Defending the Indefensible is a semi-regular series which sees us trying to find merit in the abject, the terrible, and the deathly dull—or vice versa fault in the otherwise lauded. We don't believe that there's such a thing as "guilty pleasure", and nothing is untouchable, so this series sets out to prove that even the most shocking opinions and schlocky corners of dance music can find a home in somebody's heart.
There I am, at 2 in the morning on what's now a Sunday. I'm stood with my mates. We're all holding plastic bottles of beers, and queuing for the toilets and going out for longer and longer fag breaks. Just doing the things that people do in nightclubs the world over. We've come out because we haven't been out in a while, and because we haven't been out in a while everyone's willing tonight to become one of those nights. One of those nights where the stars align and everyone's in a great mood and everything kicks in at the right time and everyone leaves, smiling, together, happy, and the next day's a breeze and there's good stories to tell over a six pack of cherryade and a stuffed crust pizza. We so desperately want it to be one of those nights, and it's edging that way, getting closer to reaching the giddy heights of a Classic Night Out and then we realize something horrifying. The next DJ isn't DJing. They're doing a live set.
I'm pretty sure that no one's ever greeted the sight of a producer/DJ ambling up to an MPC with genuine excitement, or genuinely rapturous applause, for one simple reason: live house or techno sets are shit. If you already agree with this statement, then congratulations, you're a right thinking human being and can close the tab now, satisfied with the knowledge that you have a pretty solid understanding of the world. You probably think Stella is the best lager and that Snyder's Hot Buffalo Wing Pretzel Pieces are the best snack too, so we'd probably get on really well in real life. Congratulations. For those of you out there, going, "But Josh, you're wrong, live sets in clubs and at festivals are actually really good and you're wrong and I can't believe you hold a different opinion to the one I have," then read on—but read on with the understanding that I'm about to blow your tiny little mind and leave you sat there, mouth agape, tears rolling down your now-rosy cheeks, wondering how you've lived life so utterly wrong up until now.
No one's ever really enjoyed a live set in the club because they're never actually that good. And they're not good for a few reasons, reasons which I'll helpfully explain here.
One rare example of an acceptable live techno set.
The first is this: if an artist's own material is that good, then nothing will be lost, or more importantly gained, if said artist just whacks on an album in full and nips off backstage for a few bags of Skittles and a cheeky pint. Which means the live set is an immediately redundant concept because after the initial sensation of, "Oh, he hasn't got decks he's got a drum machine and a funny little synth instead," wears off, which usually happens the split second after you've made the initial visual observation, you're stood there wishing you were at home listening to the album really loudly. There's nothing inherently good about watching a bloke prod a few buttons on a Kaos pad. Let's be honest, here: they always look really smug about it as well, as if the mere fact that they are a human being with a sequencer is immediately and massively impressive. Which it isn't. Impressive is being able to eat 62 hot dogs in ten minutes, or lifting 15kg with your ears. Those are impressive things to do. Programming some drum fills to play over a two chord synth pattern isn't.
The second reason why live sets are never enjoyable for anyone other than the person performing is because, well, they're really boring to look at. Now, the naysayers out there are currently dragging my stripped, raw, profusely bleeding carcass through the streets howling, "YOU DON'T HAVE TO LOOK AT THEM YOU KNOW? YOU DON'T HAVE TO LOOK AT THE LITTLE BALD BLOKE WITH A SERIOUS EXPRESSION DOING SERIOUS THINGS WITH SERIOUS HARDWARE YOU KNOW?" I, through gritted teeth, shouting back at their breath pungent with hatred and disgust, wheeze out the following retort:
"Actually, you sort of do, because a live set in a club is a strangely narcissistic thing to do. It turns the otherwise anonymous role of the DJ into a performance—something EDM is regularly hounded for—forcing us to instinctively turn and face the performer. It plays on the fact that we're all base animals who like to stand still and look at things happening and it's easier to look at someone playing an instrument than it is to watch someone DJing, so the very act of performing live is proof, if proof needs be, that you're a big head."
The rabble let me go. They bring me water and plasters and they apologize. En masse, they see the error of their ways and refuse to ever pay money to watch a live set ever again.
The third and final reason is the simplest of all: live sets aren't as good as DJ sets. DJ sets take you on a journey, maaaan, and they also, y'know, let you hear more than one artist over the space of an hour which, to me at least, is sort of the point of going to a club or a festival. If I wanted a 'traditional' gig experience I'd go to one. But I don't. Because live music is embarrassing and old hat and it makes your back hurt and there's always sad blokes stood behind kissing couples and everyone smells like old beer and unwashed tote bags and, well, fuck that.
Live techno: just say no.