DJing used to be open to only a select few. It demanded an investment: You needed specialty turntables, a massive vinyl collection, deep knowledge of sometimes obscure realms of music.
Hercules, the series of compact, intuitive controllers by France-based Guillemot, has been at the forefront of changing this, transforming the art of DJing into something accessible to avid housepartiers, hobbyists, and young listeners who long to be like their favorite star DJs.
“Before about 2000 or so, it was very expensive to become a DJ,” explains François Garet, music project director at Hercules/Guillemot. “Now, with a file library on a laptop, DJ software, and a controller, anyone can learn to put together mixes that get their friends dancing.”
Hercules controllers run from the highly compact to the professional-grade. Every model has aspiring DJ must-haves like jog wheels and unlike other starter controllers, come with a full version of proprietary DJuced mixing software. Models are designed to pop into a backpack or laptop bag, yet be sturdy enough to take whatever knocks a party brings. With pads, LED lights, and cool glowing accessories, Hercules controllers up the fun.
“We want beginner DJs to be able to start learning to mix right away,” says Garet. “We’ve designed our controllers to make the first DJ experience easy and rewarding enough to inspire the beginner DJ to go further. The skills you learn on a beginner controller translate to more sophisticated equipment, skills like scratching, beat matching, and set curation. And your beginner controller can still serve you as a backup or supplemental piece of equipment.”
Hercules controllers, even the simplest one, help new DJs perfect one of the vital skills of DJing: beatmatching. As Hercules resident DJ and product engineer Victo Bourreau explains, “Even if the technology today can make this skill obsolete thanks to the Sync button, aspiring DJs must learn this basic technique to be able to mix on turntables or do other kinds of DJing in the future.”
Hercules controllers evolved when Guillemot, the hardware-specialized sister company of French gaming software company Ubisoft, realized their highly successful game controllers (the Thrustmaster line) and sound cards might play well together. They combined the two and created a groundbreaking product line of DJ equipment.
“The start of Hercules DJ was when a person at the company asked if it would be possible to use a joystick to control DJ software,” explains Garet. “Guillemot was building Thrustmaster joysticks and Hercules sound cards, so we thought it may be possible to put together a joystick for DJing, with a built-in soundcard. As the USB format made it possible, we started building Hercules DJ Console, the first two-deck controller with a mixer and built-in audio.”
That was in the early 2000s, right as DJing came into its own as a craft and an artform. Digital consoles gained traction overtime, and Hercules proved a leader thanks to its design, which was reminiscent of the good old wheels of steel. Jogwheels, which on some models are pressure sensitive and designed for practicing scratching and perfect beat-matching, are an integral part of even the entry-level controller, and they are sturdy enough to take whatever young DJs dish out.
As technology has advanced, so have the controller features. For more advanced DJs, the Hercules Universal DJ offer three-mode compatibility. Tracks can be controlled from the DJ’s laptop, from a tablet, or from a smartphone via Bluetooth, making it simple to draw on music stored in various devices and to let the next track drop remotely.
Whatever new capabilities or features Hercules employs, the focus remains on aspiring DJs-- their entire line of controllers is priced at under $250 retail--and what will keep them mixing and growing as musical performers. Whatever the controller, the fundamentals remain the same. “You need to listen to a lot of music, anytime you can,” says Borreau. “It really helps to understand how the rhythm works and the power of music. Sharing music with friends is a good way to discover new things. When you master this technique, it’s a powerful feeling: You are in control of the energy on the dancefloor, thanks to the music you are playing.”