For decades, making music with a computer meant wrestling with a tangle of old and new techniques. Then a bit of software called Ableton Live came along, and while it didn't exactly straighten it all out, it did at least offer a new, more intuitive way of working.
Novation's Launchpad controller has been designed specifically with Ableton Live users in mind, although it can also be used with other systems.
The Launchpad doesn't actually make any sounds of its own. Instead it triggers sounds and sequences that you've already set up in Ableton Live (a cut-down version of which is bundled). This makes it a great live performance tool: a sort of halfway house between playing a whole set live and just pressing a button to trigger a backing track.
Ableton Live can be used in many different ways. At its most basic it can be a soundboard, with various audio clips assigned to different buttons. Take it up a notch and you can slot pre-recorded parts of a song (basslines, chords, vocals samples) into a grid and fire them off at will. Either way, the Launchpad makes this very easy to do, as you're hitting multicoloured buttons rather than clicking a mouse on tiny on-screen icons.
Mix and match
DJing with Ableton Live is also simplified with the Launchpad. So long as you've prepared your tunes beforehand, you can mix and match tracks seamlessly. But there's more to mixing than flicking from one track to another, so the Launchpad can also mimic a mixer.
Mixer mode is fine in theory, but fading volume levels and so on with the rubbery pads isn't the most comfortable process. It's likely that you'd want to use it in conjunction with an additional hardware mixer, but at least you have the option of keeping it simple if you need to.
Since you can control external MIDI gear (like drum machines and synths) as well as triggering audio clips, the Launchpad blurs the line between DJing and full-on live performance, opening up all sorts of creative potential. If ever there was a reason to switch to Ableton Live, this is it.