Does Live DJing Actually Matter in EDM? [OP-ED]
Who and what is a DJ?
A DJ or Disc Jockey, is someone who selects a song for the perfect situation by reading the emotions from the listeners to make the right record selection. For awhile now, there has been a misunderstanding in the EDM community on DJs and would like to clarify the meaning. There are two types of DJs we know in the music industry today. When you are watching a ‘DJ’ at a festival, they are actually music producers using DJing equipment to translate their music to the audience, whether it be through their own projects or other entitlements.
Not all producers who are DJs perform their own music entirely, but that’s given to the fact that as your job as a “DJ”, it is to make sure that the song selection is right for the atmosphere you are in whether it is their song or not. hen you have the DJ that solely plays other people's records. These DJs are known specifically for having a good ear for song selection.
Since you now know there is a distinction between the two types of DJs, let’s talk about the argument that some people use to discredit producers who are DJs. Many will argue that the performances aren’t live and that a live performance makes the DJ more genuine; But lets face it, you are ultimately there to hear the tracks that they are bringing to the table.
Working the turntables is not that difficult and is actually quite simple as a matter of fact. Anyone who is interested in mashing records together can do it as long as you have the proper equipment. The basic gist of what a DJ does during a set can be shown in the video below.
We're Just a Bunch of Glorified Button Pushers
Deadmau5, who has been infamously known for being brutally honest, has boasted that he can teach someone how to DJ like he does in a span of an hour on Ableton Live. It's just a matter of having a pre-mixed set and choosing where each set belongs in a moving timeframe. It may sound difficult at first but once you start to understand the basic concept of rhythm, you could see that even a child can do it, which only proves the point, “we’re just a bunch of glorified button pushers.”
So with the ease of DJing, this question arises. Why does anyone DJ if it’s so simple, and does it really matter if the performance is live? You can make the case saying that since DJing isn’t so complicated, everyone should be doing it live, but my argument is… why does it matter when you’re there for the music regardless if it's live or not? You paid for your ticket to go hear your favorite producer or artist on stage through massive speakers so why the scrutiny? What they do is no different from going to see a live NASCAR race in person than watching it on television. When you are listening to a record with effects on it through the radio or listening device, you are hearing the automation from the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) that the producer was inputting, not the turntables on a CDJ.
That’s like saying to your friend, “Hey, I’m going to EDC this year to check out this DJ’s new technique on how they use a HighPass Filter during the rise!” instead of… “Dude, KSHMR and The Chainsmokers are closing the night out at main stage and Drake might make a guest appearance!” You are there for the music and the person who is performing them, not because they can switch a track. To break the connection between genuine and falsity due to the fact that a producer who is DJing isn’t using equipment that's plugged in or using a pre-made set to give one hell of a show is a bit childish in my opinion. Remember, these producers not only have their music on the line, but their reputation and the reputation of others as well. The music is the cold hard proof that the work has been done and even in the interviews, you can sometimes hear big name producers say right before their sets that they are working on their mix before they go out and perform it to us.
With performing live, there are also a lot of complications that could arise during the setup process; creating the set, setting up equipment, making sure the cables aren’t faulty, the weather, etc. and this can cause a lot of room for unlucky situations or mishaps that may happen. Unlike, a live band, that can take breaks and interact with the audience to diffuse a technical error, a DJ has to be keyed in on a constant timeframe which can either mess up or elongate certain segments of a song which could actually ruin the momentum of an entire live set. Have you ever been in the situation where you were at a festival and you were waiting for the bass to drop? That’s because the DJ at that time is fumbling through his pre made drops and is trying to figure out which drop to choose after the rise
As hilarious as the videos are up above, you can see that during the live sets a lot of things can actually go wrong. When you’re working with audio equipment, things are being plugged into multiple audio inserts that are connected by multiple cables. Mixed in with the pounding of people jumping up and down and the use of substances from both the crowd and the performer makes the margin of error become drastically huge. Even Skrillex, someone who is widely considered as a powerhouse DJ has had complications in the past.
Quite a lot of DJs who are producers have been scrutinized by the dance community and have lost their credibility for not performing live at a festival due to the fact that you could visually see them not twisting knobs or having equipment plugged in. Two of the most popular DJs who have gotten the most flack for this are Calvin Harris and David Guetta. Personally, I think David Guetta is one of the most influential producers in the dance scene that has brought a lot of hype to the genre through his dance album Nothing But The Beat, but as you can see from the video above, he was definitely on something during his performance at Tomorrowland. This ultimately lead to the downfall of his credibility which not only hurt his DJ reputation but his producing reputation as well… which the two have no relation.
Honestly, I would much rather prefer to have a mix that has been tested out at different venues, remixed and re altered before it gets heard on a huge stage like Ultra Miami, EDC, or Coachella. I am in no way at all saying that DJing live is a bad thing, but am making the case that it doesn’t really matter because you’re there for the music. You’re there to see the name… whether it be Skrillex, Deadmau5, David Guetta, or whoever you are there to see, not because of their talent on turning knobs or pressing play. It’s a perk and definitely adds volumes to the personality of the DJ but isn’t really an important or deciding factor if the music or performance was good or not. If you were going to make a comment about something and are asking for more from these producers then you should really be focusing on what sounds they are using, if the pacing of the set is matching with the energy of the crowd, and if the type of drop they are using fits in well with the overall melody of the pre drop. Those things I can understand and if all those sucked then yeah, you’re right, the DJ shouldn’t be up there.
Ultimately you are there because you love the music they have made and not because they are pushing the play button when switching a track. You know them for their epic drops and the eclectic music you’ve heard either on the radio, Spotify, or soundcloud and like them due to their song selection and how they mash it up. Veterans in the game like the names mentioned up above can pretty much do anything while performing so when they want to relax and enjoy the show themselves, why not cut them some slack and rather raise your hands up in the air and wave them like you just don’t care, because... you really shouldn’t.
Ryan is passionate about the creation of music, and considers it a form of art that can entice human emotions to a level beyond their own comprehension.