BY ANTOINE AARENS
Some of you may wonder what are the different ways to play drum & bass other than DJing.
We analyzed this for years, rebuild the live set and took inspiration from other artists. Here are some thoughts about live drum & bass and electronic music in general
1. Different kinds of live sets
Photo : BBC / Youtube
First of all, any live setup requires enough music material to be achieved. There are a lot of different gear you can use to perform live. You can create the show you want. We noticed two main categories of live setups.
The computer based liveset: So far, we only noticed a few. We can name Icicle, Drumsound & Bassline Smith, Koven, Camo & Krooked or Sub Focus. It can range from a simple live PA (an hybrid DJ set with a few live elements) to a whole audiovisual experience.
When you look at Sub Focus live (picture above), you can see those huge led circles synced with the music, it wouldn’t be possible if he was DJing alone (unless the venue had a similar stage setup that comes with a talented VJ). In this kind of liveset, you also notice the ability to play with elements of the music (drums, bass, synths, vocals) instead of just playing the tracks. It’s possible to beat loop the drum section only, playing synths, using a motion sensor on an LFO, etc.
Photo by Olivier Bourgol - Creative Commons
The live band : What’s gonna change from the previous one are two things : the sound and the presence of live musicians. Live bands amongst Drum & Bass artists have been around for a long time, but technology helped a lot when it came to recreate DAW produced music on a stage. You can use VST’s on stage, automations and drum samples as in your project file. This kind of setup doesn’t suit a lot of artists, since it requires stems to be played by actual musicians.
I can name Modestep, The Qemists, Pendulum, Netsky, Roni Size & Reprazent, Chase & Status, London Elektricity, Sigma or Wilkinson.
While a computer based liveset doesn’t always require a sound engineer, a live band does because there will be (in some cases) a mix of analog and digital instruments (vocals, guitar, bass, hardware synths and drums)
2. Limits of the live set.
Photo by Kmeron - Creative commons
Unfortunately, the live route doesn’t seem to be that popular amongst Drum & Bass artists, especially when those belong to a sub-genre.
Here are a few explanations:
- Playing live costs time: you need to set up in advance, soundcheck before the night and carry all your equipment (depending on what you use). Of course you can shrink a few visual aspects depending on the logistic of the venue or if you are touring, but it doesn’t solve everything, especially if the visuals are crucial for the performance. In addition to that, time spent on the liveset preparation is time you don’t spend making music or playing out as a DJ
- It also costs money: you have to buy the equipment, and depending on your setup, hire a crew. It’s as expensive as a rock band, especially if you start touring. DJing is much more efficient money-wise.Rob Swire (Pendulum/Knife Party) once said to us on twitter: “ there’s no money in live music, the bigger you get, the more you’ll pay” (speaking of Pendulum and its crew, tour manager, catering and logistic costs).
Photo by Tom Blackwell - Creative Commons
- Artists need music material and popularity before going live. Well, maybe we’re not in the best position to say that, but it’s the way it usually goes. As Netsky said on reddit comparing live and DJ set, live is more for Netsky’s fans, since you’ll hear full length Netsky tracks during the show. It’s way more personal than a DJ set.
- Live music is a logistic issue. When the venue or the promoter wants a precise stage setup for the night, you can’t put conditions with a live band for instance. Most of the drum & bass shows are parties, not concerts. Spacewise, unveiling your setup in the middle of the night can be an issue, especially when you are not headlining. On top of that, it’s easier to get bookings when you are just starting out as a DJ and doesn’t require extra space or a soundcheck.
- Detailed sound design and intensity might be destroyed with a live setup. Some drum & bass sub-genres are more suitable than others for a liveset. For instance, I can’t imagine isolating stems of neurofunk tracks to be played on pads or keyboards. Variations in the drums can’t be recreated by a human being. it would require a lot of work. Same for the intensity of the performance, you can’t surprise the crowd and double drop as easily as with CD players.
- A live set is also something you can’t adapt on the go, it remains the same. It may require rehearsals, tests to change it. You can’t easily drop the latest dubplates a fellow producer sent you in a live set.
3. Why we still want to play live?
Even though our project is still at its early stage of development, we keep on playing with the band. Why is that?
- It’s a way to get noticed. Since most promoters know in advance who they want to book for parties, unknown producers don’t stand a chance. To play out, you need releases on influential record labels, a solid network or being a promoter yourself.
So far, we have none of the above, so we try to offer something unique with the band. And believe it or not, sometimes it pays off.
- We take advantage of our musicians skills. When we started playing and producing electronic music in 2011, we didn’t think of DJing at all simply because we weren’t able to do it. Being fans of The Chemical Brothers, Pendulum or the Belgian Soulwax, Soldout and Shameboy, it’s wasn’t an option to do something else than a live set.
- When the music will be good enough for releases, it might pay off. Combining a signature with an original stage approach should be a good combo. I believe that artists are mostly booked for their names and productions, not really for their ability to play tracks in a creative way to please a crowd. We are also wondering why some famous artists don’t have the guts to build a liveset. Maybe because the DJ bubble is too comfy for all the reasons above. But don’t be mistaken, we love DJing and play DJ sets as well.