Live & Touring

Are EDM Live Shows Inherently Limited or Do They Have Greater Potential?

Creamfields-brasil-gerardo-lazzariWhile EDM DJs have been accused of creating music and then simply pushing play in live performance, there's obviously more to EDM shows than that. Though certain styles of acts are currently popular, EDM performers can range from groups that look like rock bands to acts that are one guy in a mask standing behind an array of equipment. But even the seemingly dominant style of performance based on a dj or two along with a light show reveals the flexibility and the potential of EDM performance.

The push play controversy was relatively mild but focused on whether or not EDM dj's were doing much of anything during live shows besides pushing play and occasionally twiddling some knobs.

Deadmau5 Cthulhu Sleeps Hakkasan w/ mau5bot 06/24/2013

Though much of that discussion focused on what dj's were doing with gear during live shows, it also touched on the nature of EDM performance that has seemingly become a standardized approach.

Default EDM Mode is Not As Simple As It Looks

The default mode for EDM performance largely seems to be a dj with a light show. But this works well for a number of reasons. Certainly at its most basic it satisfies the joint requirements of a live show with the dj as the live source, symbolic or otherwise, and the lights as the show.

Synced audio and visuals are powerful when they link a crowd. They have the bonus effect of offering a shared experience for those using drugs and those who aren't that might otherwise have radically different experiences. Combine that with fashion that makes fans part of the show and you have a total experience that belies the seeming simplicity of the dj with a lightshow.

But There Could Be So Much More

Obviously there are additional modes of EDM and electronic music performance than the dj moving a crowd augmented by lighting but that model lends itself to considering the possibilities rather than the limits of EDM performance.

Collaborations, Crossovers & Additional Performers

Though the presence of the dj is key to making it an EDM performance, most EDM is open to multiple interpretations and could easily be used to drive musical theater or dance performances. Though this may lead to contempt from many sectors such developments are already going mainstream in the form of performances combining or connecting EDM and R&B.

The Fan as Part of the Show

EDM fans are already part of the show and certain styles of fashion have become institutionalized in mainstream EDM. Given that event coverage often features fans, making them a more important part of the show and encouraging their creative participation offers interesting potential. Kind of like Burning Man setting up camp in your audience.

The Stage Set as the Show

Major EDM acts are already putting real money into stage elements. But more could be done in terms of making that the show especially if one considers the potential of robotics and the like. However stage sets and lighting can also draw together all the elements described above. The current dominance of light shows and relatively limited size of DJ's makes it easy to imagine additional performers. The ability to project images of the crowd or to have crowd activities affect lighting brings them in as well.

The Danger of the Electronic Disneyfication of Music

The above possibilities could certainly focus on helping to build community on a mass scale, involving the audience in the show and expanding the realms inhabited by EDM. But they also point to the now inevitable process of Disneyfying EDM.

Just as hip hop somehow became safe for big brands, EDM is also making the shift at a rapid pace. Major investors and a growing festival scene in the States are helping to set the stage for EDM shows with branded DJ masks and the like.

It's quite likely that the things I describe above as "possibilities" are already occurring or in the planning stage. It would be nice if some of those directions led to new things beyond simply sucking as much money out of the phenomenon as possible.

[Thumbnail image Creamfields Brasil courtesy Gerardo Lazzari.]

More: Deadmau5 Says 'All EDM DJS Are Button Pushers', Peter Kirn Sets Him Straight

Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (@fluxresearch/@crowdfundingm) also blogs at Flux Research and Crowdfunding For Musicians. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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  1. I’ll tell you this. Back in the 1990s when you saw a live act, it was literally like a band with digital and analog performers combined and a sequencer binding the electronic elements together. If any of you have ever seen Orbital, 808 State, Leftfield, the Orb, or Crystal Method perform back then, you’ll know what I mean.
    Now it’s someone on a laptop with a few midi controls, possibly a costume and/or stage lighting…and more Jesus poses/fist pumping than actual performing. Things both on the live PA guys and even headlining DJs have become so rigid, planned, and formulaic that we lost that “live improvisation” aspect.
    I think that’s the direction some need to think on. Be more than a laptop. Be a band. Get a singer. Get a horn player or even a drummer. Do something more than just firing off samples in Ableton while spending the big money on a helmet and LED-lit stage setup.

  2. As an EDM DJ myself and having collaborated with other DJs and entertainers, there is definitely lots of room for creativity with the right combination of compatible talent and today’s entertainment technologies and good music selections appropriate to the venues or occasions. There are many entertainment genres and performance types that appeal to a variety of audience so don’t knock what you don’t like. We respect your choices and preferences at a professional level.

  3. That’s not really entirely true. I remember that there were performers back then who were known for their “live” performances which involved pre-recorded material off of a DAT with effects added in realtime.

  4. i am well aware of this(the need for a more entertaining aspect to live shows) . that is why i practice the shit out of my sets and have made the same conclusion that there needs to be a better performance than just djing with great music i have created a live stage show that will send shivers up your spine. i guess it also helps i am a working actor as well and got my inspiration from one of my classes to make the crowd part of the show while spending good money on the production value.

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