Electronic Music: Turning DJ Booths into Concert Stages

Electronic Music: Turning DJ Booths into Concert Stages

by Pete Tremblay
02.02.2012


Music is meant to be experienced…not (solely) listened to. This very concept, birthed from epic performances during the days of traveling minstrels gracing the courts of the medieval world, was in truth and circumstance the only way that ANYONE could ever catch a moment of the performing musicians’ craft. Technology invited engineering geniuses such as Marconi to bring the world music from a magical box in the living room. As all things seem to advance, and before anyone knew it, Bill Haley and the Comets were being blasted into living rooms from coast to coast and American bandstand was being beamed into the tube.

Even as this deluge of audio controlled airwaves, the overwhelming desire to scream at the top of your lungs until you pass out to the smiling, bopping, mop top tossing 2-inch likeness of the Beatles singing ‘Love Me Do’ on national television pushed the experience to a whole new level. This was how music was meant to be enjoyed.

For most audiophiles no matter how many records they own, (especially in the Napster/iTunes world of today) the sacrificial lamb of dedication to your beloved musical deities has always been how much of your hearing has been depleted due to actually experiencing the music live and in person through a 10 million watt sound system. The flashing lights and inevitable spiritual connection to the performers burned freshly into your soul and placed so carefully in your memory that with a few moments of closed eye recall you can actually go back to that moment when Danzig looked deep into your soul with his dark brooding eyes and spit a half gallon of whiskey into your face. Ahhhh! I can almost smell it now!

Enter: The performing DJ into the mix. No live instruments, no back up band, no soaring vocals. The intrinsic and elemental problem with a live electronic performance is for the most part the fact that someone else could very easily play the same mix of the same song, and I didn’t have to pay a $50 cover to check it out. Blatantly, there was no performance element, and it got boring. Ever since the first person jumped behind the wheels of steel and attempted to give the crowd a collective audiogasm, the question has always been begged, “How entertaining can someone behind the decks, wearing headphones, silk shirts and Giant sunglasses be while trying to beatmatch possibly be?” The environment made it easy for the problem to be avoided and covered up if you will… The home of electronic music is the night club. Conceptually dark, dingy, alcoholically tainted; patrons surrounded by dancing, drinking and debauchery; it really didn’t matter what the DJ looked like, how they did that little two step in the DJ booth, or even they were even in the building itself, it was all about the party, not the show.

But how long could that last and still get attention? Why would you as a partygoer ever bother to indulge in a 300% price increase to listen to the same shit and not even be entertained while doing it? Just to say that you were there? How trite and irresponsible and boring and completely un-memorable to boot…that is until recently... when Daft Punk and DeadMau5 decided to fuck it up for the whole class.

A few years ago at Ultra Music Festival in Miami I noticed something truly incredible and out of the ordinary for an event that could be likened to a “rave.” No one was dancing. The teaming masses, eyes fixed forward, hands in the air, two stepping at best, was completely fixated and engulfed with the 30-foot pyramid in the middle of the stage, and the two Robotic space aliens that were at the very top, turntables, 808s, NPCs, and samplers screaming to a crowd of club kids that for the first time were entranced singularly by the performance going on in front of them.

The music was coming alive. The electronics were manifesting into a tangible and (planned) experience that the crowd was indulging in. This was uncharted territory for most DJs, but as the promise land was introduced to artists the bar was being raised far beyond the air of cool that DJS were expected to earn from just being there. The bar was raised and the game had changed. The French trip-hop duo Air, wax philosophically that the idea to entertain was more than just an audio experience. Lyrically expressing that, “We need to use envelope filters to say how we feel/We are the synchronizer/We are electronic performers,” (more on Air in a moment).

Thanks to these trailblazers, electronic musical performances are beginning to evolve into something closer to a rock concert than a night of clubbing. Clubs are being trans-mutated into make shift concert halls, stages, lights, props and all, when certain headliners come through. More often than not, it is the artist’s performance, not only the set list that they are playing, that is the major draw for the audience. The evolution of these shows continues to push the electronic genre and the DJ’s that represent it to greater heights than those of even their rock and roll counterparts. Very simply the formula of audio excellence and party atmosphere inherent to the music that is created has been given a necessary visual and ambient boost that was lacking before, and people are addicted to it.

The physically exuberant performances of the likes of Avicii, Swedish House Mafia, and DeadMau5 have had a huge hand in the progression of electronic performances. The attention is now on the artist and HOW they are performing for you through the music that is coursing through your veins.

Some electronic artists have even gone far beyond the call performance duty and translated their purely electronic recordings into inspired and intricate instrumental performances using all live instruments. For example the French Trip-Hop band Air (I told you I would come back to them!) went as far as to cut out (most) of their pre-recorded electronic elements for their most recent live performances and learned to actually play the instruments themselves. The product is a highly indulgent musical performance that could have put nearly ANY rock musician to shame with pure musicianship, all mixed with the panache and exuberance that is so rightfully attached to the image of the electronic performer. The crowd: fixated, toe tapping, enthralled and entranced by the music; couldn’t take their eyes off of it. Everything has changed, and this musical landscape has yet to be greatly explored. Electronic trailblazers are poised to bring the musical performance into a foreign world, and the audiophiles can barely wait to see the new world ahead of them. 


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