The good, the bad, and the Guetta - a brief history of producer/DJ live TV performances
From The Chainsmokers to Purity Ring, we talk about live TV performances in EDM.
"How is this a performance! He pressed play on his laptop!"
"Who the fuck is this dude and why does he matter - he literally just pressed play and sat there"
"Sitting on the couch pressing play only caters to the narrative that this generation's idea of "performance" is a joke."
With an exponential rise in the commercial, mainstream popularity of electronic music over the past few years, the genre has copped a lot of flak. Like the comments above (taken from a blog's Facebook page on an article regarding Baauer's Colbert performance, which we've linked below), many people have adapted a 'press play' policy on DJs and producers when it comes to their live shows. Sure, when DJs and producers perform live at festivals and gigs they mix songs, using CDJs or Ableton or a variety of other techniques, but when it comes to live TV performances the need to mix songs is obsolete, so when it comes down to it - what exactly are they doing?
Take the above performance for example. Talented or not, The Chainsmokers are commercially insanely popular - you have to be to perform on American Idol - and when it comes to their live shows, they're pretty well known for their in-key mixing, showcasing up-and-coming producers, and actually bothering to mix in a capellas with a different song instrumental (which you gotta admit - is pretty rare when it comes to your big-name DJs). However in a live performance, where you only need to play one song, what does a DJ duo exactly do? I believe the answer is pretty damn evident in the above performance - fuck all. Sure, taking selfies with the crowd and yelling into a mic is probably entertaining, but does it take talent? No. Does it showcase your musical skills? Not really. Does it help contradict the whole "DJs only press play" argument? Fuck no. To be fair, The Chainsmokers themselves have said it's the worst performance of their careers, but surely there must be another way to showcase your DJ talents on live TV?
In comes David Guetta, with a performance of Where Them Girls At on America's Got Talent (noticing the shitty talent show link here?). You got to admit that this is better, but it doesn't really help us with the whole press-play argument. Unlike The Chainsmokers, he brought in Nicki Minaj and Flo Rida to help showcase his music which is a step up from the performance above, but if you look past them and solely focus on Guetta himself in the background, we're back to square one with the whole 'press play' thing. He kicks it off with scratching; good to do if you're DJing (just look at A-Trak and DJ Craze), but no scratching sounds come through the speakers. What about all the knob twisting he's doing? To someone who doesn't know what DJing actually is (see: everybody in that crowd), it looks like he's doing something but really, we all know he's not - the music doesn't change at all. Same goes for the beatmatching he's doing throughout the whole performance by slightly spinning the second CDJ, sure it looks good, but when there's no second song to bring in - what exactly is he doing? Nothing. To be honest, the four CDJs, the mixer and even David Guetta not being there wouldn't change the sound of the performance in the slightest.
Deadmau5 talked about it in a blog post he made three years ago entitled "We All Press Play", which caused quite a bit of backlash from fellow DJs who attacked him for 'misleading the people', but he did bring up a solid point - "My 'skills' and other producer's skills shine where it needs to shine… in the god damned studio, and on the releases. That's what counts… Because this whole big “edm” fad is taking over, I'm not going to let it go thinking that people assume there's a guy on a laptop up there producing new original tracks on the fly, because none of the 'top dj’s in the world', to my knowledge, have." So what should producers do on a live TV performance when really, there's nothing to do?
The Baauer Approach
Okay so by now you've probably seen Baauer's performance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert where he premiered his new song Day Ones with a ferocious performance featuring mysterious Brooklyn female rapper Leikeli47. It's a great song, and the performance was pretty spectacular, but what did Baauer do? Nothing - and to be honest, that's better than what David Guetta did. It's one thing to perform on a show and do nothing, but it's a whole other story to try and convince the public that you were doing something, when really you were doing nothing. Instead of going up on stage, pretending to twist some knobs and calling it a day, Baauer gave Leikeli47 time to shine on a big stage and it worked, it got his music across and while it didn't reaaaaaaally help with the 'press play' argument, it's a pretty effective way to get your music across truthfully because the focus was on Leikeli47 and her performance, Baauer wasn't even in the picture for 95% of the show. Baauer himself summed his whole show and the approach pretty well with his tweet below.
The Live Band Approach
There's also the live band approach, which in my opinion is probably the best way about it. Take Purity Ring (above) or CHRVCHES, who performed on live TV using a full band set-up. It. Worked. It got rid of the whole "only thing electronic artists do is press play" complaint, it showcased their music extremely well to a diverse, new audience, and it made them look professional as hell. Before you get into the whole "but they're not DJs, so it doesn't really count" argument, look at Hudson Mohawke. Renowned for being a world-class producer and DJ, he's now currently touring Australia with a full live band, with band adaptations of all his songs from his albums Laterns and beyond. If it can work for him, for a whole tour in an international country well known for being expensive to tour in, then it could work for one performance - surely?
At the end of the day, I guess if you get your music across to an audience successfully using live television, then it's a job done. But for the love of god, at least put some effort into it to making it good, we don't want our live TV performances to drop to this standard now, do we?