FAN BASS: PUSHING BUTTONS OR PUSHING BOUNDARIES

June 27th, 2012

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Bassnectar at EDC - Vava Voom Tour 2012Lorin reopens the Fan Bass vault and answers a classic question about performing and DJing that has been the subject of much recent internet hype waffle:

QUESTION: Hey Lorin – I’ve always wondered, and I think I speak for a lot of people when I ask this, but what exactly do you do on stage when you’re performing live? A lot of people argue that electronic music is nothing more than a DJ pushing buttons and that it takes “no skill.” I always tell them it is much more than that – obviously it takes skill to produce everything that you have, and I feel like your shows do in fact involve much more than just pressing play and pretending to mess with knobs, but could you please elaborate on how you actually do perform? I think that a lot of people are also curious. Keep spreading the word brotha!!! – kidonwheels

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This is a long answer. And yet I feel I am leaving a lot out. It is a complex issue, and I considered posting a 1,438 part tweet but this seemed like a better approach, so here are my thoughts on it:

Personally, i have a really technical style of DJing, and a very aggressive/interactive approach to playing a set: i like to get my hands dirty, take risks, and steer people on a powerful journey. I am constantly pushing myself beyond my comfort zone, expanding the boundaries of how to make people freak out and lose their minds. I work 20+ hours every week of the year on new content, new effects and new techniques. I view DJing as an art, and quite frankly as an honor, to perform for a captive audience in a world of short attention spans and overstimulation. During a set I work nonstop, frantically combining unlimited loops & sounds & samples & effects into customized “live remixes” . I also get the fuck down, I let myself dance and enjoy the music the same way I do when I am at home working in the studio: i LOVE music, and I have been producing, remixing, sampling, synthesizing, creating, and DJing for over 15 years. Most people love music, I think. But a lot of today’s DJs are getting by with the bare minimum, and there is a lot of confusion about what is really going on. Are DJs just “pressing play”? What does that mean? Is it bad?

To really understand the hot topic of “button pushing” let’s get clear about several things:

1. What is the definition of a “DJ”?
2. The difference between “mixing” and “selecting”
3. What is happening up on stage during a DJ set?
4. What is “live” VS a “live experience”?
5. What is all the fuss about?

1. Definition
The verb to “DJ” means you are playing music; broadcasting it for someone else to enjoy. That’s it. It doesn’t mean you are curing cancer, it doesn’t mean you are playing guitar in a rock band. However, just like the verb “running” there are a million ways to do it. You can run a race, you can run in place, you can run to escape danger, you can run towards someone you love, you can run for fun, you can fake-run, you can run on a treadmill, you can run up stairs, you can modify your run and skip or sprint or gallop or moonwalk. There are a million ways to run, and a million reasons for running. Same with DJing. There are a million ways to DJ (a small sound system at a house party, a playback set on the radio, a simple showcase of music you wrote for a special occasion, a seamless mix of your favorite songs, etc). What matters to me is the experience of those in attendance, how delighted/moved/stimulated/pleasured they are. That said, I am a fanatic when it comes to pushing the limits of creativity, and always throwing more “ingredients” into the pot.

2. Mixing vs Selecting
Before you have any songs to mix, you have to select which songs to play. Specifically in the heat of each moment, you can choose to play any song in the universe, but what is the PERFECT SONG for each specific circumstance? There is no right answer but the proof is in how the audience responds. Some people have such meticulously developed sonic preferences and style, that the act of selecting the right songs and the perfect order/sequence of songs truly is an authentic form of art. There is an acute sensitivity required to balance out the different personalities within a crowd (the larger the crowd, the more conflicting the tastes & preferences) from balancing the masculine & the feminine, the hard & the soft, the ugly & the beautiful. And that’s where mixing comes in: how do you mix from one song to the next? Is it a fluid, inaudible transition (almost trance inducing because you cease to notice that time is passing or that songs are changing from one to the next)? Or is it flashy and jarring and high impact (like in traditional hip hop mixing where each mix is a performance, and there is a big wow factor at play)?
People can mix percussively (matching beats) or melodically (matching melodies) or sometimes they mix various components of songs (a beat from one song, vocals from a different song, etc). And of course, the spectrum of “mixing” is so broad, it is impossible to define every possibility or approach. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just let a song PLAY, and not pollute it with a bunch of additions or interference. And sometimes the opposite is true: a mix can be so interactive that you are juggling multiple components, and physically producing a live sequence on the fly; in essence creating new live music. You can sample sounds that already exist (pre-recorded) or you can produce noises and sounds in the moment. Combining everything into a seamless mix thus becomes excruciatingly involved and complex.

3. What is happening?
On stage, a person might be “mixing” a seamless set (a “continuous mix”) of songs (pre-recorded songs on a CD, a record, an mp3, etc) or they might be standing up there faking it (in essence playing “air guitar” or sonically lip synching) or they might be in between mixes (just enjoying the music and the moment) or waiting to make the next move, or they might be focused on showcasing a song and less focused on technique. The most basic form of DJing i can imagine is playing one song at a time, and stopping in between each track to announce or credit the song (like on the radio). It is still a mix, but it is not continuous. There is a great level of detail within a continuous mix, meaning there is a vast spectrum of interactivity, from doing the bare minimum, to really pushing boundaries and even making true art. On stage you could have 4 different “DJs” all standing in front of a lighting rig with their hands in the air, pretending to mix; or you could have one human being working relentlessly to mix a perfect seamless musical journey; or you could have a technical genius performing technical acrobatics like scratching or cutting, etc. And sometimes a song hits so perfectly, all i want to do is dance or just feel the bass rattling my body, and the audience can feel when you are enjoying yourself. It is important to let yourself go, be natural, and have fun.

4. What is “live”?
In today’s digital world, almost anything can be virtually synthesized or bootlegged or reproduced. Piracy is a huge problem for the music industry and the movie industry, but what cannot be mass-pirated is the EXPERIENCE of being in a room with hundreds of other humans. This experience is enriched by being in the same room as an artist you enjoy, as well as being treated to state of the art production, lighting, video, multimedia (Music + People + Big Sound System = Fun). Everyone knows the difference between listening to a song on a great stereo system, vs on crappy laptop speakers. And it only gets better when there is a massive, perfectly tuned concert-grade sound system, which broadcasts the music in the way it was intended to be heard and felt. At the end of the day, this live experience is more important than what is happening on stage. I have seen DJs completely fake their mixes, but the audience doesn’t know or doesn’t care, and is having the time of their life. And personally I have been working my ass off at times, blowing my own mind with how complex and technical my mix is, and all the while nobody can even see my hands or notice what I am doing. I may mix live, and interact with my music and my set to the full potential of what is possible with today’s technology, but the most exciting thing about “live” is all the different personalities and nervous systems gathered together in one unified group, and how all these separate individuals react, interact, and interplay.
*There is of course a difference between DJing (playing back songs in a continuous mix, no matter how complex or creative or interactive) and “live performance” where an artist or band is actually sequencing, playing live synths, incorporating live musicians, etc…it is a huge grey area, and there’s not enough time/words to address this topic currently. The point of this post is that even if an artist chooses to “DJ” and not “perform live” there is still a massive spectrum of how talented, interactive, creative, and technical he or she can be on stage. Personally I think of my sets as live remixes, triggering unlimited loops and layers and songs, and parts and segments and clips into a crazy, customized sequence; it’s more live than a typical DJ set (on the 1’s and 2’s) but I am not “playing music live” on a guitar or a clarinet or anything.

5. If you expect someone to do something in one exactly specific way only, you will probably be let down sooner or later. Any live guitarist you love is being heavily assisted onstage by guitar techs or stage managers or mixing engineers, etc. They might be plucking the strings live, but those strings are sending a signal through all kinds of “digital” processing, and if their string breaks they are probably being handed a brand new pre-tuned guitar so as not to miss a beat. Is this cheating? No. There is no cheating. Unless you claim to do one thing, and act like you are doing it, but are really not doing it (like lip-synching). This is where the issue of “button pushers” arises for EDM. When people are just “pressing play” on a turntable or a CDJ and then pretending to do things for the next 3-5 minutes while that song plays, then there is a discrepancy. There are many technical ways to produce a continuous mix, and if you are miming along to a pre-recorded mix or if you are doing fake-movements that don’t produce any actual sound, then you are being fake. If you put a ton of energy into producing music you produce, and then when onstage you simply want to play tracks for other people to enjoy, that’s fine! The problem is when you pretend to do something you aren’t really doing. People crave authenticity, and in EDM today, they are beginning to demand it.

There is a huge difference between producing/remixing/creating music in the studio, and playing it live for other people to enjoy… I can discuss that topic another time, but for now i would say the key is to enjoy yourself, be authentic, and be creative. It is an honor to be on a stage performing for other people! It is a thrill to contribute to their enjoyment and I don’t think it’s necessarily worth hating on anyone’s particular approach. I don’t wish to come off as negative by calling any one out, but at the same time I work so hard, so nonstop, and I don’t like to see my work or my art belittled by other people who try to do the same thing, but don’t put in the real work. Like I said, the goal is to give people a good time, and that’s what I focus on. But I am a mega-geek, so I like to nerd the fuck out. :)

I know people want me to get technical about my setup, and I will put together a tutorial. In the meantime, I walked through how I approach a certain mix on this interview I did for NPR.

CLICK TO VISIT NPR SITE
CLICK TO POP OUT IN PLAYER

Enjoy!
Lorin

  • Brittany Schanuth

    I Don’t understand why pepole have to hate so much, if you know you don’t like a certain type of music DONT listen to it, it’s that simple. Lorin thank you for taking the time to write your breakdown, it’s very interesting with all the diffrent veryables.
    Love your Art. Music. Passion

  • Moses

    I am in my late 40s and what I would consider myself to be a music fiend. I go to shows of various sizes and artists at least few times a month. (It’s been a great summer. I have seen Radiohead, Phish, Avetts, My Morning Jacket, Pretty Lights, Bob Dylan and more). Music is going almost non-stop in my house, car, brain etc. I play the guitar, write, “sing,” and perform as a one-man band, including stomping on a drum and jamming to guitar loops I make up on the spot. I am relatively new to EDM. I have struggled with the the “wtf are they doing up there?” question since I saw the art being practiced at Lollapalooza a few years ago. I mean, come on, how can you call that music when there’s no one playing the guitar or the clarinet or whatever? Well, screw that. It doesn’t matter. To me the genius is in the vision, the production (including how the music is mixed and the overall sonic palette), the presentation, and, above all else, the special sauce (the artist’s personality and desires interacting with the audience). When done right, the sights and sounds are incredible and the audience response is like nothing I have experienced since I was a 14-year-old kid getting his mind blown at an AC/DC concert in 1979. I love how the technology is harnessed to create something that connects on such a primal level. Clearly you guys (and gals) are doing something to move people (including me) the way you do. It no longer matters to me how it gets done, as long as it gets done. Looking forward to experiencing Bassnectar on the current tour. Peace.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jgimmeson Jason Gimmeson

    The NPR interview goes through it step by step, now I know. When I saw you at Red Rocks this year, I was mesmerized watching you dance and mix, like a witch stirring a cauldron. I have tons of music equipment and am still honing my style which is 10 yrs in the making and have played 2 weddings, because I am afraid of failing but am perfectly content tweaking my own music in my music room. I am also a 37 yr old farmer from Wyoming.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1005422633 Ryan Tigue

    keep making dope music and keep being great live, and I will support it no matter what

  • Yavid

    Man I respect the hell out of what you do, your music keeps me alive, thanks dude

  • Chloe

    lorin you are a god of music and a man of respect, grace, and raw unmatched talent. thank you for doing what you do. when i read your words I understand how your music is so powerful and so real. infinite love <3

  • Bass Memories

    I am a bass-head for life. I experienced my first Bassnectar journey in 2004. This world is what you make it, and one thing you will always have control over is the love you spread to one another. The community vibe you get at a show gives you flashbacks years after. Sound orchestrated so well together is mesmerizing to all ears. Thanks for everything and ill be seeing you again at the hangout fest, first time I saw you there was under the tent (Boom Room). This time you’ll be outside on the main stage, crazy, just hope the sound quality is top notch?

    – Bass Memories

  • Davis

    After i saw my first bass nectar show it changed me for the better, opening my eyes to the potential that life holds and seeing the limits pushed to a whole different level, fucking rebirth. Honestly, how does one listen to that music and not fall in love with it???

  • Davis

    Dude im so glad you signed that 3 year contract at bridgestone arena in Nashville, my home town, i got my favorite artist playing 3 consecutive NYE shows in my own home town, life is good.

  • Bass In My Face

    “the audience can feel when you are enjoying yourself. It is important to let yourself go, be natural, and have fun.” I have noticed this from mostly every DJ i’ve enjoyed. But Bassnectar takes it to whole new level. I’m so happy and excited and anxious to see Bassnectar for my 2nd time. I wish I could go and see him more often.

  • Troy Mihalcheon

    BOUNCE. I couldn’t wait to get lifted up and dropped endlessly for another hour after the vancouver 2012 show!… and the northern lights music fest in edmonton… and now the bumbershoot 2013 festival! best one yet! I always think you’re at the peak of your game, but then you just blow my mind is just blown repeatedly blown again and again and again! I want to go back!

  • Heffay

    Hey Lorin, you said you’d discuss production another time…and it’s been some time now :) do you think you could shed some light on your production process when you get a chance? I’ve watched/read a whole bunch of interviews with you, but i always see the same questions time and time again. i’m interested to know whats going on in your head when when the “flow” is peaking. and what has inspired some of your recent “flows.” i know there’s a ton of prep work for having all the sounds you want at your fingertips, so maybe you could go into what you look for in a sample as well. no need to get technical, i’m all bout the big picture/mental stuff. thank you!!!!!

  • jess

    I LOVE YOU

  • Space-Time

    Hey Bassnectar,

    You talk a lot about what you’re doing Live and about the experience:

    ” But what cannot be mass-pirated is the EXPERIENCE of being in a room with hundreds of other humans”

    I’m very interested in how you would define an experience. I’ve been fucking with time a lot recently and your “Ego Killer” on the Freestyle album seems to be fucking with time as well.

    What I mean by that is the fact that you seem like you’re experimenting with continuous vs. discontinuous sound waves by changing the frequency of a sound wave until it hits a resonance point, that point being the “drop”, or the “wub”.

    To me, the first part of the song with the melodic rift sets the time frame of the entire song by establishing a nice and soothing frequency for us to reference when it comes to the later “drop” in the song. To some people this later resonance is too much and they don’t like the song because its too “harsh” or “abrasive”.

    That being said, when it comes to the live aspect of listening to “Ego Killer”, I feel as though the beginning of the song sets a time frame through the continuous melody, and the observers are able to reference each other’s experience based off of that continuous melody. Once everyone becomes aware of each other and how each other person is experiencing the sound and their relative observers in the crowd, I feel that a connection is made, which people refer to as the “crowd” as a collective. Once the drop hits, you throw off people’s sense of time relative to each other person in the crowd because of the resonating frequencies. For some people, this transition is too much and they feel uncomfortable and seek to re-establish themselves with others again. This can be done and the experience is enjoyable again, but sometimes they can’t and the experience as a whole becomes un-enjoyable. Others know the resonance is coming because they’ve heard it in a different time frame (records at home) and will be essentially setting the pace at which the experience of the crowd takes place once the drop hits.

    That’s a basic overview of how I would define “Experience” at a live event. I’m very curious as to how you would define what an experience entails from your point of view at the time you read this.

    Something else I find very intriguing in “Ego Killer” is the idea of the trying to kill the voice inside of you. What are you referring to? Don’t we all have a conscious as well as a subconscious that speaks to us? It’s our own perspective on life, and while it may not be the same as others, why would we seek to kill our inner self to conform to what someone else’s inner voice is.

    “Always in conflict with that part of the brain, if i’m the only one then I must be insane”. Why? I have a conflict with the part of my brain that establishes space relative to time. Didn’t Newton have a conflict with the same part of his brain leading to the theories that we currently accept as Gravity? Are you referring to the part of the brain that seeks to combine resonances into a single point to make it a single, easier to process wavelength again?

    I would argue that this part of the brain seeks the path of least resistance in all situations. It seeks to solve conflict, it seeks to solve problems, it seeks to make things easier for us to live from our own perspective. Its when we step out of our own perspective and into someone else’s that we have a hard time adjusting. Our brain wants to make things easier from our personal point of view, but when we change points of view, or brain no longer wants to make things easier from that old perspective, but make things easier from this new, current perspective. That’s where my issue of time comes in. If we take a perspective and try to make things easy for us now, then in a certain period of time that is different from now, we may have a perspective that has changed and the easiest path of existence resonates with our old path. Sometimes this can be a soothing resonance, other times it can be harsh like your drops, causing personal chaos for our sense of a singular self. We’re amorphous in nature, always changing perspectives and seeking to understand new things that affect where our perspective will be in a future time. Some people take the path of least resistance and become close-minded to new perspectives so that they don’t have to reduce a resonance in paradigm shifts back to a singular point of view. That takes energy and some people would rather not expand energy. As newton stated, an object in motion stays in motion, while an object that is still wants to stay still. These close minded people want to stay still, while others such as ourselves want to move around and actually accept resonance into our lives as something that we seek to understand instead of solve. Its not about solving these “problems” or resonance, its about understanding them and incorporating them into our lives so that our perspectives, or paradigms, shift to a new state. This new state may be foreign, but once we ground ourselves to it, we can start to explore it in a new light.

    I’m currently grounded in space and time. I’m seeking to understand the two and how they relate to each other. In your live experiences, I feel as though you do a great job of setting a space for us to start to explore the different aspects of time you throw at us through you speakers. These aspects of time are represented as frequencies in sound waves, as a frequency is essentially how often a sound wave repeats its self over a given time period.

    Circling back around to Ego Killer, mixing in continuous time with discontinuous time really makes me think about how my body interacts with that. I consider dancing a physical way of expressing how my mind is interpreting the different time lines you throw in my direction. Certain frequencies cause my body to contort in different ways based on how my ears are perceiving the sound coming at me. The visual aspect of things is a whole other ball game and as I’ve been writing too much as it is, I think I’ll just say that the sound is time and the light is space.

    Hope you can touch on a a few parts that strike a resonance with you.

    Cheers,
    Molloy

  • Cota

    lorin: if you could do a duke ellington remix, i think my head would spin off of my shoulders. you know you’ve got it in you. it don’t mean a thing, perhaps? jeep’s blues? i think its begging to be injected with some of your epic bass. think it over

    • http://www.bassnectar.net/ colleen

      hey cota, next time you hit a live show of ours, drop this tune on the request line :) lorin always looks at it before compiling his set — http://www.bassnectar.net/requestline/

  • https://soundcloud.com/legosynth LegoSynth

    DAMN dont people feel nosy or something picking at this? like the dude said this answer is the one people really needed to hear. I understand the question is the “Authenticity” of the challenge up there onstage but someones ableton setup is like asking for their projects to an extent lol…. custom clip launchers (4X4) with effect knobs that are controlling his effects its not like a new thing, the “is he Synced” question is unanswered to me given the 2 laptop thing (ima CDJ-er). A big thing that people dont get is this dude makes extra clips of solo synths, beats to loop and shit like that on top of the finished productions, these extra hours of production of transition pieces and all make his style of performing possible, not just his effects setup. Lorin keep doin what u do sir, i know you are far more than just a clip launcher up there just by the sound.