[Photo by Dezi Magby]
There is something magical about going to see live music. There is a buzz in the air and a sort of excitement for what is to come. Whether I was going to see a rock, punk, experimental, jazz, or dance music show, I still felt that same excitement. That feeling was always waiting for me as the date of the show came closer. I would sit throughout the week and daydream about what I would hear, what the crowd would be like, and what I would learn about myself and the world around me by going to the show. This excitement became in those moments a close friend that I came to know well. It amplified and rendered meaningful my love of live music.
The shows I have always been most excited about and learned the most from are those where improvised instrumentation is going to occur. I spent a good part of my teenage years following and listening to bands that fused jazz, progressive rock, dub, hip hop, and psychedelia into dynamic live and studio performances. When experiencing this music live, I often had no idea where it would go and what boundaries would be crossed. This performances became a space where genre’s became nothing but toolboxes to tell stories and to take the listener on a journey. I gravitated toward dance music, because it has much those same qualities.
Much like free jazz, experimental, or “fusion” music of different types, I feel dance music performances have the power to re-write the vocabularies of genres. The vocabularies of House, Techno, Ambient, Trip Hop, Jungle, Drum & Bass, Dubstep, Glitch, IDM, Industrial, and Hardcore were made by people to render that section of the musical universe knowable and understandable. These genre are not mythical giants in far away dark mountains. We do not need to make offerings before the genre gods. Genre’s are false idols. They are sets of rules and norms we forgot we created to streamline listening and creating. Dance music performers that recognize this are able to wield these vocabularies as a starting point for crafting their own voice. They see these vocabularies not as a box they have to fit themselves in, but as the blueprint for breaking down the box and fashioning their own house out of it. In such instances, records and a mixer or a live P.A. set up become the instruments through which we advance our dance music culture and express what it means to be a living, breathing artist in Columbus.
I feel the live P.A. work of THE FALLEN (And FBK & Plural Individually) has attained this level of genre bending and subversion. When Plural & FBK started playing sets of fully improvised material about a year and half ago, I really did not know what to expect. I came to understand the only way to approach these performances was to expect the unexpected. Every time I saw them play live, all my preconceptions of what I thought would happen were broken. I was slapped across the head, knocked on my face, and then picked up again by the beat. Little prepared me for when FBK used a clandestine recording of a friend discussing women earlier in the day as a perfect vocal sample to accompany a performance of dark, funky dance music (WHILE THE FRIEND WAS IN THE ROOM). I was also not ready to see Plural craft and unleash crystalline gems of pulsing, beeping techno in just a few moments; his creations materializing out of the ether as sophisticated pieces of some futuristic dance floor armory.
My favorite moment of seeing them live was when they played together at my BLUR show last November. For 45 minutes, they took us down a cascading staircase into the heart of the molten core of their sound universe. They poured over their instruments creating walls of sound that flowed out of the speakers as hot, molten magma. It was like we were watching them crafting their own tectonic plates of sound that would be used as the crust of a sound world upon which we would all stand. The old brick walls of that former factory space melted away, and we were left exposed in the cavernous expanse of sound; standing on the ground that had been crafting for us. We truly were on some sort of frontier.
In this moment, THE FALLEN had subverted the rules of genre and created music that told a story rather than fulfilled a checklist. In this moment, THE FALLEN crafted their own code and shared it with us as a cipher to work through the morass of commodified sounds pushed on us everyday. In this moment, THE FALLEN found those mythical genre giants cowering together out in those dark mountains and told them that they have their own way of creating sound and won’t be needing their services any longer. In this moment, THE FALLEN set out on their own, without the comfort of the crowd, to burrow deeper into their own sound world to tweak the tectonic plates of a sound universe of their own making.
Luckily, they will be playing live again next Friday as THE FALLEN at Future Maudit at Cafe Burboun Street. You can get more details about that event HERE and read about one of the other performers Tyrant Manque in an interview I posted up last week HERE. For now, enjoy the interview I did with FBK & Plural, as they discuss broadly what lived improvised sound means to them and why they think it is important for people in our community to appreciate the Live P.A. performance.
Local Autonomy: Both of you have been playing live P.A. sets individually and together as The Fallen around the city for the last year and half. What is it about performing live that you both enjoy so much?
FBK: I always enjoyed playing live because of the serious disaster that can happen when everything doesn’t go as planned. There is a thrill that cannot be replaced when ANYTHING can happen. I’ve spent 25 years on stage now, and the randomness, fear, excitement and overwhelming joy cannot be replaced. DJing is similar for both me and James (only because we’re both risk takers whilst playing with records)…but playing live adds in so many elements that something can go wrong in a near instant.
If I knew that our live set would sound exactly a certain way, I don’t think I’d have any fun.
Plural: Performing live is fun because you have that element of disaster that could happen. You could loose sync or a piece of equipment could freeze up.(Just to name a few things that could go wrong) I have to say Kevin and I are quiet the risk takers even when we DJ. Everything relies on timing as well so we have to pay attention when things are going on because one mistake equals off time and a clashing of sounds we don’t want to hear. We don’t really practice much either which my shock some people, we go on pure feeling. So yes usually when you hear us and your like damn thats dope! We are right there thinking the same thing lol.
Local Autonomy: How does playing live differ from DJ’ing? Are there unique challenges and rewards that come with making stuff up on the fly?
FBK: When I play records (or CD, Mp3s, Edison Cylinders…whatever)…there’s far too often a knowledge that I have built over time-for instance, beatmatching as a skill is now like a base element. I know most of my music inside and out (only because I make it), my memory of tracks borders sometimes on obsession. I know while playing music for a crowd (pre-recorded music mind you) what is going to happen (though I pick my tracks at random, go into sets without any plan what so ever, and barely ever ‘organize’ my music…this keeps me interested in what I’m doing).
Live performances are more fun because…oddly, I do LESS planning for live shows than anything else. I love to create on-the-fly, working without a net on a tightrope…it’s an old analogy, but it works here. James and I rarely practice-we’ll talk about what equipment we’ll use, talk about routing, setup, things we’d like to hear…but we don’t usually do a ton of ‘run-through’ sessions or ‘practice because this one’s important’ (shit, they are ALL important!!!!)
Every show we do is different. The week or two before, I usually figure out what 3-6 preconceived things I’ll do…but I leave myself so much room for add-ons later. The last show we did @ Social room? We improvised the last hour or so…and it was the best part of the show!
Plural: Djing is different than Live because when your DJing you are not creating anything new, these are prerecorded tracks you are playing with and you are mixing them an a way to make it continuous. While as Live you are making the tracks right then and there tweaking and freaking the whole sound at your command. They are all new material that know one has heard yet until that moment.
Local Autonomy: How does playing together live as the fallen change the dynamic of your live performances from when you play solo?
FBK: James and I have some common ground, but we go about doing music rather differently…we both have parts of music production that we think one is better at in some way shape or form (actually, I take that back-I suck at most parts of this production thing…I’m the extra set of hands;)
Ok…seriously? If you mix a Plural track and an FBK track together-they tend to fill in the spaces that one leaves by itself. That’s the reason for The Fallen.
Plural: When we perform as The Fallen you are getting basically Plural and FBK just Meshed together our tracks fit so well together its weird, but it works.
Local Autonomy: There is a rich history of people playing live P.A. sets in dance music. Why do each of you think its important for people in our community to consider playing live themselves or appreciate those who do?
FBK: (Soapbox and rant time): For this crowd now, who are getting into this music mostly from being deluged by the glossy, polished giant marketing game called EDM (WHICH IS A TERM I FU#K!NG DESPISE)…There is a gap in the understanding of how this music not only came to be, but what the process of creating this music we love REALLY is. I have been asked several times about a DJ and his music…and many believe that we all just buy or steal music from somewhere and then bring out a computer and the computer does all the ‘hard work’ (unless there are records-then the DJ is ‘doing something’)…because many fans of this ‘new’ (old) form of music come from watching traditional instruments being played (rock, country, folk, what have you), there is a disconnect between what is REALLY happening with a DJ set, and what constitutes a LIVE PERFORMANCE.
Many have been tricked into believing that there is no difference, and that electronic music should be free (because the DJs and Producers don’t have to pay for the music, buy guitar strings or amplifiers, y’know…they just all have computers and the computer just creates what they want to play-because internet!)
Part of it is a sign of the times. Technology is FANTASTIC and it allows me to do things that I’d never be able to do when I had my old studio (which took up a 25 X 25 room and was filled with literally 1 mile of cable). My laptop has the ability to replicate all of that gear times two now with only two cables or so being needed.
I say all of that to explain this: A live performance should, and I say SHOULD, be an experience that isn’t pre-recorded, pre-determined or just mailed in by someone who spends the entire set looking at his computer and simultaneously checking their Facebook account. The crowd should be able to ‘see’ and ‘hear’ the process, warts and all. This to me means allowing for mistakes. I believe that so many people now hear live performance and expect that they’ll hear something akin to everything they’ve heard before, performed by someone else. That’s not what you’ll get with FBK, Plural or The Fallen. If we don’t know ‘exactly’ what it’s going to sound like…you shouldn’t either.
Last point and I’ll end my rant…To all the crowds and fans of dance music in Columbus-IF YOU WANT SOMETHING DIFFERENT-DEMAND DIFFERENT! If you keep showing up to the same event with the same 4 people each and every time, the promoter has no need to change what he’s doing. McDonald’s doesn’t change the Big Mac for this very same reason. If you continue to go out and hear the same music over and over, let the same rotation of DJs occur and do the very same thing-you’ll get no more than that. Comfort is BORING. SAFETY IS BORING. Adventure awaits…but you have to find the adventurous ones-VOTE WITH YOUR FEET AND YOUR WALLET. If you want bigger acts to come to town, PAY FOR THEM WHEN THEY COME! If you want different DJs to play, TAKE A RISK AND SPEND $5-10 on seeing something DIFFERENT!
Most of you reading this will pay $20 to go to a movie based on a TV show that you watched as a kid, or a rehashed version of a movie that was done a decade earlier….yet you’ll not spend even $5 to see a DJ or performer who comes from 3 hours away to play in our fine city. It wasn’t always like this-Many of the ‘old guard’ remember a time when there were events every weekend filled with local talent playing alongside international DJs and producers-some who are legendary now. It can happen, but the CROWD has to support it! If not, you’ll never see anything but locals on the stages, playing the same things you heard them play a month or a week before. SHAKE THINGS UP FOR FUCK’S SAKE!!!!!
Plural:Good question,There are people out there like ourselves who would rather be the reason people have music to play that just be the DJ whos playing these tracks. Lets face it anyone can DJ but not everyone has the creativity or the push to make tracks. So yes I think there should be a level of appreciation that should go out to the people that make records and mp3s.You know? Without the producers making the music there would be no DJ.
Local Autonomy: Thinking broadly to the history of music, do you see your live performances as connected to the work of improvising jazz, blues, noise, or rock musicians?
FBK: Live performances are a bridge to understanding that this music does NOT exist in a vacuum. Neither does DJing…but during a live show, everything you’re hearing isn’t something that you can just buy or download on an mp3-it’s something much more organic-and it’s happening in front of you! It’s like going to see a Jazz concert in this way: You may even know the song the band is playing, but every night it sounds different. Live performances should be the same way…they aren’t always-but for us? They are!
Many people speak ill of the Greatful Dead (because of their fans?)…As musicians, they were all very gifted and talented. Dance music producers broadly have some of the same talents as well…some are great drum programmers, some create great atmospheres with samples, some are great at composition and structure. Doing anything that is free-form is a nod to all styles of performed music…not just jazz, rock, blues or noise. Dance music (Disco) was played on instruments at one time by groups of people (like 16 people on one stage!)…every part of the performance was organic in this way..because each had an independent mind and could find new ways to express themselves. This tradition is still around even in the computer age-you just have to realize the computer is an instrument if used correctly-it’s not just a crutch.
Recently, both of us have been getting away from the computer and beginning to focus on ‘hardware’ or ‘things outside of the box’…and the results have been fantastic. We sound different and we’re even MORE engaged than we were before. There’s no one way. And doing a Live PA is far more interesting when you have several boxes to control…with two hands…we’re both going to be busy as hell on Sept. 27th…
Plural: My homie FBK said it all in his rant at the end of his interview.Thats just how we see it read it and learn.