The age of the EDM superstar is here – now where are the rockstars? Festivals are attracting record-breaking crowds that cue up to watch their heros perform “live”, but all too often this simply means pre-recorded mixes and fist-pumping while everyone sings along together to their favorite song. Are the fans really getting their money’s worth? Do they even want more?
As we prepare to enter the second half of 2012, I find myself reflecting on the commonly held idea that music occurs in cycles of twenty-year increments. Almost exactly 20 years ago in 1992, new bands like Pearl Jam, Rage Against The Machine, Nirvana and many others burst onto the stage, filling stadiums and attracting huge audiences. They certainly weren’t playing the same style of music, but I do find some similarities between the sounds of Rage Against The Machine and the heavy sounds of bass music today. Many people have said it’s the metal of our time and if you look at anyone with their “bass face” on, it’s not hard to see why.
With the popularity of EDM exploding, we now have massive electronic music festivals occurring all over the world at a un-precedented level. Here in America, from Coachella to Ultra Music Festival, fans gather in the hundreds of thousands and DJs hold the spotlight backed up by cutting-edge light shows, stage structures and even pyrotechnics. While the entire affair looks similar to large festival shows in the past, I can’t help but notice one glaring omission.
Where is the the rockstar performance?
While most of us never had the opportunity to actually be in the crowd at a Rage Against The Machine or Nirvana concert in the early ninties, fortunately there is some pretty epic footage available on the web. Check out this video from YouTube where RATM absolutely destroy their hit single, “Killing In The Name Of.”
Every time I watch that video—or even think about it—it never fails to give me those trademark shivers that are a great sign of something really good happening. I don’t know if it’s the power of the crowd, or just how connected to their music every member of the band is, but there’s something about that performance and the potency of authentic rockstars onstage that make it really, really, memorable.
Now contrast that with the same equivalent today. Here’s a recent performance of Skrillex at Ultra Music Festival earlier this year:
In that video, the focus is the DJ booth, designed like a giant spaceship that is supposed to go up and down. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking on Skrillex – the songs he produces are intricate, very well produced, and really, really, catchy. It’s no surprise that Sonny recently won three Grammys for his hard work in the studio. It would just be nice to see more substance and less show. People want to see their stars take chances, get raw and really push the limits musically and physically.
Steve Aoki certainly tries; he gets out onstage, sprays everybody with champagne, jumps into the audience for a crowd surf, throws perfectly good cake around with wild abandon (see below), and generally fills his show with rockstar-like antics.
So we’ve got big names, big stages, big lights, and big shows… What’s missing?
THE FEEDBACK LOOP
We recently conducted an interview with Armin Van Buuren (coming soon!) and he puts it best:
Great DJs never play the same set twice, they listen and respond to the crowd as the night progresses (…) To me it’s the small resident DJs that do the best work since they engage in this activity night after night for hours (…) It’s a much harder job than playing a big festival.
Really playing with the crowd is the key power and responsibility of a DJ, which can easily start to disintegrate on big stages. Most modern EDM stars play the same songs, in the same order, in every set, at every festival – “Levels Syndrome”, as our staff has started to call it.
The Levels Syndrome: Hearing the EXACT same version of a song at various tents and stages all day long. Most notably Avicii’s “Levels” in the last year.
Sure big bands of the past also had set lists, but each time the band improvised in a unique way that was fed by the energy of the crowd. The fans pick up this improvisation and respond more, which causes each instrument to play harder – producing a feedback cycle of powerful proportions. I would argue that this experience of really playing “live” to a crowd is essential if EDM wants to have a long life in the spotlight.
The good news is that we are getting close. DJs now use equipment significantly more creatively live, but most are still far from becoming true instrumentalists of their music. We readily admit, the perfect recipe for an amazing performance may come down to personal taste. Not everyone wants to see someone like AraabMuzik bang out every note, but I am confident there exists a healthy balance of playing live and sequencing that will create a memorable experience for both audiences and performers.*
* A notable DJ that did this effectively in the past was Z-Trip with just two turntables and a microphone
IN YOUR HANDS
It’s now up to you, the next generation of EDM superstars, to show us old guys a road to the future. I don’t quite know what it looks like, but I sure know how it should feel: Amazing….
Ean Golden is the founder of Dj TechTools and a worldwide Dj specializing in controllers and new performance technology.
Follow Ean on: Twitter Facebook SoundCloud YouTube
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[…] Lastly, if after all of that you still want more to chew on in regards to this “live” EDM general concept/debate, then you should check out a solid article that DJ Techtools posted last week on a similar theme called: The Age of the EDM Rockstar […]
It seems to me like a Renaissance of what was going on in Europe (Germany, UK, France) in the 90’s… Few years ago America discovered Electronic Music, called it EDM and made new “Rockstars” 🙂
It’s kind of funny to watch the kids jumping to the lazer shows and making heart symbol with their hands.
There is no movement anymore, no angry punks and grunge kids like in the 80’s-90’s. only bedroom producers dreaming of beeing number 1 in the beatport charts…
This comment is perfection.
so i decided to try something last night. got about 40 ft. of xlr directly into my little netbook (enough to let me move around). mapped all the keys i could reach with my thumbs when holding it in my hands and in the middle of my set, fade over to the it and walk out onto the dance floor and rock out. you should try it. great way to meet and greet. connect with your crowd.
Love this thread.
Coupla things here. 1.I saw The Clash and Grandmaster Flash play together at the same show, so I guess that makes me about 10 years older than even the ‘ancient’ RATM fans on the thread, or maybe I just started waaay younger. LOL
This argument has been going on as long as there has been electronic music – the Moog Modular or ARP 2600 fans scoffed at the Yamaha DX7 because it had no knobs / controllers for live tweaking – it was for sequencing or keyboard wankers, not for electronica.
For the bit about how performers look on stage, F that, dance, it’s dance music if you really want to stage dive, do so. But skip the light show, that’s just tacky. I looked at the skrillex vid on here and was shocked at how few were dancing in the audience *well maybe not it’s skrillex* but also, I was at the club the other day here, and most ppl were standing around.
I kind of agree with some of your comments but this whole controllerism thing is to get people looking at you or what’s the point???
If you don’t look at the performer/artist/DJ waht’s the point of them being there. If it was just reading the response of the crowd we have technology that can do that already, the clubs might as well stick it on auto and forget about us all together.
Not only that as much as I like RATM I don’t think that live performance was that great (way more energy in the studio release). If you want a shiver check out Adele:
When Paul McCartney stands up you know it’s a special moment…
Completely different genre, but that’s waht I call killing it!!
Finally check out DJ Delimentary (DJ Delboy) he does on CDJ’s what most of ust strive to do on a controller…
Yet he’s relitively unknown
As Skrillex there are much better Dub Dj’s about but you can’t question peoples taste, it’s just that… Not my prefference but each to their own I guess.
The DJ industry has always been and no doubt always will be who you know more than what you know (or can do).
There are plenty of well known international DJ’s that are simply shocking at performing but look great…
As someone who had just graduated from high school in 1992, and went the the first Lollapalooza in Canada (RATM/Soundgarden/PearlJam/RHCP/Ministry/etc), I grew up moshing. Bands worked their asses off up on stage, and the crowds were seething masses of hair, flannel and sweat.
First time I saw Skrillex, i was like “hey, this is just today’s mosh music…it’s something 18 year old boys like me could get off on. it’s the same vibe. “Killing In The Name” has one of the first “drops” I can remember feeling live. It was that same “holy shit, it’s about to get crazy in here” vibe…and Ian was right to compare it…it’s the same thing. Bang on old man. You nailed it. This is just the 20 year cycle coming back. It’s like that scene in Contact where the aliens hear our broadcasts, and send them back to us…supercharged. Skrillex, brostep, and the bass music movement is the same thing pretty much…just a bit less hair, and different drugs. Same deal though.
I think he’s missed one big group though in his article that have really broken through this barrier…Pendulum. They were the first real rock stars of the EDM age, IMO.
They started as a metal band, so it’s no wonder they made the “band” the focus. I loved watching them, and it’s sad they’re not doing it anymore. I think there are other groups out there making a stab at it…but so far not many have really crossed over like they have.
I think it’ll happen…the video/lighting aspect has risen, but there’s always going to be room for rock stars…people love seeing musicians up on stage, and that will keep developing with the technology.
But, I think EDM needs a phallic instrument like a guitar to really break that barrier. It’s a symbol with meaning, and running around with launchpads taped to you just isn’t the same as rocking out on a guitar. The Ztar that Rob Swire from Pendulum uses is a step in that direction, and I’m sure we’ll see some crazy stuff in the future that makes it easier for producers to get up there and rock out with their *** out.
One thing I should point out about the first Lollapalooza though…Ministry. They’re “EDM”…and it was the first time I’d ever seen an electronic act get up there and rock out. It does go both ways, and it’s been around for a while.
But, it’s about to get big…people like Skrillex have brought a bit of rock back to EDM, and that’s cool. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes.
I feel like if someone is DJ-ing for real, like mixing real time and can’t take his/her hands off the board that’s a real performance of course, but there may not be the ‘rockstar’ feel. Even if they really want to add it.
… Something Ive come to terms with since I lost the ‘feeling’ — substantial artists will always come into fruitration and represent the movements and tones that are historical and ground breaking .. we’ve learned this after 4000 years of visual art — I feel as though Popular music is the place of the impressionist painters some 140 years ago. However — It is so commercialized with the commercial standard so completely brainwashed into the listener and artist … that it may never find the re-invention that we can study in the visual arts taking place at the turn of the century and onset of the industrial revolution. However — music might take an equally interesting developmental leap — as the world undergoes an equally important evolution — the realization of the finale and the assessment of our inevitable demise as a culture and industrial movement . The standard commercialization of music due to its almost monofilament physical manifestation … and the reactions of true artists to bring music beyond that … is something to understand and talk about as its happening. Questioning everything about what we are doing ? Understanding that suddenly .. our motivation might be uprooting and destroying the very core values orf musical integrity.. I often think of this in terms of the realization of our place in the timeline of the other and greater Visual Arts … EDM culture might most specifically be thought of as a movement and crunch known as Simulcrum. please look this over.
To me a DJ just has to love the music there playing just as much as me!
cats like Gaslamp Killer, Flying Lotus etc. don’t have to jump around or yell for crowd reaction. They’re just so into the music, you feel the vibe as well. hell i could go the whole show with my eyes closed and only look up to see flylo smiling his face off!!!
screw the festivals, i say. Boiler Room is where it’s at.
love this article..keep up the good shit..bro
BIG LOVE from BANGKOK =)
I don’t get it. You said you want more substance and less show, but then you commend Steve Aoki for doing a good job at making it a great show. EDM is different than other genres. We don’t want a big show. We just want music. We just want you to stand behind the decks and create/manipulate/play music. Music music music. We don’t want you to press play and then go throw cakes at people. Anybody can go do that…
all I have to say is:
The Gaslamp Killer
In the words of Brennan Heart “Dj’s these days they wanna be a rock star. They’re mother fucking idiots that can’t play the guitar”.
Ich much prefer the party is the superstar approach from detroit… I like EDM because of the lack of rockstars…
I am here > Live hip Hop ragga Dub house!
It doesn’t matter how many space ships you build on stage or how many midi controllers you bang. Bands that were mentioned in this article are cult bands. They have the energy that no other dj or producer had. Most of their songs are immortal most of electronic musicians music will be forgotten in year or two. How you can even compare live band with a dj or producer? This article is just stupid.
the problem with rockstar DJs is that people have their eyes on them all the time that’s why sometimes they needed to act as if they are mixing. But, in a club setting you really don’t have to turn the knobs 100 times a minute, because nobody is really looking behind your shoulders since everybody is having a great time dancing rather than waving their hands with the DJ.
One word…. “Prodigy”
If all you do is play premise sets or beatmatch and crossfade, there’s no performance. Anyone today can do this, if youre a serato Dj I want to see scratching/beat juggling/and or quad decks.
Ableton Djs better be triggering multiple samples, loops and or effects. That’s the point of live.
Personally I use my APC40, MPK and iPad touch OSC live to make a performance and have my hands on something throughout. Not just stabdinf waiting to do my next crossfade.
I think the problem today is that there’s a gap betwin the crowd and the dj (in big sets) the DJ is as you could see behind a table wich does some cool stuff (also check deadmau5 table) and then you see the laptop the mixers, and behind all of that you hardly see a face of someone that looks like is doing something with the mixer, all night long…
i think that wall should be broken, now in the wifi, bluetooth, wireless era controllers shouldn’t be usb cabled, they should be wireless!! i imagine some confortable controller that you can actually carry and hang it like a gitar and play the set with more feeling!! try to do a perfect mix of the rockstar show and the EDM and take the best of both worlds!.
not tring to do the best set like that but the best performance!!
it should be nice to see soon a midi fighter pro wirles!! with a battery and shit!!
to roll around the stage trigering fx and samples!! and even changing songs, that could be posible with the novation launchpad!!!
I want to say sorry for the spelling, I’m spanish and it’s 2:30 am and I’m not in the mood to check the spelling !Thanks for the article dj techtools
I think the problem nowadays is the big separation betwin the public and the dj, the table, the mixer,cdj, laptop…. all that stuff makes the dj look he is distant to the crowd, i think that there is a lack of a wireless controller that is confortable to walk around with it lik if it was an instrument with that the integration would be better!!
Right now we have the dj and the crowd! but with that controller would be a perfect blend of oldschool rockstar live performance and actual EDM
last year i read a few articles and forum posts that were bemoaning the likes of DJs who checked facebook during their set instead of rocking out with the crowd. granted, that’s not the most focused someone can be and they are missing out the crowd interaction while letting the song on deck actually play (instead of tweaking and messing with an already complete production). now I am reading complaints of the rockstar DJs who are acting silly like steve aoki and tiesto because they are not tweaking the knobs and sliders every four measures and jumping around like cheerleaders.
the connection to the audience is a crucial one. when i see someone pump and jump around i see someone who loves the music and the moment and is in heaven making this connection with everyone else celebrating how effing awesome life is at that moment. that’s what performers crave, that moment of connection and energy exchange that is magnified with every audience member.
Your looking at dance music through the prism of rock music, which doesn’t really work. Rock music is all about big egos on stage shouting “look at me!” through their performance. A good dj works the other way round – he’s focussing on the crowd and how they’re reacting, tailoring the set to them. The crowd don’t really need to be focussed on the dj at all to have a great night.
“An economic recession/recovery is a cycle. Climate goes through cycles. Some business trends go through cycles. Where has there been a “cycle” within the evolution of EDM? If anything, it’s momentum is gaining, without any hint of retreat.
Eventually, it will cool off and join hip-pop among the wastelands of top40 radio. But that’s about as “cyclical” as this process can be.”
That was the point I was getting at in my reply and even that article I posted a link to.
I dunno, I imagine by next year or the year after, we won’t be seeing a lot of these massive fests happening because the mainstream populace will have moved on to some new genre of music…then we walk into good clubs and see craftsmen on the decks (analog or digital) doing what we all admire.
I just look at the point of this article and for me it just seems like nothing new when you think back to the last 10 years. I think most of those who go to the fests go to be in a big massive and see these big names make an appearance, but I’ll see those who admire the craft look for smaller events where the DJ in question does his craft.
I agree EDM is not going to retreat, and again that was the point I made on my blog. I’m simply saying for all those “worried” that we’re losing skill and craftsmanship in DJing (and I’m not sitting here making some case for manual beatmatching on analog gear), they should lighten up and just see this as one of those mainstream rises in the whole thing.
Frankly, I love the new technology, the evolution, and all that’s happened. I like even how Deadmau5 and PvD came out on Madonna for her Molly comment…mainly because it tells me EDM artists want to be seen as more than “drug music”.
I understand the viewpoint of the article and of many out there expressing disdain for this EDM massive mainstream popularity. I agree the massive festival thing has made DJ skills or even just playing live with a sync an “optional” idea for some…as they do just show up to make an appearance over actually performing.
I won’t sit here though thinking DJing is dying and get all negative on the politics and popularity contest that happens. This is nothing new in my book, as I’ve seen this happen even before Traktor existed. It’s just a cycle of things. Eventually the mainstream world will latch on to something new and the wannabes will vanish from the scene…leaving those passionate about the DJ holding the torch. I’ve seen dance music jump up and down in popularity since the early 90s…and in every case it never spelled the demise of our culture. Wrote a blog on this to explain: http://d-jam.com/tdGDTiZ
Finally, many out there need to realize that the average person attending some massive to see a guy do Jesus poses is not the same kind of person who is passionate about the culture. It’s always been that way. You think many who went to Second Summer of Love events like Energy were there for just the music and DJs? Or to be in a big massive party full of drugs?
Let the average folk have some fun and stop overanalyzing. Eventually 90% of those people will grow older, have kids, and stop going out. The other 10% will dive deeper down the rabbit’s hole and become tomorrow’s top promoters, EDM journalists, acts, producers, etc. I’ll never forget how many average people started off their EDM love with Oakenfold and Tiesto in the 90s…but later abandoned those guys for Hawtin and Aphex Twin.It’s summer…stop worrying and just have some fun. 🙂
“I won’t sit here though thinking DJing is dying and get all negative on
the politics and popularity contest that happens. This is nothing new
in my book, as I’ve seen this happen even before Traktor existed. It’s
just a cycle of things.”
An economic recession/recovery is a cycle. Climate goes through cycles. Some business trends go through cycles. Where has there been a “cycle” within the evolution of EDM? If anything, it’s momentum is gaining, without any hint of retreat.
Eventually, it will cool off and join hip-pop among the wastelands of top40 radio. But that’s about as “cyclical” as this process can be. I too saw the migration of a physical format to a digital interface. I don’t count that as a cycle. I see that as an upgrade.
If anything, EDM in it’s current form is a product of the early 90’s dance music you reference. And in it’s current form, I can’t see it getting anymore popular.
You say you won’t sit there and politicize, yet you provide a link to your argument. Telecommunications, or the advancements within, have provided dramatic and permanent improvements to the way knowledge is spread and consumed. DJing and EDM isn’t an exception to casualties of convenience, which is what Ean’s article somewhat describes.
The proliferation of musical data, the accessibility of production resources, and instantaneous communication has created an ecosystem where near-overnight success is possible. (Example: Rebecca Black.) This creates a sense of false craftsmanship, and this is where we get confused between the concept of rockstars and DJs, because of the stigma DJs carry with respect to musical originality, and the cultural notion of what a rockstar is.
I agree with most of what this article was saying but I think a DJ’s performance needs to be tailored to the venue. When someone is playing a festival like Ultra or EDC, I think it’s best for them to play the latest chart toppers. People want to hear those bangers that they’ve come to love and lots of people will be there who may be new to the EDM scene so they wouldn’t get so much out of a technically brilliant set that leaves out familiar songs.
On the other hand, when those same DJs are playing a club or other smaller venue, then I think they need to be more in tune with the crowd and play a wider selection of music. They should focus on their technique and delivery more and assume that the crowd is more familiar with the EDM scene.
I think it really comes down to the venue and crowd they’re playing for. Am I totally off?
It’s arguable that DJ/producers have gained the equivalent status of a rock band. Are they really rock stars or glorified cover bands – remixing other people’s music, beats and samples? I think their growth and popularity is larger driven out of record labels and distributors looking to salvage a struggling music marketplace. It’s written and spoken everywhere that the bare essential of a DJ is the connection he or she has with the crowd. Are they dancing? or just hanging around? What’s the mood? You can argue, DJs banging out a pre-recorded set to 50,000 plus people is not listening to the guys in the back but only the people upfront at the stage.
The best musical experiences I’ve had (with a few exceptions) have been in those small intimate venues where rock and house grew up. Where you can not only see each other but that metaphysical connection between performer and listener is made… which makes the vibe so amazing. HOUSE FOREVER
I think you’re trying to find a problem, when there actually isn’t. People are getting what they want. EDM is not metal or rock’n’roll. EDM doesn’t (usually) have a message or intense on stage performances. It’s about dancing to your favorite music for an amazing quality show. The biggest difference between now and 20 years ago? MDMA.
I thinkg EDM lovers eventually will become over-saturated with the overabundance of EDM (because of how easy it is to put on amazing shows) and eventually we will see a return to the ‘performance’ aspect of on-stage music. Until then… don’t expect EDM to do much else but blast humongous tunes at people with ridiculous light shows.
Tom Morello’s guitar is more of a rockstar than any of the above mentioned pussy edm performers
Just give me a dirty club and some deep dirty filthy house music PLEASE. Screw all the mainstream crap. It’s all just Britney Spears and Justin Biebers of electro cheese. We are taking dance music in America and over the top mass marketing it like country started doing to get a foothold in pop music. This is getting ridiculous now especially with ticket prices climbing upwards to 100 bucks and water costing 10. PLEASE! ENOUGH!
Please please FFS stop using this crap term EDM its just dance music.
yes, it is dance music. electronic dance music. E D M. lol
EDM is a crap term made up by some American marketing person to try and pigeon hole something.Do you know of much none electronic dance music? Having played dance music for nearly 30 years this EDM term has only recently started to be used and it gets right up my nose.
Mined from your very own forums!
Steve Lawler On the nature of EDM nowadays:
“It’s just changed. And I have to be brutally honest here … And this
is something that I have wanted to say for a while now. Maybe it’s not a
direct answer to your question, but I don’t believe “EDM” is even what
we do. Dance music is not the same as house music. Yes, it makes you
dance — we all know that! But what I have seen happen in America in the
last two years is the explosion of commercial pop-electro-dance music
and so many people think it’s the same culture, the same scene as what
we do with house and techno, and it isn’t! It so isn’t. Just because
they’re both electronic produced tracks does not mean they should exist
in the same scene. If I wanted to listen to pop music, I would choose a
ballad or a rock song or something that just means something. This
electro-pop-dance that all the R&B artists are jumping on is the
worst music I have ever heard in my whole life — cheap, no soul, no
meaning. [It’s] only made to make money. I don’t even like calling what
we do dance music, because some people think it’s a part of that. What
we do is house and techno, and it does have a meaning and a feeling.
Just as it’s always been, and just how it will always be for us that
love house music”.
Although it doesn’t address the article’s topic head on, Mr. Lawler has some good insights into the dynamics of the industry.
As with hip hop, it’s the form of music that counts. Nobody thought hip hop would balloon into what it is today, culturally and musically. Same with EDM.
EDM is, and will always be EDM…it’s the context that matters. On one end of the spectrum, you have SHM and Madison Square Garden. On the other, you have Amon Tobin’s ISAM and Eric Prydz’s EP/IC concert.
Case in point: Kaskade. The guy is a magnet for club girls and premium nights, but he still is in touch with his roots enough to maintain a signature sound and style that’s uniquely his, and not compromised by commercial success.
Ean’s article highlighted a trend, but doesn’t make an argument. Neither does Armin’s quote. Excellent, but what is he saying exactly, with reference to Ean’s article? Or what was Ean trying to get at by selecting this quote?
Armin’s quote is exemplified by my recent night out at The Mayan with John Digweed. There are a few caveats to take from this night: 1) Diggers has been doing this for the past 11 years; 2) At the same club; 3) On Wednesday nights.
The Wednesday night rationale is that the “true fans” and not the club kids will populate the place. And did they. The energy and vibe was unmatched, unlike any festival/weekend headlining night I’ve been to in the past few years. I can only imagine what it was like during his heydey with Sasha and when Digweed was king of EDM. Even now, almost 10 years after being voted #1 DJ, Digweed stayed true to his celestial and destructive sound, and most importantly, fans, by staging the same club night, with the same premise, in the same location. no fancy lighting, no upgrades to the scope of the show, just Digweed at his purest. Again, AvB’s quote is magnified in the context of Digweed’s Mayan shows, as he claims it’s one of his favorite nights because of the intimacy of the crowd. Only as a DJ do you develop this 6th sense.
Digweed will never embrace the rockstar mentality, nor do his fans want that for him. Why? Re-read the Steve Lawler quote. DJing is, and always will be, a different musical skill than playing a guitar, singing, or drums. Maybe it’s that reason (the visual disconnect, situation-based flexibility, lack of musical transparency) that DJ’s will never be “experienced” as the same as rock stars, even if the “perception” of them might reach those Levels.*
*(Yes, I intended that)
The only time I would ever play a pre-recorded mix was if it was in the beginning of a night and nobody was in the venue yet. I can’t believe that some of these “performers” get paid what they do, and are afraid to make a mistake in a live set. Imperfection is what makes us human.
if a fan found out that Rage was lip singing at a concert, they would lose a ton of credibility as an artist. It’s really not that hard to mix two tracks together, thats just fundamental djing. Much harder to play traditional instrument in a band.
The new breed of edm is different than the days of Oakenfold and Van Dyk heyday. This new stuff is bringing people into the fold who have no prior knowledge of electronic music culture and don’t seem to care to find out. People who don’t even comprehend that the guy in the booth isn’t taking your requests. Technology is a beautiful thing, but it’s ultimately a tool. That tool can be used (much like a hammer) to build a majestic cathedral or a porta potty depending on the hands guiding it. Now that ANYBODY can be a dj, the line between crowd and performer is more blurred than ever. I have woken up and found that 3 people with no prior experience have become djs at a house party the night before. You can hop in so quick these days, that the knowledge and appreciation you’d acquire for more sincere music is n/a.
Sorry to totally disagree with the whole article but we have had electronic acts better than these mentioned. Pendulum had a whole band and was one of the best live shows going.
But the reality is always economics. It takes more cash to fund a 5 piece no matter what it is versus a bloke behind decks, the light shows are standard now and are where the extra cash is going.
There will always be bands but it’s sad that crowds only want EDM as real instruments sounds way better live in comparison as transients can be louder and more impactful than that of heavily limited dance.
On radio music is limited to a certain RMS level so well produced tracks are a preference to squashed EDM that sounds worse than a poor balanced pop record.
I miss they days of raw bands.
to be a rockstar you have to know how to use instruments…..to be a DJ superstar you just have to be like skrillex and butcher live shows with ableton….tuff day.
Great article! The last few EDM shows I’ve been to were at festivals. They seem to pull crowds that are not there for music. They are there to eat X, get spun out & talk to friends.
You’ve defined that there is a difference between “EDM Superstar” and
“EDM Rockstar” but I don’t see anything that sets them apart in your
article. If you’re going to ask us “Where are the EDM Rockstars?” at least give us some description of what you’re looking for.
The word “Rockstar” (to a lot of people) is loaded with emotion. Some people insist that a Rockstar must actively be playing something live, somehow psyching up the crowd or even pushing limits of the art. I call these people; Band members, Instigators and Pioneers.
Are we then looking for the “Bad Boys/Girls” of EDM?
People who have to work with Rockstars think of the “Talent” as “Unjustifiably self-important babies who complain and throw fits when they don’t get everything they want exactly the way they want it, leaving other people to clean up their messes while everyone else puts in more hours, does more and gets less-to-no appreciation.” I don’t want this definition of “EDM Rockstar” to ever exist, I’m very intolerant of this attitude.
I think the old rules don’t define what performance is anymore, information is now freely available, technology is cheap, Rockstar “Blow-ups” become virally-comedic within a half-hour of when they happen and what makes something popular today cannot glibly be copied and pasted onto how things are done today from 20 years ago. Oddly enough, “EDM” sounds more like the “EBM”, “Techno” and “Pop” of back then more than it sounds like “Grunge” and I (for one) am happy about that.
very well written and said!
I´ve been lucky enough to see ratm twice in the last years (they theme so love germany) and i also saw metallica a couple of times and many more of the big ones (linkin park, muse …) and also deamau5 and fatboy slim.
to be honest the best show so far was ratm but right after that it was deadmau5. his lightshow and the way he enjoys that he is allowed to play for you was enough.
he didnt need to trash a guitar or scream stuff so we scream it back.
i think electronic music is missing the roots to epic live performances like gunsnroses because it was born in studios, and not on stage. it shouldnt try to be anything it isnt and if any dj fells right to have a kickass show without faking it he should go ahead. maybe like beardyman with the loops and stuff i think thats a way to perfom with a crowd.
Finaly i think if they keep making music that stays this fresh and inspired they dont need a show that tries to look like something else, to stay in the bussines.
i’m 34 years old, and i don’t plan on becoming a super dj (by today’s standards); simply because i don’t twist enough knobs and jump around like a kid on a pogo stick. i mean, i can do that of course, but that’s not my thing. all a dj ever needed was 2 turntables, a mic, and an instant replay of some sort (sampler or sample deck). nowadays we need 3000 knobs for our time in between songs so that we won’t bore the crowd. our audience responds to what we give it; therefore, knob twisting beat writing equals knob twisting performances. in the end, as long as we enjoy ourselves and the audience does too, that is all that matters in my opinion.
Why was Death Crew 77 not mentioned here?
There are controllerists and there are djs. Pick one an try to be the best you can be at it. If you want to jump around and pour stuff on people, go ahead. We don’t need to feel forced to do things a certain way. Making sure your sound is on point is always going to be better than a rockstar performance. Now let’s hope this doesn’t start a war between controllerists and djs.
3-4 years ago this could have been called WARP 1977 syndrome
I think part of it is because people just being introduced to EDM in the past few years are blurring the line between PRODUCER and DJ.
In Rock, it was all the same; you played live the same way you recorded, with just you and your instruments. The best rockstars improvised and fed from the crowd as much as possible (such as the feedback loop that was mentioned) but it was the same idea: playing instruments.
So songs like Levels become immensely popular… and as with any popular song, people want to hear it live at a concert! but how can Avicii, or any other producer, perform it live? It isn’t worth their effort in their mind, but people don’t care anymore, as long as the right sound comes out of the speakers.
BUT, this is not to say there aren’t any modern producers that aren’t good DJs, let’s not forget that. notably someone like Laidback Luke, who has had hits like Turbulence and Timebomb but is still a sick DJ with great mixing ability. His sets are always vastly different, and he has his own unique style and set of tracks. We need more people like that.
Exactly how were people like RATM and Nirvana “pushing the limits” more “musically and physically” than someone like Skrillex?
Physically: By jumping around on stage?Musically: By playing the same songs they’ve played thousands I’ve times before?Discounting level of difficulty, the difference between a DJ set and a Rock set is that the DJ is in a Jesus post and the Rockstar is in a fist-pump pose.
I can’t believe you are compared RATM and Nirvana to Skrillex you really need to learn some more about music… For one thing both of those bands had front-men that sung about issues that people can relate to and sung with so much passion. Not only that, every single note of every song is played completely live with instruments (eric morello is probably one of the most influential guitarists of the last 20 years) at a level of energy draining aggression that’s beyond anything Skrillex will ever be able to do with a laptop. Don’t get me wrong though DJ’s and live electronic artists are impressive in their own way but they just arn’t the same as a live band which isn’t a bad thing.
Not ‘eric morello’, Tom Morello is the guitarist from Rage. Eric Morello is an old house deejay from New York.
Dammit! I’ve been listening to too much house! haha
I’m 19, have been an electronic music fan for a mere 5 or so years and guess what? I didn’t goto edc this year. I went DEMF. And I’ll be going every single year from now on. The environment there was what big scale edm should be.
On an a different note I really don’t understand the superstar mentality towards djing. I get that big productions are amusing and I’ve experienced and enjoyed them. What’s exciting right now is that everyone can experience dance music via modern technology. This doesnt mean everyone can be a rockstar but just the opposite. Dance music is unquestionably democratic and it is one of its best aspects. In fact the linkage between it’s sense of democracy and the democratic potential of the Internet is a reason for its success of late.
haha well it’s nice to know someone agrees!
I imagine EDC would be worse than Hell
I’m looking at this a different way. I’ve been waiting for music’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit moment” for a long time. Just like you are talking about in the article. Right now we have the same recipe as we did in the early 90’s and the time has come for a major shift, a cleaning house, getting rid of the shit and replacing it with something new, something good, quality. Skrillex at Ultra DOES NOT equal what I am talking about. Not one bit! Brostep is not the new grunge!!!
And it’s not just dance music I’m talking about, it’s all popular music. It like it’s 1991 all over again, except even worse! I think crossover American dance music is just talking it’s cues from the rest of the shit that has been popular American music for the last 10 years.
The time has come! Something needs (and is bound) to happen!!!
As someone whose old enough to remember 1992 as well I think another set of artists its worth referring back to in terms of combining that live sense of energy and cutting edge dance/rock crossover are the likes of the happy mondays, new order, shamen, stereo mcs etc. That whole period from 88 to 94ish still had a lot of classics to be rediscovered.
Great article, Ive been thinking about this a lot over the last few months, and i believe armin’s quote is totally on point. but the problem stems from the venue, a resident dj has a harder job than a chart-topping producer/dj because at a huge festival they have built in fans, theres no incentive to work for a good show because the quality of the show for most people has already been decided. An uneducated fan will most likely go to a festival and see their favorite producer “play” a set and love it, and many of these big names know that. thus they capitalize on the blind love of their fans and minimize their risk of screwing up. I see no real cure for this, avicii, skrillex, guetta, etc. will keep playing their music for their fans because they can, and resident djs will still pour their souls into their sets because they have to. its up to the fans of the genre not the individual artists to decide which one theyre going to go see.
holy smokes sandor…of all these people you are the most DEAD on you could possibly be…thats how it is. most fan base don’t know otherwise and love it. I’m a huge house fan so i notice mixes are repeated by axwell, guetta, etc. local djs have to work much harder cause they are unknown and have to earn the crowd far greater then these superstars do. thats just how it is.
The age of the EMD rockstar was here a long time ago in my opinion. It’s one of the few key things that helped to kill off and ruin rave culture in my opinion. Well, that, the drugs, and influx of the wrong type of new crowds coming in; many coming just for the drugs/
I went to an Avicii live and I regretted it at first. But then thought: this is good, this is not what I want to be. Watch and learn: this is something that you want to avoid.
One thing as well, which is why I believe a lot of electronic music these days have these huge shows, is the instruments. It’s very easy to relate to guitars, bass, drums, singers and, to a point at least, keyboards, because almost everyone – at least those who aren’t tripping out of their minds – will understand the basics of what the musicians are doing. At least in a “oh he’s hitting the guitar like that, and the music changes when he goes like that”-way. It’s not really the same way with controllers, at least not yet by my experience. They may catch on that pressing those buttons plays the music, but there are so many buttons, and so many other things. I used to play in bands before I got into making electronic music, and the crowd did really look at it in a whole different way back then.
With the relative ease to have visuals now, it seems like something one has to have to keep the audience engaged visually, because for all my knobwork and buttonmashing, I might as well be building a computer in front of them. After a gig, people usually come up and talk as I’m cleaning up my controllerist mess, and they ask some questions about what I do and what that little box does etc, and I try to explain it as best as I can, but that didn’t really help them during the gig, and they couldn’t really see what I was doing anyway.
I’m not a DJ, and the stuff I play is glitchy, chill ambient that doesn’t really inspire people to dance, and that’s not what I’m going for. I usually play small cafes and the people that do come are into that music (or maybe they’re just really, really good friends?), but I do feel odd standing on a stage, fiddling knobs and mashing buttons and whatnot, because they’re all looking at me, and I know that they don’t understand most of it, if anything. I would like to do visuals, but unless I actually have a purpose to do the visuals, apart from just giving the audience something else to look at, it would just be halfhearted and pointless.
To be honest, what I would like to do for the next gig, unless I all of the sudden use visuals that I feel brings something besides a visual stimulation to the music, I would like to rig up on a table, preferably by a couch, and just sit there, perhaps even chat a little with people and show them what I do while I’m playing, and people could sit and relax and not feel that it would be impolite not to pay attention to me. Preferably, I would like to be invisible even, but I don’t think that’s happening in the near future. It’s not a matter of not wanting to be a rockstar, but simply acknowledging that it is slightly weird having people stare at me, out of courtesy perhaps, but having no clue of what I’m doing, etc.
Blip blop bleeep blopblop blip.
What we have here is the new school way of the corporations behind these acts/events adapting to be able to generate BIG money. The same people that brought you gimmicks such as N’ Sync, Eminem, Taylor Swift, and The Hanson Twins. Though it may seem that an “underground” scene is in the spotlight, it’s simply not the case. Sure a few of the names we see in the line ups are legends in their respective genres, they’ve got to make it seem authentic. It’s all a gimmick, like mainstream music has been since about the era Ean mentions in this article. They bite off of artists that are defining a genre, create a puppet, and have every medium that plays music saturate that airwaves with it.
I think The Glitch Mob does an amazing job at connecting to the audience. They angle their jazzmutants and other midi controllers towards the audience so that people can actually see their hands at work, and also, being a 3 person group, they capture some of the creative energy that can be found between the members of a rock band. We need more electronic artists focusing on energetic PERFORMANCE and not simply playback. Great article Ean.
They also throw in one of more drum solos with one or two of the guys playing on large electronic drums kits with sticks with adds an improvised component to a rather planned set…
When I went to see Steve aoki he did not even touch the booth once
I’d rather have someone playing music up there like skrillex than aoki
My thought about this whole article and the whole scene of these a$$holes like Aoki and Guetta and the clowns stage diving, running around on stage with hands up etc is this:
I have been DJing for quite some time and have travelled around the world playing infront of massive crowds as well as tiny intimate clubs. There have been plenty of times my hand went up in the air for a brief second, but never once did I act like a jackass and jump up and down like I was curing cancer or anything like that. Its ok to get into what you are doing, except when you aren’t actually doing anything, like when these clowns play mix cds etc.
I don’t know it it is my techno background, but I would rather be totally in the zone making sure my mixing, looping, and sampling are 100% on before anything else. With that being said, I can remember as teen in the very early 90s going to see techno acts perform live and I was so appreciative when the DJ was so in the zone just paying attention to his mix and what he was doing. I went to hear the best set that dj could deliver, and if he poured champagne on me I probably would have found him after his set and beaten the shit out of him. The US has sadly disappointed me so much over the last 5-10 years with their lack of good music and now this whole movement of these terrible DJs and clowns being honored for their lack of talent is just another straw to add to the camel’s broken a$$ back.
I appreciate all types of music so its not really about the genre that is causing it, it has to do with the terrible DJs and the people who support it… I could honestly rant and rave about this topic forever. Sometimes I love to just rip these dudes on my facebook, hell I just ripped Avicii the other night on there… It is sad that music is becoming such garbage in our country here, but its our own fault. Until promoters, clubs, and the general public react and actually make a pressing movement not to book these jerks or pay hundreds of dollars to go see them nothing will help it die off. I just wish that people would wake up.
Ok! End rant!
Same here. I like to be “in the zone” both while djing, and while being in a crowd, dancing. I don’t care about the crowd, don’t need to feel “a part of something bigger”, don’t need to move with them or anything. I don’t even want too much improvisation by artists on stage (too much deviation from what i know and like them for). I want to experience the music.
For a rock concert, people might want to feel united, rebellish, raging against the maschine. I don’t. I want to enjoy the music.
So I can’t care less how the sound gets played (except for the geek curiosity in me). I want it to sound good.
I started to love deadmau5 for the live performances he made on stage. When I go see him today, I don’t expect that same level of performance. But I don’t care. I want to enjoy the music, and the tons of LEDs (love them :)). It’s still his music, even while the creativity “on stage” might have had to move back for a more “professional” performance, the music is still there.
And that’s what matters: The music. Anyone who goes to a concert or djset or anything else for what ever else than the music can ask for what ever he/she wants. Never my goal.
Great article but I am a little bummed you did not mention Lunice. He is one of those guys that always have a smile on his face and is jumping around in the booth. Check him out!
Provocative, but I disagree. Fair enough there is a magic to live events, but I don’t think it is as trivial as people getting hyped by someone jumping about. I go to a live music act because the musicians create gorgeous music. If they also put on great visuals, great, but I’d go to the gig next door if it was a plank of wood playing better music, and the crowd was as enthusiastic as me about the music. One of my favourite sets of all time was Bukem playing his first ever Brazilian gig. He was a stationary silhouette the whole night. I can have a dream gig with my eyes closed, just knowing the crowd is there and feeling the vibe. This site is absolutely absolutely fantastic, peerless! But I never considered buying the motion-detecting controller Ean created – it doesn’t do anything for me. I want to be focused on the sounds coming out of the speakers and with controllers’ complexity, that means I’m busy.
The magic of a live act for me is the intuition of the musician/s, interacting with the mood of an informed and enthusiastic crowd, the sound produced, and its freshness/innovativeness/improv, whatever the genre.
Can I get a definition of “substance” in relation to live performance ? I’m not really understanding the difference between “substance” and “show”.
They need festivals with DJ’s that can play music for EVERYONE on the planet. Good times at 90bpm.
Yeahp… Love that set.
After watching that skrillex video I felt I was in a futuristic movie: Like in those movies where there’s a scene of people dancing to the music from the future, with stupid movements and silly dead sounds
I think for EDM acts producers should look towards set ups more like Daft Punk’s and Deadmau5’s. A booth packed with gear that they would use to actually produce tracks and create live remixes/adjustments of songs that fans enjoy already. I know that deadmau5 does create “2nd edits” of his songs sometimes for his live shows, such as in the most recent Meowingtons Hax Tour he performed Arguru and Strobe both with new intros.
Food for thought. 🙂
“While most of us never had the opportunity to actually be in the crowd
at a Rage Against The Machine or Nirvana concert in the early nineties”
Wow I feel old, I’ve been to a few Rage concerts.
listen to that horrible horrible music in that Aoki video. The people as so interested in getting cake that they have no idea they are listening to crap!
skrillex? deadmau5? PUH-LEASE get out & watch some REAL DJ sets before you beg the question “where is the rockstar performance?”see:chris liebing
Seems a bit stupid, really, seeing gimps like this behave in a such a manner while PLAYING SOMEONE ELSE’S MUSIC.
They’re mimes. They aren’t performing their own material, and they’re now getting compared to the likes of RATM and Nirvana?
(PS – Not aimed at Ean. Aimed at the numpties who perpetuate this state of affairs)
I can’t see DJ’s getting anywhere near the level of on stage intensity as RATM! I think DJing is best when its all about the tunes and the amazing atmosphere that can be created by selecting and mixing anyway.
A heavy rock band like RATM can play a face melting 1.5 hour set that engages a crowed but a DJ like John Digweed can spin for a whole night and take people on a longer deeper journey. Both are as amazing as each other but very different. I guess if you really want to be a electronic rockstar ditch the whole “DJ” thing get some mates together and bang out your productions or other peoples tunes with some key boards, digital drums, midi pads and jump around like crazy for 1.5 hours
Orbital practically invented the live EDM show back in the early nineties. While preceding the more established acts at the time of Moby and Aphex Twin, they completely performed their songs live while other acts simply pressed play on an ADAT machine. Underworld is another great live show in a similar vein. YouTube both of their live acts and you will be impressed.
This article is just one big can of worms. Interesting, but dangerous.
First of all I would not dream of comparing Bass Music and Metal. Maybe the bastardized sound in America appeals to the metal crowd but really likening the two is kind of an insult to Dubstep and Bass Music in general. Also most Bass Music seems to be lacking in Bass, if anything it should be called Midrange Music.
There are lots of big bands to go around these days that are pure quality. Some have been around for a long time. I suppose I am one of the lucky people that got to see RATM when they reformed in 2008. Arcade Fire, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Crystal Castles, Foals. There are still many bands new and old playing big festivals with big stage presence.
The only live Dance Music performance that is stadium worthy in my opinion would be Plastikman. At that I saw the launch in Amnesia last august and saw the show again at ADE last October and the atmosphere was just not as good in Amsterdam. Amnesia is a special place and nowhere will ever feel the same as that place, you can feel the history as you arrive outside. You know you are walking into one of dance musics meccas and you feel privileged. There are many other live Dance Music acts but sometimes the simple stuff is just as amazing. Nicolas Jaar and Genius of Time might play live but that doesn’t really make them any more special to see than Visionquest or Mala who are just playing good records. Sure from a music geek point of view its interesting but if your there to party you aren’t really going to take notice if the DJ is playing live or using some turntables.
Dance music is its own special thing, it should not be compared and contrasted with something else. Its about dancing all night with like minded people from all over the world sharing in that unique moment, the perfect set, the DJ is part of the party, they respond to the crowd and take them on a journey with them. It doesn’t matter if your in Ibiza or London. This all sounds cheesy but its true.
I will never forget the first time I walked into back to basics or dc10 and felt like I was at home. You cant recreate that sort of feeling at things like EDC or Ultra, where half of the crowd appear to be 16 year old girls wearing little more than tit tape and all they care about is Swedish Mime Mafia and Skrillex.
All those big stadium sized acts that play cheese for children will be gone again in a few years as has happened time and time again. But the real clubs around the world catering to people who actually love the music will remain as they have.
I was thinking about what I should write in response to all the posts coming in… No need, you said everything i needed to say… I can relax now, Cheers Oweny mate. English or Irish? anyway Americans will never understand the DJ.
“throws perfectly good cake around with wild abandon” haha 🙂
As Avicii stated in an interview, 50% music and 50% business.
I challange all the ” top deejays ” anytime anywhere! How hard is it to play for a awesome crowd of 10000, 50000 even 100000 people. Give me a break!
(25 years experience and yes, can make i crowd go bananas)
I take challenges any preformances at roger@12inch:twitter.se
Due to all my challengers are millionaires i will presume that they will pay my trip.
Se you soon at a festival near you!
I’m so glad you wrote this article, and it shows you have no illusions.
The Skrillex show is just a light show. Any musical performance and improvisation is not really working from the audience’s point of view. I recently saw Amon Tobin’s ISAM show, a truly amazing light show, but his knob turning personal performance could have been faked by anyone. Given that we couldn’t see the hardware he was touching at all, my wife and I joked that he actually had a bit of plywood in front of him with knobs drawn onto it.
I think to get to the bottom of the problems of performing electronic music you have to go right back and think about some basic assumptions:
1) For it to be perceived as a genuine musical performance, the performer needs to be seen to be affecting the sound, either by direct actions making the sound occur, or by manipulating a sound that is coming from elsewhere (either from a loop or from another performer). Without a credible link between performer actions and sound creation/alteration the performance will seem to be a lie: the electronic equivalent to miming.
2) For (1) to hold true, the audience needs to see exactly what performer is doing. So if you are pressing buttons on a MIDI controller, the audience needs to be able to see that. Otherwise it’s like watching a guitar player who has his back turned to the audience. Unfortunately, most electronic rigs are set up on table tops and so face upwards, giving the audience almost no view of what is going on. Compare to guitars or horns or vocals, where everything important is facing out towards the audience.
3) For (1) to be true, the audience also needs to be able to correlate what they see you doing with the sound that they hear. So when you turn a knob or move a fader, if it is not clear to an untrained member of the audience what effect that had on what they are hearing then they might as well not have seen you doing it, which makes (1) pointless. Playing percussive sounds on a MIDI controller is generally a lot clearer to the audience than manipulating pads and stuff.
Traditional instruments have a huge advantage in this respect, as most people will already know how they work and what they look like to play, and most performers realise that they and their instruments need to be clearly visible when performing.
There are big problems with any setup that makes extensive use of loops.The first is that is that if the performer stops manipulating the sound, it will still continue to come out of the speakers. Given that any loop based music is probably fairly repetitive in nature, it might take a substantial period of inactivity before the audience realises that the performer has even stopped what they were doing. As such, one gets the feeling that the performer isn’t really doing that much, and is just relying on pre-prepared material in the same way that a DJ would. Compare to a band playing: if they stop, the music stops.
One way to audit a digital performance is to ask this question: How hard would it be to mime this? If I acted out what the performer is doing but the music was simply playing from a recording, would the audience know it was miming? If the answer is no they would not spot the mime, then it’s not much of a live performance. That’s not to say people won’t enjoy it, pop performers mime and their audiences still enjoy it (presumably they don’t realise/care, or the performance is primarily dancing or a light show), but it’s not really something to aspire to as a musical artist. Unless dancing / light shows are a big part of your thing.
Solutions?Try not to use loops. You may need extra musicians to pull that off (that’s a good thing) and you may have to put in a few thousand hours of practice (also a good thing).
Hybrid setups: have the digital performers accompanied by one or more traditional performers. Vocalists, brass players, guitarists, etc.Use MIDI instruments that “make sense” to an audience, like a MIDI drum kits, etc.
Increase the transparency of the digital performance – CC camera feeds showing close ups of MIDI controller use, controllers that light up as you use them, video feeds showing on-screen information, etc.Sorry for wall-of-text, but I’ve been thinking about this loads recently.
this article is someway…useless
The man is just trying to push boundaries. In my opinion that is the end goal of a dj.
Those are the moments that make all the hard work and practice worth it.
I’m not happy unless the crowd is having a great time. I would rather rock the house then play music I like. I want to see the place get burned down. I want to see girls taking their clothes off. That’s what makes a party/DJ lengendary.
He’s just saying, don’t just sit there and play your sets. Feel the crowd. Your the man in charge of everyone having a good time. ROCK THE FUKIN HOUSE MAN!!!
I don’t find the skrillex part of this article very fair, you took one the only video where he is playing on his old live setup, wich might look a bit classic, I agree, but if you look after video of his new show that he’s playing all around the world, you see it’s just an incredible live performance with amazing visual effects surrounding him using tens of video projectors, also, he has introduced for his 2011/2012 world tour a live motion capture act to his onstage performance, indeed, Skrillex is wearing a special exclusive motion capture suit that will then animate with an incredible precision various 3D characters on a huge screen behind him, just look here, it’s simpler to see by yourself :
http://youtu.be/UMa0hHFiD64?t=4m19sSo I think we can say Skrillex is part of those artists that are taking live dj’s performances to the next level.
His new setup also has him ditching Ableton and a controller for CDJ-2000s and a Pioneer-800, making him even more boring to see live.
The only reason his visuals are awesome is because he’s got the cash to do it – anyone can hire a sick visual team.
The main problem here isn’t being addressed; Why do we need ‘Rockstar’ EDM performers in the first place?
The issue of why there really aren’t any only exists because large-scale EDM performances have been squeezed into the traditional confines of Rock & Roll. Why are we even looking for a DJ Jimi Hendrix, when those days are GONE? I’ll tell you why; because the people who organize gigs on that scale are the same lazy, vapid, originality-free dinosaurs who’ve staged Pink Floyd, Genesis, et al, it the past.
It seems staggeringly odd to me that, after being presented with a whole way of producing music and whole new soundscapes to explore with instruments and PA systems capable of generating frequencies it was simply *impossible* to reproduce a few years ago, the EDM community has fallen back on the hackneyed old ways of performing their fare at the very first opportunity.The beauty of dance music is it frees audiences from having to look at a central point. They can concentrate on the music – and each-other. And THAT’S the sort of experience we should be trying to create, not, “Look at me! I have a silly name/haircut/selection of facial expressions *and* I can waive one hand above my head while pressing buttons with the other!”
It’s idiotic – and it’s time we were free of it.
Maybe a bit of a rant but anyway I’ve explored this subject before. However, I found it difficult to get over the idea of an audience looking at a focal/central point (ie the dj/performer) and to start engaging more with each other, with the idea of the DJ sharing the experience rather than being the experience. The norm is engrained, but it’s also there for a reason. How would you go about changing that paradigm?
Maybe something like Wagner did. He build his theater and put the orchestra down to the ground were nowbody can see them.
Most arenas are just boxes when they’re completely empty. Sticking a stage at one end, seats along the other three walls and a space in the middle for people to stand in is merely a well-establish convention. It’s only a lack of imagination that leads to all gigs looking like that.
Putting the performer on a low level, very slowly revolving platform in the middle of the arena would be a start. Giving people something to dance around (rather than stare at) would be a decent first step in changing things for the better, IMHO. Also, hang the lighting rig over the audience (like in a club), NOT over the stage, where it gives the impression the DJ/Performer is the most important aspect of proceedings. They are not. The MUSIC is.
Tadaaaa!!! Sensation white was one of the first gigantic edm parties. Held in a stadium, they’ve always had a stage in the center with the crowd surrounding the dj. The dresscode was white so the lighting and amazing laser show would look even better!!
I agree with what you’re saying from a fan’s point of view, but something tells me that these big name DJ’s are going to have a hard time saying “No, don’t focus on me! Focus on my music!” Performing is a BLAST, and I know I’m not the only one who LOVES being the center of attention and feeding off the energy of the crowd (or in my case, 50 drunk college kids). However, I think your ideas are valid and I think event producers do too. Look at the Glowfest tour – it doesn’t seem like they market it to people who want to see specific DJ’s. I get the impression they just want to bring out EDM lovers who want to dance their faces of and get blasted with bright colors.
You HAVE to have a mullet to make brostep.
GOD! DIDNT YOU KNOW!
good point – a question that should certainly be considered.
What, my one or the mullet one?
I find them to be of equal importance…
mullets are a lil bit more important though
Great points. I think Kid Koala addresses them nicely.
I just saw EOTO at Lightning in a Bottle and it was amazing. Basically two guys you would think of as older guys playing live synths and looping the synths and some prerecorded melodies with some sort of daw with live drums and vocals it was amazing the best show i have seen in a long time. One guy controls some sort of hardware synth and a DAW and the other guy Plays Drums and Sings. They threw down an epic set and they even did a live remix of Doctor P Sweet shop that was amazing. Anyways I completely agree with your article that because it was live and they were playing the instruments they were part of that feedback loop and I personally felt much more connected with them and the music and it made it that much better. Anyways go check out EOTO http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0B2LWyWv9gk&feature=player_embedded
Words of a true controllerist I agree we need more talent in the major onstage edm scene I would just like every one to remember acts like sts9 the beat junkies x ecutioners scratch picklezz or the man qbert himsel who proved the point that a dj can be an artist and create live like say rjd2 when I perform myself or go to see someone live I want to see them or myself put in work because any asshole can press play on a song and fist pump
I think it all boils down to the question: Now that we have these sync-buttons, what do we do with all the time on our hands?
I like to play the drums: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZDASTr0kRo
think of a way to remap them to something more usefull than sync
Dear Ean, having played in a band for years 1I think you have a lot of stuff right… but not all. The magic does not happen a much between crowd & band…. The magic happens between the different people of the band – where one’s creativity feeds the other’s – this wsay building on top of each other and making something new. The crowd picks up on that and goes with the energy of what is happening on stage.
So unless we start to see DJ’s who work together in new & creative ways – we will NEVER see this.
I think however that Richie Hawtin had a point when he said that this also is not the thing we should strive for: http://www.lasvegasweekly.com/news/2012/jun/07/weekly-interview-richie-hawtin/P.s. I saw both RATM & Nirvana (& Smashing Pumpkins, Faith No More and the whole shebang) – but as with that what Armin v Buuren says it also is with the bands. I truly got blown away by the smaller bands, or the unknown bands that suddenly surprised me by making something better than ever dreamt of (go see Cornelius or Motorpsycho to see how far down the rabbit hole you can go)
good point- you are absolutely right. The sum of the parts IS greater than the individuals. I didn’t include that point because most people don’t know how to play with others in a DJ context – but that too should be explored more in the coming years.
This all happened in Europe at the end of the 90’s when the age of the ‘SuperClub!’ and the ‘SuperStar DJ!’ were at their peak. A time when Paul van Dyke’s ‘For an Angel’ and ATB’s ‘9pm til i come’ were mind numbing, chart topping favourites. What happened then will happen now. You see mainstream audiences don’t really care about music, they care about being part of the latest big thing. As long as the music is simple enough for them to understand, they will bop along moronically, screaming, whooping and cheering with every blast from the ice cannons. And when something else becomes cool, they will wander off to that and forget all about Aoki, Skrillex & Guetta, who will no doubt go on to write music for commercials and bad american tv series. Superclubs in the UK thinned out to the same ones that were there before and became clubs again. And where is PVD these days – America I think?
The underground of real music lovers will always be there and doing their best to distance themselves from the mindless music in the big clubs and the mindless sheep that pack out stadiums at $100 a ticket, to watch some dude half a mile away press play on his CDJ’s.
Steve Aoki has been current for a while. He’s all about having a good time, which is awesome. His music has a lot of bump and fun. I haven’t heard anybody out now that’s as interesting as Simon Posford or Astral Projection. But yeah, I also don’t see how the wobble of now is any different quality wise than the snap-crackle-pop of GOA. It’s just different.
Simon Posford is great! the music really takes you to another level. Too bad psytrance has also, in some places, fallen into mostly the same motions lately, unless there is something truly interesting and innovative that I’m missing.
PVD is still rocking the biggest clubs in the world… I know, I saw him at Amnesia, Ibiza only last week. /Brag 🙂
I do agree – post early 90’s EDm peak we saw a solid 10 years of great underground electronic music supported by people that moved on from the big names. Hopefully that will happen again…
the mob is fickle my friend, to sum it up
Great article on a subject in the back of quite a few peoples minds on here I’m sure.
You mention people being able too see rock bands physically make the music the crowd is hearing, which I think is a great point.
A couple large clubs and venues I’ve been to have installed cameras on the DJ booth, and project it onto a portion of their giant LED walls to give the crowd more visual feedback on what’s going on. Rather than a shadowy figure lurking behind a mound of flux capacitors, and other various lab equipment with mysterious sounds emitting from it.
I saw Deadmau5 play at the Santa Barbara Bowl, and The Palladium (both fairly large venues). While they were both fairly good, they were nearly identical shows. I saw Steve Aoki at a tiny joint in Hermosa Beach, and it was like going to a punk rock show in the 90s, awesome.
I like when the big EDM acts play small to mid-sized clubs more that the big venues, which is something that separates them from a lot of the bigger rock bands. You don’t see Metallica or other grammy level rock acts playing a venue with less than a thousand people very often.
i play live during my shows. i am a dubstep artist. I usually only do chords and riffs but its all spontaneous = )
So, this is the best article I’ve read in a long time, period. It’s something that I’ve been writing about on my own and researching for a while, which I hope to create a full essay regarding.
For me the ones who have truly captured the closest things to what I’ve seen someone pushing the limits of what you think an electronic musician can or should do, and thus, creating the “rockstar” live show, have been people who have NOT come from EDM dance backgrounds.
To me, I don’t classify Girl Talk as a DJ, but he’s the closest thing I’ve seen from an electronic artist pushing the concept of being a rockstar as a computer musician. He’s never come from a DJ background, has never touched a CDJ live. It’s always been pushing an artistic concept that glitch loops and samples can be reconstructed to form original music. His live show certainly pushes this issue in my opinion. I try to emulate his style myself, although using Midi controllers being the only the difference, but the same software, Audiomulch. There are no tracks, all manually cut up loops triggered at certain moments. In this manner, it requires practice before a show, and planning. This is more of a “rock band” mentality than a improvising DJ mentality, as the set is rehearsed, but there is so much room for error and requires a lot of focus. (I can attest to messing up – A LOT under this method). However, in this sense it has some of the liveness of a “real band” but that also requires planning as opposed to just beatmatching songs and letting them play.
Everything he plays is some form of a recontextualized sample, yes some more manipulated than others, but it truly is the most open ended I’ve seen in terms of playing “songs” that don’t have the appeal of being demonstrations of skill – i.e. MPC maestros and DMC scratchers, who don’t get me wrong are amazing, but feel more like skill demonstrations than song performances.
I don’t know how open-ended DeadMau5’s set truly is, but I imagine it is more open ended than others. Additionally, DJ AM’s work and A-Trak’s work with Travis Barker have been an influential approach in the popular DJ-Drummer combo that has been around, but is more mainstream.
As far as a more traditional CDJer goes, the furthest I’ve seen a someone push being a rockstar is also someone mentioned- Aoki. He also came from a background of punk- exclusively actually, as a friend of mine who went to UCSB with him will attest to. It was an alternative background that feeds into much of his prior, heavier work. His singing/screaming in to the microphone and intimacy with the crowd is much different than one would expect from DJ’s at champagne-sipping, table service nightclubs. It feels like a rock concert. But yet there is much to be desired in terms of the songs themselves.
Well, there’s my two cents. Even after 20 years, I think a lot of us are still trying to be the next Aphex Twin, Nine Inch Nails or even Girl Talk. Hell, I sure am….
Couldn’t have said it better myself. I even tried to, check James “Pioneer” Burkill’s post for my take on this.
Thanks! I’ve replied as well.
hehe be careful, Girl Talk gets huffy whenever people intimate he’s a DJ. “I am not a DJ! This is original music!” …Because he uses Kontakt. Or something.
That’s why they called him a sample Jockey, first time i heard that 😀
Intentionally used the words “Sample Jockey” to prevent this exact comment : )
I think part of the problem is the visual disconnect. With RATM you have a clear idea and visual of where the sound was coming from. Skrillex on the other hand, you have no idea what he’s doing in the cockpit of the spaceship. You can see he’s doing something, but you can’t really tell what relationship it has with the sound coming out of the speakers.
That’s because what he does doesn’t have a relationship to his music
I think running screen effects over live feed camera signals that show what’s in the DJ booth would be cool. Like, you would still see the hand on the cdj or controller, but it would be more interesting on the screen than a straight signal feed. Kind of like when you’re at a concert, and the screen shows the singer, or drummer, but it has some transparent animation over it that fits the song.
Superb article, Ean!
I’d really like to see those stars taking the challenge, and from the crowd’s point of view i’d really like to see that clearly as well!
The current usual “festival arrangement” of the stage/booth, and the huge distance from the crowd makes the DJ quite invisible unfortunately. It’s good for rock bands, because you can see the guitarists playing, the drummer working, the singer singing… but not good for the DJ, who has almost no other tool than his arms and fist to be visible.
I’d like to see the DJ performing on his gear, the fader movements, button pushes, etc… with some clever camera/projection setup, so he really can take the challenge.
I understand that most people in the crowd wants simply to hear the DJ’s hit record, and a spaceship with cool graphics behind is enough for them. But not enough for me.
A rock band’s crowd doesn’t need cool stage appearance and flashing lights to explode, they just need to see their band really performing. I think the rock star DJ’s crowd can be amazed with this approach as well.
Regarding the “20 years theory”, “EDM exploding”, “massive electronic music festivals occurring all over the world” and similar: that’s the american point of view, which certainly doesn’t apply well (and in some regions, not at all) to the rest of the world. Take Germany for example.
You need a copy editor (or spell-check). Solid article nonetheless.
I think the main problem is the form of controller and the number of sounds that a dj must control. RATM had a drummer, a guitarist, a singer ecc. In EDM you must control everything alone. To interact with the crowd i can’t simply press play and forget my console or use only Midi Fighter 3D or Midi Guitar.
Only Beardy Man can improvise everything, but it’s a totally different style and kind of music.
good article, But I’m very much a purist to electronic music and it’s roots to compare DJ’s to rockstars is a little crazy… for they will never be on and the same wavelength ever… there are electronic acts and then there are DJ’s. it’s great for DJ’s to be creative during your sets but let not get confused what a DJ is first and foremost a person who plays other people music period and that is what a DJ will always BE, DJ’S keep it real and to the club’s, if you want to perform your music your not a DJ and there lies the difference in the art forms.
” … I play other peoples records … and I play ’em good.” – John Aqcuaviva
Truer words have never been spoken. This is something I have been saying for a while now as well. There are the DJ’s, those who play mostly other peoples music and stick to the old ways of the turntable, and there are the EDM performers (I call them mixists), who use onstage synths and bits and pieces of their own productions to create new versions of songs. It’s these people who’ll be the rockstars in the next 20 year cycle, the people like deadmau5, daft punk, Justice, and Nero.
I think part of the current debate is regarding who is a DJ or not anymore, especially in instances where the artist plays 90% or 100% their own remixes or compositions.
Originality is a totally debatable thing. There is a matter of grey space. Certainly the faceless top 40 wedding DJ playing a standard nightclub is not going to have the amount of originality as a singer/songwriter at a coffeeshop. However, is that DJ more artistic than someone who just put on a pandora station – I would say so. Is taking a Facebook photo artisitc? Not necessarily so, but not necessarily not so. But is cutting up a bunch of photographs to make a mosaic artistic? arguably so or not as well. Certainly it’s shades of grey.
But then again there’s this distinction between who is a “DJ” versus a sampling artist. I personally leave to the declaration of the artist themselves – Skrillex and Deadmau5 both have used Ableton, yet the former considers himself a DJ and the other has a distaste for being called so.Thus, this is where the debate comes and makes things murky and difficult. My sources of discussion are generally Lawrence Lessig, and various documentaries that I have seen from Spain and Canada. I highly recommend the TED talks by Lawrence Lessig, DJ Earworm and Felipe G Gil (if you speak spanish) and the documentaries, RIP: remix manifesto, Good Copy Bad Copy, Copyright Criminals, and Copitad Maltidos (also if u speak spanish)For better or for worse, the 2-deck DJ does seem to be a dying breed, or at least in my opinion obsolete, so long as there’s an absence of scratching. I personally still love watching guys like A-Trak and Q-Bert, and I recently just saw Shiftee and it was off the chain. But otherwise, being a “DJ” will amount to what’s on your hard drive and how you choose to perform it.”Los buenos artistas copian, los grandes roban.” – Pablo Picasso
Robert, I agree with you on almost all points you listed but you are wrong when linking Skrillex and Deadmau5 just because they both use Ableton, the reasoning behind this is just because they are both using the same program doesn’t put them in the same category because each artist uses the program in completely different ways. Deadmau5 uses it to its fullest degree, having his songs broken up into stems therefore allowing him to be far more intricate in the sense he puts individual effects on lets say just an individual drum or synth and lots more. Skrillex on the other hand uses Ableton for very basic things such as straight mixing, he doesn’t have his tracks broken down into stems, hes only using it in the same way as someone would use two cdj’s. This is why if you have noticed, he has been eagerly trying to learn how to spin on cdj’s from the help of 12th planet. I am not a hater of either of these artists, I love and respect both of them but I have more respect for artists like Deadmau5 who really make it their personal goal to always be on the cutting edge of live performances.
Skrillex did, and I think will start to make “different versions” of his songs, and maybe even start to use more than 2 decks. With ableton his mixes were very intricate (taking out the drums of one song, and playing it with another, filtering out vocals, having a track without certain parts, etc) but now his cdj mixes are basic, and I hope he gets back to some of those remix aspects (maybe someone should give him traktor and some f1s.. Or maybe mf3ds..)
I have to agree with you Ean, It’s great that EDM is doing so well currently in the mainstream, but it seems like a great amount of DJ’s are losing there creativity when playing live. Now with people videotaping almost every event around the planet, It’s easy to see how many of the BIG names just play the same thing over and over again. So it makes no sense to pay $60 to $100 to see your favorite Big time DJ live at a festival if the are going to play the some songs that local DJ’s play every weekend in your home town. Hopefully with new DJ gear such as Richie’s CNTRL_R, Native’s Kontrol F1 and your own Midi Fighter 3D, DJ’s will continue to push the creativity of playing live to an audience.
Ean this is the best article you’ve written in a very long time.
Please remember your role too. Like you said, it’s up to all of us, but you have a tremendous amount of influence too. Articles like this are using your influence in the exact right way.
THANKS! I appreciate the positive feedback. More articles from the heart are a good thing …
Thank you Ean for your contributions! It’s great to read articles that put everything in perspective and challenge the status quo. Please, more articles like this!
Ean, I just recently discovered this site. I must say that I can tell you and your staff have a true passion for EDM. Your content is second to none. This was a great article and something I have thought a lot about myself. With my favorite artist being Jimi Hendrix, let’s just say that my standard for live performance is very high. LOL! I believe this new wave of controller based DJ’s will be great for the live feel.
I see that Deadmau5 is even starting to use actual Synths onstage!
It’s getting pretty bad. This isn’t even music.
Not music? People throw that around when they are criticizing music that they don’t get and like. People said John Cage didn’t write music either. They were idiots. http://youtu.be/4SmXNDYlNJM
You do realize that’s what every guitar player says about DJs, right? It’s melodic and has a discernible beat. That’s not music? People who like electronica or who listen to techno getting annoyed at dubstep seems a bit odd to me. It’s the equivalent of the “Get off my lawn!” argument for 30-somethings.
I didn’t like that remix either, killed the whole vibe of the original, but not music? That’s just another way of saying “Mummy! mummy! I don’t like it, make it stop!”
There’s plenty of Dubstep that I like, this robot orgy sound bite shit isn’t it.
robot orgy sound bite is the kinda music I like the best!
since long before dubstep even existed…
Whats wrong with Doctor P’s remix of Krome and Time’s “The License”?
That’s crap!… the worst part is these guys call this music “dub step”, I think they didn’t know in England there is a genre called dubstep since the 00s, and sounds a million times better, and is much more intelligent and deep music than this…
one of the BEST articles i have read…and applause for AVB for his words…
*come and visit the Philippines Mr. Golden, we have a lot of controllerists here in manila!.. 🙂
I remember when hardcore techno was gaining momentum in NYC back in 1991 commercially in like in clubs like the Limelight with Dj Gonzo and other underground rave venues hosted by the two brothers from Brooklyn, Dj Frankie Bones and Dj Adam X whom sparked this global dance movement. They played and produced some of the best techno music outside of Detroit USA.
Music has been involving, and recently I spoke to a dj friend of mine from NYC who, like me grew up in the early 90’s listening to and collecting hardcore techno and acid music. We both have not been receptive to this new genre of music. It has no soul. This type of music is nothing more than a sub-genre of heavy metal and jungle beats.
When you think of Electronic dance music, you think of electro-funk and Detroit Techno, and House, music with soul, spirit, and rhythm.
Man I really miss those days
I’m deep into my 90’s house and techno and I miss the vibe too, but there are pockets of brilliance in the current day underground. Scuba, Quivver and Henry Saiz for the House, Robert Babicz and Tom Middleton for the Acid, Surgeon and Takaaki Itoh for the Techno. Whatever the mainstream is eating up, the underground continues to advance and astound.
This happens with almost every genre of music; old people who say “oh, it’s not like it was back in the day” complain about something because it is new. Look at rock ‘n’ roll. Parents hated it back in the 50’s and look out it now. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me like you ‘people’ are doing the exact same thing with brostep/dubstep music
I agree…and was about to touch on that as well. I think age is a hard thing for those in this culture. We all hold on to our first club experiences, our first raves, etc. When things change and the new generation takes over, it’s hard sometimes to let go.
I personally try to remain open-minded and not “live in the past” as many of my peers do, but I also know it’s hard when you feel that this isn’t your scene anymore, and thus you have to step back and pass the torch.
Or learn to enjoy the new music. I’m not saying be the only 45 year old balding dude in the club full of college kids, but give the new music a chance, and try to enjoy something that’s not “from your prime”.
Of course. That’s what I was getting at. In Chicago I see too many folks cling to the old WBMX or the 90s ghetto house scene…and seemingly keep dismissing new music as “crap” or complaining how the clubs shut them out.
No one ever did well clinging to the past. One has to evolve. Their complaints are like a person who won’t let go of their old rotary phone…despite everyone else walking around with smartphones.
oh no … not the “this music has no soul” argument again … sigh
replace “this is the day” with “those were the days”: