Live Sets Vs. DJ Sets

About a year ago, I was thrust into a group chat with a few friends with the promise of a live set by Chromeo at Sound Nightclub. Immediately I was skeptical.

If you’ve been to Sound, you would know that there isn’t even a stage. There’s a small section of non-descended floor that’s separated from the rest of the club by a single velvet rope and a moderately scary security guard.

Now, if you’re familiar with Chromeo, you would know that there are no way such accommodations could house their full live setup complete with guitars, amps, keyboards, and series of percussion instruments. Even if Dave1 and P-Thugg were to stand completely still during their live set (which never happens), it simply wouldn’t be practical to try. A DJ set would make much more sense.

So I asked.

“What makes you think it’s going to be a live set?”

The response was a tweet from the official Sound Twitter that read:

“Just announced: Chromeo live at Sound Nightclub 12/27!”

As someone who writes for blogs and websites, I know that the Twitter account is probably run by some low level person at Sound’s PR company, who got the new show announcements and was told to make them sound exciting. He more than likely wasn’t aware that in the world of electronic music that a live set and a DJ set are different.

It’s an interesting idea if you think about it. Other than occasional rapper who also has a talent for selecting, there are no other kinds of music where this applies. If you pay for a ticket to a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert, there’s no confusion as to what you’re going to see. All four of them will be up there playing their hearts out like they have been for 30 years.

Before DJs were playing giant arenas, such spaces were generally reserved for rappers, singers, and instrumentalists. Whether or not they could spin records wasn’t a concern, and once those artists reached that point of superstardom, it’s doubtful they’d ever get to play in a more intimate venue ever again.

However, with the rise of electronic music, the art of DJing has become more respected. People became interested in knowing who DJs were instead of passing them off as some dude who was playing music while they partied. This newfound viability in DJ sets has presented an interesting opportunity for artists with the desire to do so.

As someone who grew up on rock and currently plays jazz trombone, I’m inherently more impressed by live sets. Whether it’s an instrumental setup like Chromeo or one of Gesaffelsteins masterfully crafted techno journeys, a live set is much more demanding both physically and mentally. The ability to play an instrument or synthesize music live like that takes years of practicing several hours a day, and it’s exceedingly difficult to come up with new material when you’re on stage. Live sets need to be meticulously rehearsed, and except for the occasional cover, they consist solely of the artists own compositions and productions.

However, from the artists perspective, the inverse of all these facts are what’s to love about DJ sets.

DJ sets give the artist a kind of freedom that live sets can’t. Once they’ve reached a certain skill, an artist could decide to DJ at a local club whenever they have a night off. There’s no equipment to haul, no rehearsals to attend, no lighting cues to practice, and instead of having a specific setlist to follow, artists have usb drives with thousands of songs that are ripe for the picking. If you can spin one style and have an ear for music, you can pretty much spin them all. Even if they stick with the type of music to which they are most associated, DJ sets give them a chance to “perform” songs they’re really into that they didn’t write.

DJ sets also give artists an opportunity to have a more intimate connection with their audience simply because that kind of connection is necessary for DJs to do their jobs. One of the reasons a lot DJs who will not be named can get away with playing prerecorded sets in front of enormous crowds is because, with so many people in the audience, it’s impossible to truly get a read on what they want. So by default, they pretty much only play their own music or stuff that sounds just like it. As long as the DJ is emitting the same kind of energy as the song, everyone in the crowd thousands will scream and yell and be so happy. However, since live acts who also DJ can get that kind of electricity for their live performances, they use DJ sets to try and vibe with audience on a more personal level. As a DJ, they have the power to completely change the mood of the room with the touch of a button, and when you can actually see the faces of the people in the crowd, you can tell exactly how they feel about what they’re hearing. At a live show it’s guaranteed that everyone is there to see the artist. At a club that’s not necessarily true. Enough people like clubbing in general and have enough money in their bank accounts to go to their favorite club regardless of who’s playing. In that setting an artist can’t stick with a familiar style of music if people aren’t feeling it. Their job is to get the crowd moving, and for real fans of an artist, the way in which they do that is always intriguing.

If an artist is able to perform both as a live musician and as a DJ, they deserve some serious respect. It’s basically two completely different art forms. While a live set represents how an artist feels their music should be interpreted, a DJ set represents a different side of a person you may have only seen from a thousand feet away. Some diehard musicians might be reluctant to see a DJ set, but just remember that both kinds of performance represents that artists point of view on music. A live set is just about them, and a DJ set is about you.

From the fans’ point of view though, it really is just a nice way to be able to experience music they love in two completely different settings. Plus it opens up the possibility of afterparties at the club when you’re done seeing the live set somewhere else.

Written by
Harry Levin

Hi my name is Harry Levin. I live in LA and I'm an absolute lover of music.

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