Anonymous asked: What are your thoughts on Deadmau5's "we all hit play" tumblr post?
i think there’s a lot of weird dissonance associated with the live electronic music experience. i think that what he was specifically speaking out against with that tumblr post is people who are under the misconception that DJs are creatively generating original content when they are performing onstage. like, one of the most infuriating conversations i’ve ever had in my life was a conversation with this guy who insisted to me that all real DJs only play their own music and that anyone who ever plays a track made by someone else is a fake DJ. like, i think people have a lot of weird ideas about what happens when anyone gets on a stage and music starts happening, and we’re in this weird situation now where the live music market is based on selling misconceptions to people
like, there’s this band. they are one of the few bands currently active that is both generally very critical successful and very commercially successful. you almost always find this band’s name very near the top of the bill on festivals. like, they are not the xx, but they are basically at that level of popularity/critical acclaim.
onstage, this band presents itself as a live band with a drummer and guitars and keyboards and stuff. in reality, 90% of the music you are hearing when you go see this band is coming off an ipod, and nearly everything that’s happening onstage as far as people looking like they’re playing instruments is completely inaudible.
like, personally, the fact that live music is not really being performed onstage does not bother me. i sort of hate when one-person studio projects or bedroom projects where the creative process or the recording of music does not involve a bunch of dudes playing rock instruments try to present themselves live as a bunch of dudes playing rock instruments. like, if i wanted to hear that, i would go listen to one of the 100000 bands there are that are straightforwardly a bunch of dudes playing rock instruments. chances are very good that i started listening to your one-man studio project or bedroom thing because i was not trying to listen to a bunch of dudes playing rock instruments. i would much rather hear something that actually sounds like the record that i like
on the other hand, if someone’s creative process is sitting in front of a computer, i agree that that is not very interesting to watch. solving that problem is something that every electronic act that wants to play live has to try to figure out a way to do
sometimes people attempt to solve it by earnestly trying to reduce their reliance on backing tracks as much as possible, by putting together a rock band to play live instruments, or by triggering samples live with drum controllers or an MPC or whatever. i hate it when people do this. i think it’s so dumb when i see a laptop act onstage hitting play on an sp404 or an MPC instead of a computer. like, you just spent like 1k so you could hit play on something that says “roland” or “akai” on it instead of something that says “apple”. and do you know why you did that? because people in the audience probably own things that say “apple”, so things that say “roland” or “akai” will seem less familiar and more mysterious and impressive and will thus stand a better chance of fooling people into believing that you are not just hitting play on them. that’s fucking stupid.
sometimes people solve it by faking a live show. this is very common. if someone’s record is doing well, people want to hear the music on it over a big system and they want to see people doing stuff onstage. so sometimes people just play the record over the PA and have people onstage pretending to be the ones making those sounds. it gives almost everybody what they actually want - if a band using this approach had built their career on their technical prowess, it would be scandalous, but that’s almost never true of one-man studio bands or bedroom projects, so who cares, you know?
i think like ultimately, deadmau5’s stance on things is the one i identify the most with. like a lot of people got upset because they have MPC’s or whatever and make LIVE electronic music and were angered by the implication that EVERYONE EVERYWHERE just hits play. i don’t really think that was the substance of his argument - i think the important thing about his tumblr post, the thing that is absolutely true, is that it doesn’t MATTER whether or not someone just hits play or not. like, hot chip does most of their stuff live onstage i think, but there are bands doing similar stuff and filling similar-sized rooms and selling similar amounts of records who do just hit play. i mean whenever i’m wandering around in the backstage area at festivals, where i can hear the monitor mix that bands have onstage, it’s a very common occurrence to hear the ableton live metronome sound between songs, a digital cue to tell live drummers when to come in and what tempo to play at so that they don’t clash with the pre-recorded backing drums that are also in the mix.
i think it is important to try to create some kind of live experience that’s entertaining or exciting or interesting or at least thought-provoking to accompany music like electronic music which is generally not an inherently performative medium. but i also think that the quality of the music is more important than the way it is presented.
like, with rock music, people performed and composed it at the same time. when you sit down and start playing chords on a guitar, you are performing rock music at the same time that you are writing it. there’s no separation. you’re doing the same thing in the recording studio that you do onstage. the live music experience being so drenched in rock signifiers and rock expectations has sort of conditioned people to believe that this is always the case, that someone’s ability to write music and someone’s ability to perform it are intrinsically linked and that you can judge someone’s overall musical ability by whether or not they are “good live”. like a lot of people have this very rock-centric idea that when they see someone get on a stage and perform they are seeing a very accurate representation of that person’s creative process, that you’re getting the whole picture of what that person does onstage and that by seeing them live you can know whether or not someone is “the real deal” or not. this expectation is toxic for electronic musicians, because like, the majority of us that are making anything resembling accessible pop music are doing it on a computer in a way that cannot be straightforwardly represented onstage on a performative way. all of the really interesting things about my creative process are happening inside my head, there’s no way for me to show you that the way that a rock musician can. that’s just not on the table.
so i could lie to you, and fill up the stage with a weak facsimile of the rock-based live performance group that you’re used to, and have people pretending to play instruments that were not actually used to make the music you are hearing. but i don’t want to lie to you. like, my whole thing is based on being as honest with you as possible. i think even a cursory perusal of my tumblr makes that obvious.
so instead i could give in to rock-based expectations of what a live show should be, and put together a band. what would that look like? is there any way that having a live drummer play the drums on elite gymnastics music could possibly not sound notably worse than how they sound on record? what kind of sense would it make to spend all of my time trying to cultivate really specific and special sounds on my records and then throw all that window when it’s time to tour and just go out there every night with the most basic and mundane possible guitar/bass/drums/vocals lineup? these things are not compatible!
even the middle ground that i’ve seen a lot of bands embrace, where you have a bunch of people onstage triggering samples with drum pads and/or MPCs and/or keyboards or whatever. what’s the point of that, honestly? sound-wise, there’s no advantage to triggering each individual drum hit with drum pads or an MPC vs. just having a backing track play. in my case it would actually sound worse, because my drums are usually very meticulously edited samples and not individual drum hits from a drum machine. the only thing you get out of watching someone play a keyboard or pound away at drum pads onstage is the idea that like, “oh, this person has an impressive technical ability”. why does everyone need to have some kind of impressive technical ability? there are so many artists out there now who are making amazing, amazing music that is a lot of fun to listen to in a concert situation that can barely play any instrument. the idea that your ability to technically play an instrument is linked to your ability to make compelling music is a completely fake and toxic idea that everyone just needs to let go of. like, are performances of classical music invalid because they are not being performed by the person who composed them? if beethoven wrote a cello or oboe part or something that he was incapable of playing himself, does the fact that he was incapable of playing it invalidate all of his creative impulses? do you see how silly the set of expectations that rock music has imprinted on live performance are?
like deadmau5 point is basically that having good music matters a lot more than having technical ability and i agree with that completely and admire him a lot for being so forthright about it. technology is at a point where lots of people are making music in a way that is not performative at all and the amount of interesting new music being made that way that people are interested in seeing performances of is starting to compete with if not overshadow the amount of music being made with rock instruments in a more performative way. like obviously there’s a lot more work to be done on the part of people trying to figure out interesting ways of presenting that music to people in a “live” context, but at the same time audiences also need to start letting go of rock-based expectations of what live performances are or can be. and i think that just like, coming out and being straightforward about what is actually going on onstage is a really good step towards everyone getting to the point where we’re all on the same page and everyone can stop bullshitting each other.
like me personally, i’m still figuring out live stuff, it changes a lot from show to show and tour to tour, some things i do sort of work and some things don’t, some people enjoy it and some people don’t, it’s a work in progress and i’m lucky enough to have enough support from people and from other musicians to have the opportunity to keep working on it and the resources to keep improving the technological backbone of it. there are a lot of things i still don’t know, but one thing that i do know is that i’m not comfortable bullshitting anyone. like, i’m not going to try to make elite gymnastics look like a rock band when it’s not. i’m not going to try to hide the fact that i use a computer for everything even though it’s cooler to make it look like you use hardware samplers. sometimes people feel insulted when someone comes onstage with a computer and really obviously just hits play. that’s insane. if you like electronic music or any music with electronic elements, chances are every other performance you see involves someone hitting play on a computer. i’m not trying to insult you by doing that in front of you. i’m trying to be honest with you because i respect you. if you WANT to be bullshitted, and i mean like there’s no shame in that, we all want to be bullshitted sometimes, i like mainstream pop, i understand that, but like if you want to be bullshitted then i am not the person you should be coming to see because that’s not what i do, you know?