What is Live Electronic?
In recent years, there’s been a significant amount of controversy in the electronic music community about what qualifies as a live performance. These days there are several methods with which to perform that the preconceived notion of the ‘live’ performance is often left up in the air.
Traditionally speaking, the process of performing live music has been quite simple - bring your sheet music, tune your instrument, and play. Regardless of whether or not the artist is performing solo or in a group, there is always an element of spontaneity - no matter the artist’s skill level, live performances can be full of mistakes and will never sound like the original studio material and it shouldn't have to. In a 2013 article from FACT magazine, artist Xavier Thomas aka ‘debruit’ said, “You have to be able to make mistakes to have a feeling of live-ness. And it's also presenting some sort of difference between your music in a live format as opposed to a recorded performance to people that might already know your work” (Fintoni).
Before we continue, it's important to recognize the distinction between DJs and Producers. A DJ’s strength traditionally lies in engaging a live audience and witnessing their immediate reaction while working with their instruments, the turntable, mixer and crate of music. A producer also needs to work with their instruments in a studio environment with digital and or analog equipment to effectively convey an emotion or idea. Sometimes, Producers who are strong in the studio may lack the performance chops to rock a crowd. And on the flipside, seasoned DJs who can successfully mix for hours may lack the technical knowledge to produce. In these situations, those who are producers first may resort to pushing play on pre-recorded sets, and those who are DJs first may enlist the aid of a friendly neighbourhood ghost producer. Both are equally taboo topics which question the legitimacy of the artists skills.
It’s sort of like realizing your favourite singer is lip-synching and the microphone they are holding is merely a prop, some singers will always perform better in the studio than they do onstage. The same can be said for the producer playing a pre-recorded set at the mainstage and the revered DJ who releases a song made by someone else. Without a transparent connection between the two sides, confusion is bound to develop as the actual product and the expectations communicated on behalf of the artist, the promoter, and or the venue cease to match up with one another.
The essence of live music performance is that there should be a chance that things could go wrong, but it is the skill of the performer to bring it to new heights and keep it all from falling apart. Otherwise it's like just going to watch a movie. Sharing the experience in an environment with other people does have the potential to transform your relationship to the art, but that's just the equivalent of pressing play, and for many reasons we expect more from music.
There will always be audiences who will appreciate the performer who walks the line with artistic integrity and there will be audiences who simply seek the thrill of dancing live to music regardless of the performer’s technical prowess. Both are fine, but as electronic music grows and audiences mature they will also inevitably become more aware of what is actually going on in the booth and/or on the stage. The room for error and genuine talent should come together in a way that compliments the audience's tastes so as not to set up some sort of false expectation whereby the artist can get away with pretending to perform. For those looking solely for a visceral experience perhaps the play button with some banging tracks, flashing lights, and fireworks will do. The performance, however, often informs the experience and this speaks to the classic dance floor notion of energy transfer between performer and audience and the question remains can that truly happen when it's a one way conversation?
Fintoni, Laurent. "The Great Live Music Roundtable: Six Producers Debate the Future of Live Electronic Music." FACT Magazine. FACT Magazine, 31 Oct. 2013. Web. 19 Mar. 2016.