The Studio and the Stage

Dance Music Live

 

You know that awful feeling you get when you finally score tickets to see your favorite band perform and, after months of listening to their album in hopeful anciticpation, their live show just totally sucks? I’m sure you do; we’ve all been there at some point or another. The guitarists misses the chord, the lead singer can’t hit the right notes. Go to enough concerts and you’re bound to leave a few of them unsatisfied. The letdown of a live show is one of the worst feelings in the world. If you’ve ever stood at a concert thinking “I wish I had stayed home and listened to this in my room,” then the artist has, in some sense, failed.

Live DJing

The cliché “I heard they suck live” translates to “the band isn’t talented, their producer is.” But the expression takes on a new meaning with electronic musicians because most of them are producers. Even the musical acts that aren’t strictly DJs but still have an electronic feel to them, think Animal Collective or LCD Soundsystem, still do a lot of the production work themselves. Every musican leads a double life: the studio where he makes the music, and the stage where he performs it.

Both are important in different ways, and there’s obviously a difference between being a great live performer and a studio wizard. Live shows combine lights and visuals; there’s a lot more to a concert than just the music. The context of a performance can have a huge effect on the experience, too. But great musicians still have to be great performers above all else. And the best musicians are doubly talented at both producing and performing. The line is becoming blurry, thanks to software like Ableton Live that allows both in-house production and live performance. But the old adage is still true: live shows prove who’s really got talent. At a time when record sales are falling, concerts are especially important.

It’s funny to think of the Bloody Beetroots wearing their masks alone in the studio, or Daft Punk working on the new album from inside the Pyramid. But both of those groups are as popular for what they do in front of an audience as for what they do alone in the studio. Sure, they make great stuff behind the scenes. But let’s not forget about the live show.

 

Laidback Luke

Laidback Luke

Here’s a great example of an artist who knows how to work the studio and the stage. It’s hard to “put on a show” as a DJ, unless your name is Steve Aoki and you spend most of your time standing and screaming into a microphone. Laidback Luke stands out as one of the premiere producers and performers working today. The Netherlands native has really taken off in the last couple years. His success is well-earned. He’s ridiculously talented at making original songs and remixes; and he performs with an energy you won’t find many other places. Listen to some of Laidback Luke’s stuff below. Then do yourself a favor and go see him live.

 

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MSTRKRFT – Heartbreaker (Laidback Luke Remix) UhOhDisco.com

 

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Major Lazer – Pon De Floor (Laidback Luke Remix) UhOhDisco.com

Hiphoptronica

Hip hop and electro are, technically speaking, two different genres of music. But every year (hell, every day) they get a little bit closer together. Maybe it’s too early to apply a name to the synthesis of these two styles (and, please god, I hope somebody invents a better name for it than the intentionally tacky title of this blog post.) But there’s no denying that they’re starting to overlap. I know this isn’t exactly a new idea. Genres always overlap, and defining a genre is always tricky. Still, the distinction between hip hop and electro is growing increasingly blurred.

Neon Turntables

It’s easy to see why the two styles go hand-in-hand. DJs need vocals, and lifting the vocal track off a well-known rap song is both a) easier than recording good-quality vocals and b) a surefire way to get the dancefloor excited by playing something people recognize (assuming they like the original song.) Seriously, how many times have we heard Rick Ross’s “everday I’m hustlin'” sampled in an electronic song? It’s often easier to build off the popularity of another track. The production of hip hop has become more elecctronic, too. Making a rap beat involves the same software as making an electronic song. And both styles often use the typical “two turntables and a microphone (and a laptop)” for performance.

Hip Hop Production Electronic Equipment

But is hip hop is becoming more electronic, or is electronic music becoming more, ahem, “hip hoppy?” Niether. Both genres are becoming more like the other. That’s what makes it so interesting. Two different styles are both moving toward the same sound. A popular electro song can become a rap beat, like in the case of Kanye West’s “Stronger”. Or a rap song can be sampled and turned into something more danceable, like the MSTRKRFT remix we just posted about.

Listen to the Wiz Khalifa track below. It uses that old Alice DeeJay song “Better Off Alone” as the basis for a rap beat. Then listen to an old Bloody Beetroots song that uses Public Enemy vocals. The rap-electro synthesis can happen both ways. As always, leave any thoughts or comments you have.

 

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Wiz Khalifa – Say Yeah


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Bloody Beetroots – Public Enemy


Ratatat – What a Pleasant Surprise

Despite the fact that the genre consisting of all the electronic and electro music has assembled much of it’s popularity due to the hype around “new and original sounds”, it would be foolish to deny the appearance of more than just a few styles that could easily be called generic. Artists like The Bloody Beetroots and Crookers have, since the time of their conception stood fast on top of the sounds and styles that they created for themselves, and though I cannot say that I do not enjoy those particular sounds, they certainly do become a bit tiresome after an extended run. Now, please don’t attack me with your feelings on how a group without a definite style is a is a forgettable one; I couldn’t agree more. But when it gets to the point where you almost don’t have to listen to a track before you know what it’s going to sound like, one cannot deny that it does become considerably less interesting.

Ratatat

It’s because of these “ruts”, into which so many artists have begun to fall, that I was, and still am, so thoroughly impressed by the latest album from the likes of Ratatat, entitled LP3: In all actuality, the odds were totally against them. Think about it. A year or two ago, they had a bit of a following, but we all know they didn’t truly emerge until about the time they made a world tour with Daft Punk. (Who would have thought?) In the months that followed, they gathered popularity exponentially, to the point where your red neck friend, who only bought an iPod just last year when he realized that he was among the 3% of people that still didn’t own one, actually came up to you and told you to listen to “Wildcat”, acting like you’d never heard it before. And a few months after that? “Ratatat? Yeah, whatever.” To make things worse, a few underwhelming tracks surfaced on the blogs not long after, which gave people the impression that Ratatat had nothing left to offer. Their path was that of a one hit wonder, and so many people have made premature assumptions, I guarantee that the world is not prepared for what’s about to gush from its noise-making machines:

Ratatat‘s LP3 is gorgeous, in the true sense of the word. Unlike the artists that follow the pattern in the aforementioned paragraph, Ratatat has managed to fulfill just about every request that one could ask for in a follow-up album. It has character, class, and depth, but most of all, they’ve evolved their style to the point that it’s completely fresh, while somehow managing to stay entirely the same. As a whole, the album is considerably lighter and more universally enjoyable, frequently substituting piano (and even an occasional clavichord) and strange and funky noises for some of the drums and extremely rich guitar sounds of their previous works. Nonetheless, you’ll never have to question who you’re listening to. It’s completely different, and it’s exactly the same. Commendable indeed.

Here’s a few tracks to tease, but I must inform you that the entire album is quite lovely. Do them kids a favor!

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MP3: Ratatat – Dura

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MP3: Ratatat – Mirando

LA Riots

And here’s a little toss in. For those of you who aren’t aware, a remix contest was staged a while back for “Lo Sforzo”, a querky electro track originally produced by IHEARTCOMIX‘s Ocelot (who has coined what’s probably close to my favorite phrase, ever: “All the fun of trance without all that trance”). While many of the resulting creations were quite entertaining, one of them, which happened to be produced by the now-well-known remix team LA Riots, proved itself to be a particularly floor shaking brick of synthesizer-goodness. Unfortunately, that track has all but disappeared from the internet, and for a while I worried that I’d be forever doomed to living without it. My luck did turn, however, and I figure I should repay the spirits of karma (and the delightful LA Riots) by posting it up here. Be careful… this one bites.

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MP3: Ocelot – Lo Sforzo (LA Riots remix)

Random Finds and Updates

Thought I’d toss up a mini post for a couple of the better tracks I’ve stumbled across recently. No real theme to them, except for the fact that they’re all pretty spectacular. Check it out:

Thunderheist & JFK


JFK (the mustached half of MSTRKRFT) has recently finished a remix for fellow Canadian party-goers, THUNDERHEIST, which is a cause for celebration considering electro/hip-hop hybrid tracks given the MSTRKRFT touch always seem to get the bodies bouncing. Here’s the remix, as well as the original:

Thunderheist – Jerk It (Nasty Nav + JFK remix)

Thunderheist – Jerk It

On a side note, how would you like to be in the front row at one of Thunderheist’s shows…

Kitsune

Also, I just had Kitsune’s most recent compilation album tossed my way, and I must say, those Parisian’s have got quite an arsenal of artists going for them. Though the entire album is very well done and quite worth purchasing, I was particularly impressed by the London duo, autoKratz, who had me up and grooving with their track entitled, “Pardon Garcon”.
I’ve included that, as well as another of their rather danceable tunes.

autoKratz – Pardon Garcon (rework)

autoKratz – French Girls Play Guitar

Rayflash

I’ve got to give credit to DiscoDust for picking this next guy up. Japanese producer RayFlash is an electro dream-come-true, what with his heavy kick-snare drive layered with the perfect combination of distorted, vocoded, and reverbed synths. It’s like he took a piece of everything that’s ever been done in electro, from Daft Punk to Boys Noize, and threw it all together in one ultimate track. And as a plus, he’s finally put Japan on the electro map, which opens up a whole new world of producers and possibility. I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of a response the rest of the Japanese world has to this new found genre.

RayFlash – Flash Dancer

The Bloody Beetroots

And finally, I simply must comment on a particular Bloody Beetroots track: I don’t have much to say about it, except that it makes me feel like I’m about to fight Bowser in an epic game of Super Mario. Kinda makes me wonder what they were trying to accomplish with this interesting piece of music. What do you think?

The Bloody Beetroots – Verra la Morte e Avra i Tuoi Occhi