How to play electronic music live

Hal RitsonLEME 2013: The spectre of ‘EDM’ looms large over contemporary music in 2013 – and perhaps no figure is larger than that of the often outspoken dance music artist Deadmaus. Or at least his mouse ears.

Last year Deadmaus aka Joel Thomas Zimmerman stirred up a huge amount of fuss in dance music circles by claiming in a blog post entited ‘We all hit play’ that pressing buttons is all electronic music artists can do when performing ‘live’.

The comments, understandably, sparked a huge amount of online spluttering about the nature of what makes electronic music live. This was in no small part due to the huge amount of money being bandied around for performances in the EDM world since it’s recent leap in popularity.

At the London Electronic Music Event (LEME) 2013 at Rich Mix cinema, musician and producer Hal Ritson spent his Going Live panel session passionately arguing that Deadmaus was and is wrong. He claims that there’s much more which needs to go into a performance than just pressing buttons.

‘There’s no excuse for electronic producers to put on a show where it looks like they’re checking their emails. All live performers need to create a world of their own and invite the audience into it,’ he explained.

Hal is a producer in his own right as part of the Young Punx collective as well as helping Dizzee Rascal shape his live band. M heard him explain the importance of live music and his golden rules for performing live…

Live is an interaction between band and audience
A performance of a song has got to add something to the original so the crowd sense it’s a unique communication to them. But don’t feel the need to replicate the record. You need only keep the bits which should be kept and are the better for being played live.

But remember that live is an interaction between the musician, venue, PA and crowd. It’s often good to strip back your arrangement. In the live situation, less can definitely be more…

Make sure the audience know it’s live
If no one knows certain bits are live, then what’s the point? The audience need to know. The best live music needs to display a sense of risk – this also conveys the idea that the show is different every night.

Live mix
Music sounds shit live when compared with the record. But technicality should not overshadow charisma or performance. Create an illusion. Visually push the important bits to the front of the mix and the stage as a way of inviting your audience into your world.

This is a performance not a playback
Pull out the best bits of the original recording. Daft Punk are a good example of this. They rebuild their tracks for live taking the best bits and making some sort of mash up/re-edit.

Don’t be scared by the concept that it’s a ‘show’ and not just a live performance. Visuals, personality and presentation are just as important as the performance.

Have a back up plan
Technology will fail and computers will break. Your soundcard will stop working and your laptop not turn on for no reason. Have a back up plan.

Consider logistics
Everyone wants to have a big band but is that practical? Equipment becomes a burden when you start playing gigs outside your home town and then country.

Being economic can be the difference between being booked or not. Make your set up portable and cost effective.

Be professional.
Turn up on time and sound check. Sound checking is important and the difference between your live gig sounding good and sounding shit.

Be organised like a military organisation. No one wants to spend months rehearsing if it sounds like a pile of crap when you play it out live.

Be the appropriate amount of drunk.

Meet your fans.
Amanda Palmer is a great example of someone who has used her gigs to make bonds with her fans. She’s become friends with everyone who has listened to her music. Fans feel like there is a connection with her and so connected they will go and see her all the time.

Find out more about Hal and his various musical projects from his website.