One of the interesting things about electronic music is that we’re still a little unsure of how it should be presented to a live audience. With something like rock music, it’s easy. There’s a formula to follow: band stands on stage, band faces audience, audience jumps up and down, audience focuses on the performance. But when it comes to electronic music, there is no such formula, especially for live acts.
On the one hand you have performers who are a joy to watch: Ellen Allien directly engages the crowd by blowing us kisses, Apparat works his MIDI controller like Eddie Van Halen works his guitar, Jeff Mills spins in his inimicable Jedi Master style, Luomo/Vladislav Delay often looks like he’s orgasming behind his laptop. On the other hand you have performers who barely acknowledge the crowd and offer little to look at, instead focusing intently on the task at hand. At the recent album launch party for Mule Musiq artist Dublee, performances by Ada and Superpitcher illustrated both ends of the spectrum.
Ada’s live set was an iron fist in a velvet glove. With taunt, muscular versions of tracks from her album ‘Blondie’, Ada slowly but surely built up a tremendous head of steam, finishing up with a rocking version of ‘Eve’. Even though her tracks have a somewhat hard, digital sound, it was surprising to see Ada using analogue equipment, operating it live instead of a laptop. This was most assuredly a live set.
Despite the set’s rocking nature, Ada stood diminutively behind her equipment, concentrating on playing. Choosing to not do any live vocals, she left clubgoers with little to look at; there were no dexterous flourishes on the keyboard, smiles directed at the crowd, fists in the air, or even a head rocking back and forth. While her music spoke for itself and was full of energy, Ada herself was not very engaging. Then again, should she have to be? In a club environment, just how should a crowd treat a live act? Should the paradigm of a rock and roll performance come into play or should the audience treat a live act as just another DJ, the music a backdrop to the evening instead the main focus? And speaking of DJs, how should they perform? Should they play up to the crowd as a musician might, or allow themselves to be faceless, letting a “democracy of the dancefloor” rule?
Superpitcher, playing the DJ set of the evening, proved to be the polar opposite of Ada. Sweeping his hands in front of his face in dramatic gestures, putting his entire body into every twist on the mixer, staring out at us theatrically – Superpitcher clearly wanted to engage the crowd and show us he was feeling the music. Starting his set with Michael Mayer’s “Lovefood” was deliciously ironic: as the haunted vocals whispered “give me love, give me love”, it was obvious Superpitcher felt the same.
The set itself was a best of Köln minimal, with the Kompakt label heavily represented along with the usual suspects (Nathan Fake, James Holden, Wighnomy Brothers), as well as some fun surprises, such as The DFA remix of Gorillaz’s ‘Dare’. Superpitcher’s mixing has been criticized in the past, and while he’s no Mayer, he did a respectable job of stitching together a tapestry of melodic and melancholic sounds that had more than enough dancefloor swagger (although the Wighnomy Brothers’ ‘Wurz + Blosse’, despite being a killer track, probably didn’t need to be played twice).
For his finale, Superpitcher rolled out a ‘Superpitcher Megamix’, running through his remixes of M83’s ‘Don’t Save Us From the Flames’ and Dntel’s ‘(This is) The Dream of Evan and Chan’ and then following up with his own ‘Tomorrow’. It was a wonderfully bittersweet trilogy that the crowd responded to, and Superpitcher, caught in the moment, came in front of the decks, sat down and directly faced the crowd, an expression of heartbroken world-weariness on his face. Overwrought, theatrical, and melodramatic? Perhaps.
But the audience lapped it up, which suggests both DJs and audiences want a performative element of some sort at their night out at the club. How much, however, is enough? That’s an interesting question that’s still open to (and is in need of) debate.
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