Synthesized Sounds, Natural Notes

Synthesized Sounds, Natural Notes

Making electronic music requires a specific skill set–one that contains skills largely distinct from those involved in other forms of music creation. If you can play a guitar, you can make pop, country, and hardcore with little trouble, but you may not be able to craft a dubstep drop. Of course, this does not mean knowledge of instruments and music theory is unrelated to electronic music. In fact, many of our favorite producers are also talented on a variety of live instruments. Zedd, for example, is a classically trained pianist, and played in a hardcore band with his brother in his teenage years. Alison Wonderland is an accomplished cellist who played with the Sydney Youth Opera for some time. Borgore, too, was classically trained on drums and piano. And their abilities on instruments are not unrelated to their understanding of how to craft the perfect electronic track. Zedd has admitted that his popular song “Spectrum” started off as a creation on the piano, while plenty of other DJs have made it clear that their knowledge of music theory is invaluable in the studio. Hardwell is also very skilled on the keyboard, and started taking piano lessons at the age of four. Even for those DJs who were not prodigies on the other instruments, as Ekali puts it, “learning the basics of music theory is VERY helpful.” Nobody wants to listen to a track that’s out of key, no matter how filthy the drops are.

 But there is a new trend in dance music that more and more DJs are tuning in to, and it involves playing their electronic music with live instruments. Some artists, especially those on the funkier side of electronic, have been doing this forever. Big Gigantic always have their drums and saxophone when they tour, and GRiZ is well known for playing the sax live all the time. Gramatik almost always incorporates live guitar into his sets (and he’s coming to Albany on 4/28, so grab your tickets!). But even DJs with more traditionally electronic sounds have begun to create impressive live sets. Tchami and Malaa, for example, known for their house-heavy DJ sets are playing a “No Redemption” live set at Ultra this year. Odesza is kicking off the second stretch of their “A Moment Apart” tour, which includes incredible live trumpet and trombone, as well as a beautifully choreographed drumline. Autograf, too, has just embarked on a live tour, and they’re coming to the Middle East Downstairs on April 14th! With increasing frequency, artists are incorporating live music into their sets so as to keep things fresh and interesting, and, in general, fans appreciate the extra effort.

So does all of this mean you need to be talented on the drums to pick up the decks? Of course not! Plenty of talented electronic producers made their first musical sounds on their laptop, but it is definitely true that a working knowledge of more traditional musical forms can add to all aspects of one’s DJ persona–in the studio and on the stage.

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