Sell me on live "concert" DJs

Was watching Coachella and they had R3hab deejaying, and the entire crowd was going NUTS. The music was great, an awesome light show and R3hab worked the crowd and can see why people were dancing to it . . . . but they were watching and worshipping him like he was a rock star performing on stage.

The next tune he brought out a live singer, but still, its a chick singing over prerecorded tracks. I could see being at a club drinking, dancing having a good time to a deejay—not sure if I could stand there and watch a guy push buttons for 45 minutes with 25000 other people.

I know deejays are the hottest new thing in music, but how did this become a respected on stage art form? Is it finally an acceptance by the mucic fandom that a lot of “live concerts” use prerecorded tracks anyway? I guess you could say what I saw on the Coachella broadcast is something Id see at a rap concert—a guy talking over prerecorded tracks.

It seems to me there’s more “live artistic value” to seeing a talented (even a semi talented) band or artist actually play instruments on stage; Id even go as far to say even if I suspected they were lip synching I can at least suspend my disbelief and pretend they are playing live. Its hard for me to do that with a deejay, even if theres real “sound” coming out of his soundboard.

Is there a talent I am missing here? Yes, I am being an old fuddy duddy that just does not “get” this newfangled crap these young kids are into.

But come on, isn’t R3hab just standing up there playing music off a computer and getting the same cred as a REAL musician???

Longer answer is hell no. Good Dj’s are doing some crazy ass voodoo electronic mayhem at a level that is impossible to comprehend without actually looking into it. Pretty Lights is one of my favorites and he recently spent a couple years recording live “samples” that he could use to make music from with his electronic wizard hat.

Just watching a guy with 4 turntables is pretty astounding, nevermind all the other gagets out there.

When the DJ is actually mixing live it can be a great interactive musical performance. The performer (DJ) and the audience are feeling each other, responding to each other and the DJs choices are affected by this. It also takes real musicality to add/subtract elements in a way that feels good both in musical timing and in layering in a way that the layers can be appreciated and it doesn’t come to a cacophony.

That said, I have heard that many famous, well respected, and highly paid DJs do not actually mix live. They show up with the mixes they want and they press “play” and that’s it.

Now, their mixes may be quite good and they may very well have their own unique characteristics that make them special …but if they’re just pressing “play” then that, to me, is pretty much the same as if I went to see a band and the band walked out on stage, brought up their studio album with their iPod and pressed “play”.

Honestly, I don’t really follow the DJ scene so I don’t know who to tell you are the ones who put on truly live shows. From what I’ve heard, it’s difficult to tell even when you are in the audience. Someone with more knowledge than me will probably pop in to go into more detail than I am qualified to cover.

ETA: Upon preview, I see that Critical1 has shared some personal knowledge. Critical1, is anything I’ve said on the mark or am I just talking out of my ass?

bienville, my understanding is that the form has generally devolved to the state you describe. Deadmau5 on the subject. I’m not sure what recording “samples” in advance would constitute other than having prepared mixes or transitions.

Now, I’m not into the dance scene, just reporting what I understand the current state to be. I don’t know if they get or deserve the credit of “real” musicians, or where the line might be drawn between the groups. After all, it’s all musical entertainment. My personal disconnect is with the pre-recorded nature of such acts, I just don’t see the sense in one-off performances of recordings. Ship the thing, and let any ol’ fool hit play.


Imagine you were a crowded place wanting to party and dance. Imagine someone calls out songs, goes BIG with the music, then drops it low, calls out shouts you can sing along with, etc. and at all the right times cool lights happen?

It’s an amazing soundtrack to the party. And if the DJ can “tune” their performance based on how the crowd is feelin’ it, even better. I respect a DJ’s ability to do that kind of live mix - a lot. That is a craft that can be incredibly hard to do correctly. It is hard, however, for me to NOT think of that approach as “the best wedding DJ ever.”

As a guitar player with a lot of band experience, I am totally biased. When I play a wedding or formal charity event and am trying to get the crowd happy and entertained, I suspect I feel similar to a DJ who is workin’ it well. But that is a VERY different feeling than performing as a guitarist or band where the music is more of a focus vs. a soundtrack.

I recall years ago watching a British Channel 4 TV show* Faking It*, where impostors were trained to fake some skill in front of an expert who would pick the phony. The episode in which a straight-laced classical cellist who hates modern music was, in 4 weeks, turned into a professional standard DJ was particularly amusing. When the expert DJ was told who the fake was he was totally crest fallen, questioning his beliefs about his own talent and the skill required because, basically he confessed that after 4 weeks she was already as good as him.

Maybe that’s why I don’t know where the line between the groups might be. I’ve only played in clubs, we are the focus of the whole thing. But in most of those cases, I have no idea who paid at the door to see good musicianship, passion and art; and who paid to shake their butt or their head really vigorously.

I’d wager that a DJ could the same set on a tour all across the country, to the point where he could just put on a CD of his show and mimic the rest, and get the same reviews at all the shows (‘he was really feeding off the audience’ etc). I understand what you’re saying, but I also understand what the OP is saying. I don’t think most people would be happy to go to a Tom Petty show to find out the band is just playing 15 second tracks for a few hours. OTOH, if you go to a ‘modern’ band and don’t see any instruments on the stage, that’s probably what they’re doing.

Even without being a genre fan, I think I can address this.
A DJ who puts a lot of work and care into recording his own samples is putting a lot of his own personality and artistic sensibility into making sounds that audiences won’t hear from any other musician.

Compare to a visual artist whose medium of expression is collage (the artistic process is actually quite directly analogous, if you can accept collage as an art form it’s an easy step to understanding DJing/remixing as a valid musical medium):
Suppose there is a commercially available “Collage Artist Starter Kit”. Every kit has the exact same contents: same variety of colored paper, exact same pages pulled from the exact same magazines, glue, scissors, mounting board.
You give that same starter kit to 5 different artists. 4 artists work only with the contents of the kit. The 5th artist goes out and collects media that is unique and appeals to his own personal sensibilities.
All 5 artists may well come up with wonderful collages, but the one who gathered his material from varied sources is going to come up with something more personal and special.

I am sure we can talk all kinds of smack about how lazy DJ’ing can be. I believe, though, that in the right hands, it can be a credible and creative form of music.

As an instrument player, part of me wants to dismiss it as Not Real™ or Not As Good™. As a musician, I owe it to myself to be open to musical art in all forms. But sure, it seems much easier to phone it in if you choose to as a DJ.

Talented? Perhaps.

But you’d having a hard time convincing me that he is a musician.

Here’s the major advantage of live concert DJs: whenever they have them at music festivals, it takes all the most annoying high school kids away from the stage I’ll be at. They’d rather watch Skrillex push play on his laptop, I’d rather not deal with them in the crowd, everybody wins.

I am not sold on D.J.s as actual musicians either. Talented, sure but I suspect the needed talent is a good ear and the ability to count.

As for complexity with four turntables, well let me 'splain.

I went to a Steve Morse clinic a long time ago. At the end Steve played a new song. To do so he played a rhythm track (note, the rhythm track was actually a quite complex chord progression). He looped it on a digitial delay. He then laid down a synth line and looped it. He then laid down a melody track and Looped it. And then he solo’ed on top. And then he brought the whole thing down gracefully. My jaw hit the floor. He had a four part song going by himself and it sounded like four people playing. And, this being Steve Morse, the were on the really freaking hard to play side.

That is complexity. Or Teddy Lee of Rush playing bass, synth and singing at the same time.

So, while I respect the ability of a good D.J. to get people up I have a hard time buying that the technical skills are all that complex.

Also it seems to me that this is a part of culture that is really beginning to bother me. And that is, or at least it seems to me, that a reasonable amount of newer stuff isn’t about making new art but combining other peoplrt work in new ways. Is some of it cool? Sure. But I have a lot more respect of artists who create their own work vs. someone who does mashups.

Now get off my lawn you crazy kids.


Not at all, some people no doubt press play and fake the rest.

musicians make music, if you give the genre a chance you might actually like it.

Pretty Lights - THE MAKING OF "A Color Map of the Sun" Documentary Trailer - YouTube This is a short behind the scenes of the samples I was talking about.

Is this really a “new” thing? Grandmaster Flash has been doing this since the 1970s. If you want talent, complexity, and DJing as an art form, there you go.

Yes, but again, my point is that they’re doing something earlier for you, and playing it now. They aren’t making it anew as part of a live performance.

Working in the studio is a skill, but creating/reproducing music live on an instrument is a whole 'nother level of putting your ass on the line. That’s where I see musicians being different from DJs.

Relevant SNL Digital Short.:smiley:
Yeah, I don’t get it. I’ve seen footage of outdoor concerts and festivals with Fatboy Slim, Deadmou5, David Gutta and so on. I can see going to a club where they are spinning. But I don’t get just standing around watching a guy behind a turntable the same way one might watch a rock band perform in concert.


ETA: I think using actual vinyl is considered even different vs what EDM DJs do.

GMF&F5 also rapped, which, while we can question is or is not that high of a talent, is something a lot of there deejays I was referring to do not do.

Combine my post that you quoted with my previous post.
Some mix live, some don’t. I was addressing your question about what the point is of a DJ recording his own original samples. When he’s mixing, whether in the studio or at a live performance, he can’t mix in anything that he doesn’t already have. He has to have the samples to begin with so that he can add them to the mix. A DJ who makes it a point to have interesting and original samples is putting his own unique artistic sensibilities into the work.

Maybe some DJs mix in these original samples in the studio then simply play a prepared mix when performing in a concert setting while some other DJ has his original samples available to mix in during a live concert performance as the inspiration hits in the moment while working the crowd. Your question about the merit of a DJ recording his own samples has nothing to do with whether or not they mix live in a concert setting.