DJ equipment has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent years, but digital music formats? Not so much -- unless your software is clever enough, you usually have to mix whole tracks rather than just the parts that make sense for your set. Native Instruments aims to fix that with Stems, a free and open file format tailor-made for the DJ crowd. The tracks will play as usual in most music apps, but the right software lets you independently control the bass, drums, melody and vocals. You could drop singing if you don't want it during a transition, for instance, or apply effects to the beat without touching anything else.
While you currently need an up-to-date version of Traktor Pro 2 to handle Stems, that's expected to change once NI publicly launches the format in June. It's not certain that the technology will catch on, but it will have plenty of industry support from day one. Big-name DJ music stores like Beatport, Juno and Traxsource will sell Stems tracks as of June, and well-known labels like Hypercolour (home of Groove Armada and Maya Jane Coles) and Toolroom Records (Mark Knight, UMEK) are throwing their weight behind it. If you head to a dance music festival this summer and notice that one or two sets are particularly creative, you'll know why.