I’ve been to a lot of shows in the past five years. It seems like such a short time, but I really became addicted to going out and seeing my favorite producers perform live and I racked up quite the number of shows. I’m a basshead at heart, but I’ve seen everyone from Datsik to Autograf, from Camo & Krooked to Crookers. SKisM has to be one of my favorites for how he masterfully uses four decks simultaneously to craft intricate and interwoven drops and melodies on the fly. Then again, I really enjoy how Gesaffelstein plays with a crowd, making them wait for it. However, above it all, in all five years, nothing has topped seeing a live act.
Electronic music started out as this sort of counterculture, a conscious movement away from the stereotypical processes of creating music in a band with a guitar, bass guitar and drums. The synthesizer and computer allowed individuals to create sounds all on their own, at their own pace, and with any variety of instruments at their fingertips. For years and years, it was this way – DJs would perform in front of crowds with turntables, now CDJs, and a mixer and blend tracks together. Though in the past few years, there has been a resurgence of live electronic music. I’m talking about Pendulum, Beats Antique, Goldfish, Infected Mushroom, Chase & Status, The Bloody Beetroots, The Crystal Method, even Lindsey Stirling. The addition of a live instrument element on stage is invariably more exciting than just a lone DJ. Compare Netsky’s DJ sets to the live setup and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Live sets, along with more members and instruments on stage, are characterized by only playing the artist’s own tracks. It’s one of the reasons that only artists with a large enough catalogue of their own brave the live act template. Now, we’re seeing a young new face break into the live instrumentation scene by the name of Haywyre. While this young producer doesn’t have a tremendously large following, he has become a viral sensation because of his live performance videos, a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” and now an original titled “Insight.” Martin Vogt has been studying music since the age of six, becoming acutely familiar with a keyboard.
Using live instruments was not really a choice to begin with. The most important compositional tool I have is my keyboard, so it only makes sense to include that in my performances and not just my production process. Besides adding a layer of familiarity (I have more experience playing piano than producing and performing electronic music combined), I also absolutely love being able to improvise upon my own, and sometimes other peoples’s tracks. Obviously directly inspired by my experience studying jazz piano, it is a necessary tool for me to keep performances interesting, but also unique and in the moment.
In many ways, this is one of the defining factors in a live performance, the level of improvisation that an artist can utilize. That’s not to say that a producer with a couple of controllers can’t improvise, but when you have someone with a tactile instrument, even a launchpad or a MIDI fighter, the possibilities are enormous. To be able to create new sounds on the fly rather than merely switch up the next track you’re leading in to something that can only be done when you have that instrument right there in front of you, in your hands.
I had the privilege of attending Modestep’s first live show ever in the U.S. in Los Angeles, and I can’t even begin to tell you how incredible it was to see a live rendition of Knife Party’s “Crush On You” remix. It was something completely unexpected and something that I’m going to remember for the rest of my life. I’ve seen Netsky play his remix of Rusko’s “Everyday” live while Rusko was standing backstage. I’ve seen Chase & Status play “Fool Yourself” live and call for a wall of death. There is an undeniable electricity present at a live show that is conspicuously absent at a DJ set. It’s why there’s been a noticeable shift in the gap between live music and electronic music. Newer acts like Rudimental, Odesza and Disclosure are demonstrating the appeal of a live show and proving its marketability.
And now this year, with new albums from The Prodigy, Modestep, Giorgio Moroder, and new material from Destroid, we’re going to see a lot more live acts. The pendulum is finally beginning to swing back in the other direction, back toward live instrumentation. Of course, all of these acts also do DJ sets because of the hassle and expense in traveling with a live band, but in all honesty, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot more live electronic acts to come out of the wood work this year.
In the end though, electronic music doesn’t need instruments and never will.
I think electronic music production is a unique art form in and of itself that doesn’t require the involvement of instruments to give it credibility. Just like any other art form, it is only as challenging as you make it to be.
image source: tiefenrausch photography