I think given about 1 hour of instruction, anyone with minimal knowledge of ableton and music tech in general could DO what im doing at a deadmau5 concert. Just like i think ANY DJ in the WORLD who can match a beat can do what “ANYONE else” (not going to mention any names) is doing on their EDM stages too.
My idea of what a DJ actually does has radically changed every year for the last five years. At first, I thought that live remixing and playing around with music was an integral part of a DJ’s performance. Then I actually started to go clubbing, and I saw how most of the DJ’s time was occupied clapping his hands, saying stupid stuff like “You guys are the best! I love this city!”, and then disappearing for a few minutes to flip through huge CD collections.
“Well sure, but keeping everything beatmatched is kinda hard. And he’s making all those cool transitions and mash-ups and effects, right?”
Wrong! More likely, he pre-recorded the song with those added effects, and just used another artist’s existing mash-up, and just made the whole two-hour mix a couple of weeks ago and has been using it ever since. And no one actually beatmatches by ear anymore. It’s a waste of time. Computers do it better, so why bother?
So I’m not extremely naive anymore. I understand that Ableton and Serato have taken away a lot of the work in the DJ booth. Deadmau5 hasn’t really mentioned anything I don’t know, but he gives a detailed description of how every aspect of his performance is planned out because of the time-dependent visual effects. Reading it made me feel frustrated and disappointed.
i dont have any shame in admitting that for “unhooked” sets.. i just roll up with a laptop and a midi controller and “select” tracks n hit a spacebar.
I’ve learned first-hand that big-name DJs are almost always terrible DJs. You’ll hear older DJs say stuff like this all the time, in that “back in my day…” kind of tone. But it rings especially true when you realize that the only way to become a big-name DJ is to make a recognizable song. No matter how amazing your live performances are, you’re not going to headline a festival if people don’t know any of your songs.
If music production (specifically, a big fat famous chart-topping hit) is the criteria for becoming a big-name DJ, it seems like it leads you to do the exact opposite of what a DJ is supposed to do. The more famous you get, the more you use your own music in your performances, the more you play only the sound and genre you’re expected to play, and the lazier you get about actually creating an interesting and unique experience every night.
Some of the best nights I’ve ever had were house parties that either I DJed myself or had a friend DJing. With a crowd composed mostly of my friends and girls I wanna bang, everything feels intimately familiar. You know exactly what songs will get a reaction, you know what remixes will drive them nuts, and the DJ is having fun with everyone.
It’s a completely open space for experimenting. Just mess around with effects and loops and try to make live mash-ups and enjoy the process of DJing. Try to build up to a moment or a song and then just cut the music. Say hey and get everyone screaming. Loop the point before the breakdown, get everyone jumping, and then join in. Don’t be afraid of vocals and songs with a touch of emotion. Try out all sorts of strange genres. Don’t just fucking play chart hits and popular house songs.
It’s simple tips like that, and if you ever had a mentor who taught you how to DJ or read a book about it or took a class, that’s exactly what they’ll tell you. Know the crowd. Feel what they’re feeling. Create a vibe to the night, with ebbs and flows of intensity. Surprise people. Have fun, and show your love for the music.
It’s actually pretty simple. But you can’t do it with a preset timeline and a playlist you put together before the performance.
Once upon a time, I went to a Sander Kleinenberg event because back then “This Is Not Miami” was still popular and clubbing was the default thing to do on weekends.
The warm-up DJ went by the name maDJam, a name cornier than Iowa, but I still remember how he was one of the best DJs I’ve ever heard. Starting the night off with some Balearic house and slowly melting into deeper and more aggressive sounds, he played exactly what the crowd was ready to hear for the first hour. Then he upped the ante, throwing in some funky beats, alt-rock remixes, old school classics, and a bit of freaky electro to top it off.
He cut between songs fluidly, took advantage of slower transitional parts by bringing in other elements of multiple songs, threw in a bunch of crazy samples, teased a few seconds of popular songs before returning to play them later… Most importantly, he looked like he was having fun together with us while still showing off his impressive technical skills. By midnight we were all raging, a full house of several thousand people ready to have a great night.
And then Sander Kleinenberg came on, played a bunch of sober repetitive house tunes, stood sullenly at the DJ booth, and only got an energetic response when he finally played “This Is Not Miami”.
If deadmau5 doesn’t want to develop his live performance, that’s fine. He has always claimed to be a producer, not a DJ. But I would hate it if all big-name DJs started thinking that they could just phone it in. You’re cheating the crowd if you think all you have to do is jump up and down behind a booth for a few hours.
Producing and DJing has become very strongly coupled – practically inseparable these days. If you do one, there’s a damn good chance you do the other, even if you completely suck at it. And since you can’t sell a DJ performance the same way you sell mp3′s, it’s always going to be the better producers who win out.
I just hope the art of DJing doesn’t get completely crushed in the process.
TL;DR – deadmau5 says that anybody on Earth can do the same thing as any big-name DJ. I say fuck that, and if you’re gonna DJ for people live (whether or not you call yourself a DJ) then it should be a live performance that you have fun with, experiment, show off your technical skills, and react to the crowd.
Update: Create Digital Music has also written an interesting response to deadmau5. They clearly know more about the technical side of what’s possible from a live performance.
Update 2: Dancing Astronaut has basically written what I was trying to write, but just way clearer and not as much of a rant.