The forthcoming release of Miss Kittin ‘s Live At Sonar gives us the chance to consider the role of DJ sets (more or less live, more or less artificial) immortalised and marketed on CDs the discography market is overstocked with. Can a DJ set be considered a live in all respects by the same standards of a concert with a lot of musicians making music through instruments (either acoustic, electric or electronic)?
After all, a DJ set is nothing but a sequence of someone else’s records mixed more or less. Miss Kittin’s live was recorded live during her performance during last year’s Sonar and was successively edited in some parts for some problems of licences and authorisations on some tracks. The fact that a live is not reproduced in its integrity but divided into some parts allows some conceptual doubts on the operation. But if a DJ is judged a musician in all respects (by the English musicians’ union too) we absolutely must consider his simple mixing a live performance by full right.
Miss Kittin’s case is rather peculiar because beyond mixing, this DJ born in Grenoble ( France ) likes to profit from her singer’s role improvising several live karaoke. A human voice over -recording on a sequence of mixed tracks creates a more perceptible live effect, with vocal imperfections and the return of public’s noise on the microphone.
The DJ set’s axis shifts decidedly towards concert dimension when Miss Kittin talks to her public on the microphone and while the disc skips repeatedly for a technical problem, our heroine blathers to pretend nothing happened. All this bring us back in time, when you could listen to DJ sets only in clubs and the “records” were sold directly by DJs or by illegal stalls in Rimini such as in Camdem Town in full house music explosion were the only way to listen to legendary DJ’s deeds. When music industry then realized illegally recorded DJ sets had a market decided to produce tons of compilations.
Just think about the series connected to the most important bars in the world, such as Fabric ‘s or Dj Kicks of! K7’s , to understand its importance (commercial too). You should not undervalue it is not uncommon that mixed compilations sell much more then albums produced by DJs. If at the beginning DJ sets were exclusively live performances reproductions with two cymbals and a mixer ( and sometimes a sampler ), in time mix CD has become rather a studio practice, where the editing software replaced mixers and cymbals and target tracks licences replaced the spontaneity of selection.
The mystification in studio of a DJ set is a disgraceful practice because it does not tell us about a DJ’s style, maybe it suggests just his artistic idea, but it does not tell us anything about his style. Try to compare Larry Levan al Paradise Garage ‘s live to any mix CDs released recently in order to understand the differences between a live experience on CD and a planned DJ set on CD.
There are exceptions indeed. In 1997 Coldcut managed with their 70 Minutes of Madness to define in a new way the concept itself of a CD mix, profiting from turntablism potentialities. Jeff Mills’ Exhibitionist (in its DVD version too) shows the tension, the mistakes of someone who loves to perform with a live feeling, baring his soul to the public. Excess Luggage di Laurent Garnier is instead the quite perfect transposition of feelings different from live DJ set to live DJ set in different towns, although the mixing is probably rebuilt in studio.
Sometimes the raving computer editing, used above all to get perfect mixings or to disguise possible mistakes in post production, is used in a creative way. The perfect example is 2002 2ManyDjs ‘ As Heard on Radio Soulwax part.2 , able to recreate a sort of live feeling despite a selection evidently edited and studied up to the details in studio. The compilation opens with a live version of Emerson Lake & Palmer’s “Peter Gunn”, as if they wanted to emphasize their will to keep a sort of well-organized live chaos.
2 Many Djs succeed anyway, where Liam Howlett of Prodigy partially failed, in their The Dirtchamber Sessions Vol.1 of 1999. It was an experiment of total mash up becoming sometimes a mere exercise of style, revealing the scrupulous planning of the selection. This idea of list more or less planned raises a series of questions about live sets fruition mechanisms. In the case of a normal concert, the public knows perfectly the band will play the tracks with a certain order, maybe lengthening some parts or cutting some track from the list, following anyway a planned outline. In a DJ set instead a list should never be planned because the DJ should follow the dance floor’s flow, try to seize the emotional inputs from the public and select the track list in real time, with continuous changes and last minute’s choices.
When instead the selection of a CD mix is made, the DJ does not consider the reactions of the public; it is a listening selection even when it is dance music. A live recorded DJ set is a witness of what happened, maybe only a fetish for who was there. It is not our intent to find out what is better or what is worse, but it is to become aware that a DJ set on CD is a studio work; it is quite never a picture of a DJ’s style. It does not tell us much about being a DJ, a creative talent able to express him never but during his performance in front of a public.