Richie Hawtin, KiNK + More Discuss Role of Live Production In A DJ World

Amsterdam Dance Event is an electronic music conference/festival that brings together the most influential people in the industry. DJ TechTools’ contributor Akhil Kalepu was there to document the event – including one panel about the role and future of live production in a DJ world.

When Is A DJ Not A DJ? How Setups Have Evolved

The standard two decks and mixer setup is becoming less relevant every year as computer-based alternatives offer an increasingly diverse set of tools at a fraction of the price. Even DJs sticking with Pioneer can explore new sonic possibilities with the newly unveiled DJS-1000, a sampler/sequencer designed to complement a CDJ setup.

Electronic music has always had an eye on the future, so Marco Faraone, Francesca Lombardo, Richie Hawtin, and Strahil Valchev aka KiNK sat down for a panel discussion. Moderated by Duncan Dick of Mixmag, “When is a DJ Not a DJ?”. was inspired by an opinion piece by Ryan Keeling of Resident Advisor entitled “DJing Shouldn’t Be Easy.”

Two Decks: Beautiful and Simple

we now live in a “post-industry standards age”

Turntablists have cemented themselves as musicians who use decks to manipulate sound.  For years, CDJs helped performers like Marco Faraone blur the line between DJing and live production with features like cue points, looping and samples. As Keeling mentions in his piece, we now live in a “post-industry standards age”, where it’s not uncommon for performers to require space for a tailored setup, but the panel began the discussion by crediting the two deck setup for its beautiful simplicity.

For fans of vinyl, there’s nothing like the thrill of hearing a skilled DJ ride the grooves with nothing but their ears. Even on CDs and USBs, the risk of a train wreck has a way of inspiring creativity, forcing the DJ to make creative decisions to stay within the technical limits of beatmatching. Nowadays the sync button offers an unlimited palette for DJs to work with, but in the DJ booth it can have the opposite effect, drowning the listener in a flood of loops and effects without any soul of the original record.

The Flattening of the DJ World

The digital revolution is partly to blame for this unlimited palette. Back in the days of physical records, white labels and dub plates, a DJ’s sound came from his record collection. With a limited budget, crate diggers had to make every dollar count when purchasing new tracks, and if they had the right connections, maybe they can get a bootleg no one else has access to. Fast forward to the 2000s, playing the Beatport Top 100 is as easy as downloading a torrent file, forcing DJs to find new ways to break out of the homogeneity.

Francesca Lombardo, a vocalist and pianist as well as a DJ, made a point of expanding her sound with a live act, featuring several instrumentalists, but commented on the lack of improvisation required by an ensemble. What you gain in musicianship you risk losing in experience. Live acts often provide a pre-programmed, visually stimulating performance while sacrificing the “escape factor” of a DJ set, beckoning the audience to close their eyes and get immersed in the music.

As Richie Hawtin put it, “the magic comes from going off-script”. He and KiNK have had illustrious careers doing live production that keeps with dance music’s spirit of improvisation. Richie extensively discussed how his most recent live show involves a new form of DJ booth, split in half – allowing the audience to see even more of the physicality present in his sets. Or as he more specifically put it in the panel:

What do you think is the difference between a DJ and live production? Share your own thoughts in the comments below!