Live Performances vs DJ Sets: An Emerging Trend?

February 9, 2015 -

Peter Boulos

Kevin O’Leary, best known as an investor on the CBC show Dragon's Den, or its American counterpart, Shark Tank, once said: “One of the worst businesses in the world right now is selling CDs. However, one of the best businesses in the world is selling out shows.” This is a fairly accurate assessment of the current affairs in the music industry, electronic, or otherwise. Understandably, it is far more stimulating for a listener to see and hear an artist performing in front of them, rather than through a set of speakers. What the “performance” is, exactly, is where electronic music enters a grey area.

Electronic music, as has been composed in the past, has traditionally been nearly impossible to “play” live onstage. With many productions having over 50 individual tracks, it becomes an unreachable level of complexity for one person to replicate what is heard in a final, produced track, impromptu on stage. As a result of this, the “art” of playing electronic music to crowds has been traditionally been the realm of a DJ, whereby mixing complete tracks together is the compromise between lack of live input.

Recently, however, there has a dogmatic shift towards the aspects of live performance in electronic music. Famous examples of this include Keys N Krates, Andy C, and of course Daft Punk. Physical drums and instruments, synthesizers, and step sequencers are common sights for live electronic music performance. The end result for the audience is, however, in most cases, very different than that of simply mixing tracks together.


Traditionally, bands and musicians perform live with a series of instruments that rarely differ extensively between one group to the other. For the most part, a band consists of a vocalist, bassist, guitarist, and a drummer (at least classically). Obviously there are variations, Mumford and Sons with their double bass, The Fray with the piano, and other multiplicitous variations. However, compared to the complexity of an electronic music track, many arrangements seem utterly pedestrian in comparison. The amount of variety varying between live electronic music acts is simply staggering. Faul has a saxophone, Keys N Krates has keyboards and drums, and everyone from this list, has a bizarre and completely unique setup that only that performer uses. Vocalists are also commonplace in electronic music setups, with someone like Armin Van Buuren occasionally employing vocalists to sing alongside his tracks, or Calvin Harris singing over his own tracks. However, there is a large problem in the vast cornucopia of setups that dominate live electronic music setups: for the most part, the audience has close to no clue as to what’s actually going on behind the “decks” (so to speak). All they hear is the music.


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