I came to a realization when watching Madeon and Porter Robinson perform live during their Shelter Live Tour. I realized that DJs/producers have plenty of talents beyond the studio. Occasionally, we get to witness them, for example, when Kygo or Zedd plays the piano live or when Calvin Harris sings on a track. It’s refreshing and welcomed by fans, and I’d go as far to say that most fans would love to see more of this during performances.
The following argument is solely my opinion, and I hope that whether you agree or not that it at least incites a thought, opinion or conversation.
After attending the Toronto stop of the Shelter Live Tour and then the after party DJ set, my friends and I were inspired to compare and contrast the experiences we had at the live set versus the DJ set.
At this point in my dance music journey, the number of DJ sets I’ve attended far outweighs the number of live acts I’ve seen, but more and more artists are starting to include live elements in their shows. I find it hard not to appreciate live instrumentation.
When I saw Porter and Madeon perform together, I did not know what to expect. I avoided all video footage online so I could experience it fresh. The two artists exceeded my expectations, not only in using live samples like I expected, but playing keys, drums and even singing, too.
Photo by Harvit Gill
Photo by Harvit Gill
I have always held live acts that I have the opportunity to see in high regards. I personally love seeing live acts like Justice, Bonobo, The Bloody Beetroots, Disclosure, etc. They elevate their show and efforts to bring a better experience for the fans, but the question is does it matter?
I really don’t think it does, but my friends pointed out some interesting scenarios. It’s fascinating to think whether live dance music shows will ever be overshadowed by DJ sets. Maybe even to the point where if you don’t include live elements in your DJ set, you will have a more difficult time succeeding.
Live performances are growing in popularity and demand. Before the rise of EDM, it wasn’t a necessity that DJs produced their own music. They could earn a living and find success through the art of spinning.
Times have changed.
If you’re not producing original music nowadays, you don’t have the same opportunities when it comes to touring and growing a fan base. It’s not impossible, but it’s undeniably more difficult in today’s electronic music landscape.
Older DJs often look down at younger or newer acts for relying on the sync button or their Macs, while vinyl-only DJs frown upon CD-Js. But why? With technology changing at such a rapid pace, shouldn’t the dance music community – which was founded on innovation – be open to and embrace the incorporation of new tech?
Will live electronic acts start to – or are they already – looking at DJs the same way that vinyl DJs looks at CD-J-users?
To his credit, deadmau5 has been saying this for years. Plenty of artists accuse DJs of being button-pushers that just press play. While DJs really shine in the studio, not much is expected of them once they hit the stage. It’s hard to compare the difficulty levels and skills required for beat matching versus playing an instrument. We can’t forget what is all entailed in becoming a producer though. Music production comes with a very steep learning curve as does any musical talent and, therefore, should be respected equally as one.
The market, however, has become so saturated – thanks to social media and platforms like SoundCloud that empower independent artists – that DJs and producers have to find a way to stick out somehow. Whether that’s creating a live experience or throwing cakes at your fans, something’s gotta set you apart.
A live element in your show in a world with too many CD-Js might do the trick. Not only to give fans a different experience, but to break the negative connotations of DJs as button-pushers. A producer does most of his work in the studio and on a computer, but they still have the opportunity to give fans a unique way to experience that music live. While producers are still mixing in person live, that’s often as “live” as it gets, and it’s not nearly as interactive as a rapper/singer/band on stage. But could it be just as interactive if not much more?
Bands use instruments and live vocals. Rappers use DJs and hype men. The Shelter Live tour proved that one person can take control of vocals, instruments and mixing to make it the highest degree of live performance. Porter and Madeon are raising the bar, demonstrating everything a life act can be and meanwhile proving DJs can do a lot more than press play.
There are easy-to-incorporate elements that DJs can use to make their shows that much more interesting. Datsik, for instance, uses a Launchpad to throw in some loops and samples. Do some artists not do this however because they think it’s working fine without it and they don’t want to put in more effort? Or is it that they just don’t even consider it?
It took a few years of touring first, but Madeon and Porter Robinson have come together to offer a truly captivating live experience. The show breathed new life into their music which made the experience all the more unique.
imagine as more artists attempt and succeed in adding these types of elements, it will one day become the new standard, just like when DJs had to . start producing their own music.
At the same time, I can’t deny all the good times I’ve had at DJ sets. After all, music is music. It’s true that sometimes we take it too seriously. At the end of the day, if you make people dance, you’re a success in my books. Do you think that will always be the case?