I’ve been skirting this one for a while as I feel it will be somewhat controversial but I think it’s time to stir things up in this column so here we go 🙂
What do you all think of live instruments laid over a dj set? Have you ever seen it done well, and what do you think made it good? Not just a gimmick but something that actually elevated the music.
Of course I am hinting that I’m not overall that fond of the idea. Like being asked to do a tag set with a dj I have never played with before, being asked to dj alongside a musician I don’t know does not sound like such a hot idea.
And that’s assuming I’m even asked – sometimes a person just shows up and starts playing. Come on now, I don’t bring my headphones and USBs to a band concert and try to dj with the band – wtf?
That said, with PLANNING and the right person it could totally work. What people don’t seem to understand is when I play a set there is already a full range of sound represented so unless I’ve planned something very minimal, it’s not going to sound good with a live horn on it.
Furthermore, when I am in the mix – defined as two tracks layered in at the same time – there are now two full sets of full range of sound which is a delicate balance in it’s own right and there should almost NEVER be a live instrument added on top of that.
Last week I used the 3rd deck in my set and fyi I also think that is a gimmick most of the time as 2 tracks are almost always enough. I used it because I had 2 minimal tracks playing at the same time and I was afraid mixing out into one would be a drop in energy so I rolled a third, more energetic track over both to mix out. But playing 3 sets of full range music together would almost never sound good, so when it’s done well it’s usually minimal techno.
Since I am actively in the mix more often than not, I would need a musician both knowledgeable and paying attention to what I’m doing in order for it to work. They would need to know not to play unless I have only one track in, and how to dance around any melody (I’m not really a minimal dj, prefer to represent a fuller range of sound).
Since I believe in the integrity of the music , I would want to get together ahead of time and work on sounding really good together. Sounds like a lot of extra work for me to do this well.
The exception I see is if I do a track or album with a vocalist or musician it then it would someday be cool to play a stripped-down version and have those vocals or instruments live. But that’s crossing over into a live performance really, and I’m already working with the musician so that all seems to makes sense.
But as far as my DJ sets, I have never requested to have a live musician play with me because it would be a big deal for me to do that with integrity, and I honestly don’t think my sets need any extra layers of sound that were not already programmed in by the producers who made the tracks. Certainly it’s not worth going through all the hassle of trying to make it work if I don’t think it’s going to elevate the music.
So for the musicians casually requesting to play live with me at a festival the day before, or on the spot at the gig that I contracted, promoted, and prepared for without any of your involvement, in order to play for fans who bought tickets perhaps partially to hear me play a mix of my style of music without a surprise side show – the answer is always going to be no. I will try not to hurt your feelings but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bug me that I have to. Or that I have to feel bad saying no.
The thing is, I honestly don’t even know if I’ve EVER heard a DJ set with a live instrument sound elevating by the instrument (different from a live set, which I have). What’s typically elevated is crowd response, because adding a different element grabs people’s attention. But I’ve also seen crowd response elevated by a DJ train-wrecking just cause it shook things up – That doesn’t mean it’s something to strive for 🙂 To me, it’s not about whether it has elevated the crowd, it’s about whether it has elevated the music.
I’m keeping an open mind, and hearing a recording not biased by the live hype this creates is the true test of whether DJ set with live instrument has succeeded MUSICALLY.
So prove me wrong! Give me your links to a recorded dj set (house or techno please) that sounds elevated because of a live instrument added on top.