demonstration videos that you mix classic game music into more modern dance music. How do you make the selections of which songs to mix together? Are there any more recent game tracks that you use?
JL: Well for me its just of matter of trying different things. I found a way to get individual 8-bit sounds and soundtracks in clean file formats so I saw it fit that since I'm using a Nintendo item it would be cool to mix in some retro stuff. The whole 8-bit retro thing is getting a little over-killed it seems like lately, but when you look at from the point of familiarity, it's what seems to reach the largest crowd.
As for picking out songs to mix, for the demo videos I like to use familiar songs so everyone can understand what is going on. Its easy to mix some techno-house and add effects to it all the while its doing its own in song effects, just adding to the confusion of what the DJ is actually doing. But with the songs that people know its easy to demonstrate "oh he's doing an effect right now" etc. For live shows I like to have a more energetic set with a little NES nostalgia thrown in.
SW: As a matter of fact, your shows seem to be taking on a life of their own, becoming pretty game-centric productions complete with costumes and videos. Do you find that this kind of show attracts a more tech-savvy crowd than you got before using the Wii remotes?
JL: Well online it gets more tech attention but the club crowds seem to attract all types of folks. The premier night in SF had a pretty eclectic crowd.
SW: Do you follow any other geek culture-related musical acts, like the Minibosses or Optimus Rhyme?
JL: I love the Minibosses, but haven't heard of Optimus Rhyme... I don't really follow much geek culture stuff, though I enjoy checking it out when i run into it online. I find myself more involved in the mashup scene as a musical focus. Though with the way the show is headed we'll probably get grouped in geek culture musical acts.
SW: If you can imagine a year in the future, how do you see your shows evolving while you move forward? What will be different then?
JL: In a year I see 2 types of shows Wiijing and myself would be involved in. One would be just normal Wiij gigs, mixing anything from house to mashup to electro, depending on the gig. And the second type of show being a sort of growth of what the premier night was, more of a stage show with with a hybrid WiiJ + band type thing going on. Currently we are working on this show and have some fun ideas to keep what's going on the stage entertaining and dance-able.
SW: Finally, it seems like you're pretty familiar with video games. What have you been playing lately, and what are a few of your all-time favorites?
JL: Well I've always been a fan of the Punch Out (Wii Boxing is ok) and Bomberman games; but as for recent stuff I like the Rainbow Six series, GTA, Splinter Cell... though I like a lot of variety and new ideas in games...
SW: Once again, thank you.
More information, demos and tutorials on Wii DJing can be found at Lesondak's DJ WiiJ Web site.