DJ Live Performance: How Much Is Actually… Live?

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DJ Live Performance: How Much Is Actually… Live?

We are used to seeing our favourite DJs up there on a huge stage, rocking hard pushing, twisting and even slamming that cool thing called a DJ gear full of buttons and knobs in front of thousands of high-spirited punters. Somewhere deep in our thought we always wanted to know, what in the name of EDM god are they doing up there? Which sounds come out when they slam that button so hard? What kind of high pitched sound appears when they almost twisted their own elbow along with that poor little knob? Truth is, for some of us regular person it’s like watching a giant pandora music box: we don’t really know what they’re doing!

In another occasion, a certain high profile DJ performs alongside a superstar rapper looking very much busy doing live remix of a popular radio track. Strangely though, when we compare that to the recorded version on our sister’s iTunes, it actually sounds pretty damn identical. So what the heck did they do there? Must be that they take the stems of the song and recreate the whole thing live, no? Or, you know, their effects are so intricate that we can’t really hear them upon the first listen. Yep that must be it.

Oh, really? Now part of the pandora box has been uncovered by one and only, Joel Zimmerman a.k.a Deadmau5 who told us the (some) truth about the whole live DJing business, in one of his tumblr post entitled “we all hit play“.

“its no secret.  when it comes to “live” performance of EDM… that’s about the most it seems you can do anyway”

The fact that most punters are oblivious of how much “live” elements the man behind the deck is adding in a performance, plus continuous media attempts at over-glorifying what was basically an art of making seamless transition between one track to another, has led to over-expectations of audiences of what a DJ can do live and, arguably, “helped” a select few to attain rockstar status.

But wait, before some of you guys think of DJs as some over-glorified and unskilled jukebox player, Joel has another important point quoted for truth:

“my “skills” and other PRODUCERS skills shine where it needs to shine… in the goddamned studio, and on the fucking releases. thats what counts…”


“because this whole big “edm” is taking over fad, im not going to let it go thinking that people assume theres a guy on a laptop up there producing new original tracks on the fly.”

Thanks Joel, that’s the one truth we have always want to hear.

So DJs out there, be honest about what you do. If you’re doing mixing between two songs, then be honest and don’t pretend that you’re breaking down the track and building a live remix using your two decks. Put emphasis on track selection and great transition, which we punters know takes just as much skill. If it’s live performance you do, or at least something in between, good. Just don’t pretend to do more than what you really do and find a video of yourself faking the show later. Won’t feel great.

As mentioned, there’s some difference between the art of traditional DJing and the modern incarnation of it, which with the help of technology can reach a new level not possible with the old two (or more) decks style. Take Ean Golden, who introduces the concept of controllerism, an art form that has roots from classic DJing and electronic music in general.

When you look at it you can see that it’s almost different than what classic DJ does, it’s a lot closer to what we have always known about traditional live performances: in order for the song to go anywhere, Ean had to actually trigger almost every sound and controls most of the effects, which is more or less similiar in characteristics as how a guitar player has to play every note in the song he plays.

The lines between traditional DJing (mixing songs in and out) and live performance is still as blurry as ever, and while the whole business is nothing new to fellow producers and DJs, for some of us regular EDM enthusiasts we are still in the dark about how much stuff is actually real. It’s been an honest move from Joel who came clean about his live show so props to him for that, and lets hope that others will follow his steps.


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