deadmau5: we all hit play

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June 25, 2012 by DJ Elroy

denver, dj, djelroy, elroy, house heads anonymous, digital dancefloor, house, music, techno, electro, edm

its no secret.  when it comes to “live” performance of EDM… that’s about the most it seems you can do anyway. It’s not about performance art, its not about talent either (really its not) In fact, let me do you and the rest of the EDM world button pushers who fuckin hate me for telling you how it is, a favor and let you all know how it is.

I think given about 1 hour of instruction, anyone with minimal knowledge of ableton and music tech in general could DO what im doing at a deadmau5 concert. Just like i think ANY DJ in the WORLD who can match a beat can do what “ANYONE else” (not going to mention any names) is doing on their EDM stages too.   have a look, then let me explain:

okay, so heres me, in a big silly mousehead.. twiddlin a knob or somethin… okay so heres how it works….  Somewhere in that mess is a computer, running ableton live… and its spewing out premixed (to a degree) stems of my original producitons, and then a SMPTE feed to front of house (so tell the light / video systems) where im at in the performance… so that all the visuals line up nicely and all the light cues are on and stuff. Now, while thats all goin on… theres a good chunk of Midi data spitting out as well to a handful of synths and crap that are / were used in the actual produciton… which i can tweak *live* and whatnot… but doesnt give me alot of “lookit me im jimi hendrix check out this solo” stuff, because im constrained to work on a set timeline because of the SMPTE. Its a super redundant system, and more importantly its reliable as FUCK!  And obviously, ive done the show a couple hundred times easily by now, so the focus over the past few runs with the “cube show” has been more revolved around adding new audio / visual content to keep it current.

so thats my “live” show. and thats as “live” as i can comfortably get it (for now anyway)  of course itll evolve, and change up, but im sure a few key principles will always remain the same.

Im just so sick of hearing the “NO!!! IM NOT JUST DOING THIS, I HAVE 6 TABLES UP THERE AND I DO THIS THIS AND THIS”  like… honestly. who gives a fuck?  i dont have any shame in admitting that for “unhooked” sets.. i just roll up with a laptop and a midi controller and “select” tracks n hit a spacebar.  ableton syncs the shit up for me… so no beatmatching skill required. “beatmatching” isnt even a fucking skill as far as im concered anyway. so what, you can count to 4. cool. i had that skill down when i was 3, so dont give me that argument please.

my “skills” and other PRODUCERS skills shine where it needs to shine… in the goddamned studio, and on the fucking releases. thats what counts… because this whole big “edm” is taking over fad, im not going to let it go thinking that people assume theres a guy on a laptop up there producing new original tracks on the fly. becausje none of the “top dj’s in the world” to my knowledge have. myself included.

you know what makes the EDM show the crazy amazing show that it is?  you guys do, the fans, the people who came to appreciate the music, the lights, all the other people who came, we just facilitate the means and the pretty lights and the draw of more awesome people like you by our studio productions. which is exactly what it is. But to stand up and say youre doing something special outside of a studio environment, when youre not, just plain fuckin annoys me.

Couldn’t be so wrong and so right at the same time. Let’s start from the bottom and work our way back.

Yes, a DJ is NOTHING without the fans. It’s the energy and enthusiasm from the crowd that makes an electronic show fun. Just ask any DJ (me included) that’s had to play warm-up to an empty dancefloor. It sucks! And performance is a HUGE part of shows nowadays. Still, you can take the performance out of a DJ set and still have a good show. But can you take out the DJ  or the music and enjoy just the performance?

I agree that anybody expecting to make it big in EDM needs be be good in the studio. That’s a given nowadays. I don’t think anybody is arguing that.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t amazing DJs that have no interest producing their own music. Name one, you might say. I could name plenty of locals, but you’re right, most of the superstars are also producers. Like my point above, there is a difference between being a good jock and having superstar status.

And on to “beatmatching” — yes, of COURSE it is a skill. Have you ever tried to listen to a DJ that DOES NOT HAVE THIS SKILL? ’nuff said. Sure it’s a skill that almost anyone can learn (it doesn’t take talent, only practice); or with todays technology  the beatmatching is done for you. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a skill. But I wouldn’t expect Mr “don’t call me a DJ” to understand it’s more than counting to four. (That sounds more like phrasing anyway). But it surprises me that he doesn’t even acknowledge the importance of it.

On to the main point: Yes, we ALL hit play, whether it’s on a Tech or a CDJ or a laptop or whatever. But the “hands-on” guys do so much more than that. What about beatmatching? I know the ‘mau5 pooh-poohed it, but it’s a very real (and handy) skill. And blending the mix? Transitions? EQing? Phrasing? What about FX? Turtable tricks? Scratching? Sampling? Creating your own live remixes or mashups? Or other intangibles, like reading the crowd and programming a good set?

It’s not as simple as just pushing a button and walking away.

Well, maybe if you’re a laptop jock it is. But that’s not everybody.

But what about the live acts? Maybe it’s different if you’re actually making new music on stage. But don’t say “we all” to include everyone.

And finally, I agree that there are some DJs that think they do more than they actually do. DJing IS NOT like playing an instrument. You guys can line up to bitch because I say being a DJ doesn’t necessarily make you a musician, and it takes A LOT more practice, talent, and skill to play a “real” instrument than it does to DJ. (The exception is turntablists. That’s an artform in itself and not what I mean when I talk about the standard nightclub DJ).

A DJ is nothing without a great track. And — it could be argued — a great track can stand alone. But at a dance club? No. A great track NEEDS a great DJ, otherwise we’d all be replaced by jukeboxes.

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