Photos By: Summer Luu
By: David Lopez de Arenosa
Last Wednesday, Simon Green, the British musician, producer and DJ publicly known as Bonobo, played a DJ set at the House of Blues to a sold out crowd of EDM enthusiasts.
Now first off it should be said that most of us here at ListenSD have a bias towards actual live bands versus DJ’s, and that’s not to say that there isn’t a place for them in the concert calendar, but to pay money to go see a live performance usually implies that there will be musicians on stage performing said music. All the dazzling visuals and light shows in the world can’t replace that special chemistry that happens on stage between real human beings expressing their creativity through their carefully honed craft, right before your very eyes.
That being said, every once in a while there comes a DJ who expresses himself through a set of turntables or CD decks with the same fluidity and emotion that you would expect from a concert violinist. I like to think of these kinds of artists as playing a dual role in the performance space:
The first is kind of like an art gallery curator. Although he or she didn’t put the paint on the canvas, a lot of creative and artistic forethought went into deciding which pieces to put on the walls, how to present them, what themes and styles to juxtapose in the context of the current cultural climate. A good DJ can do all of this with music in the same way, which is why underground electronic music aficionados have great respect for some DJ’s and not others.
The second role is that of the creative performance, where the DJ is also the music producer/ composer, and uses the tools of DJ’ing to present his or her own work in a new and different way. This could be simply mixing elements of different songs together, changing up the tempo, or filtering and bringing in/ cutting out the bass or treble at times to manipulate the audience and take them on a journey – perhaps one that’s entirely different from what you might experience just listening to the CD at home. This aspect also takes a good amount of skill and experience, and like playing any instrument, takes many years of practice.
Bonobo’s DJ set is a great example of both of these skills. As a pioneer in the music scenes of Downtempo and electronica, he definitely has an acute ear for putting together different sounds and styles to create something new. His DJ set weaved together elements of his own music with those from other artists and producers in different styles, and he put everything in context of the reactions from the audience, as if they were gasoline fueling the fire. He had the crowd gripped from the start and didn’t let go till the very end. The musical journey wasn’t oversaturated with constant buildups and drops like some other big name DJ’s out there, but more drawn out and thought through, as if he had a master plan for the energy level of the whole set scripted out before he even started.
His live band setup is an entirely different beast, with real human beings playing out all the different parts of his music and reimagining them for a live band performance. You can’t really compare the two except to say that one is more appropriate for the nightclub setting and the other for a concert venue. Maybe House of Blues wasn’t the best place to do a DJ set, but he definitely did a great job of reading the crowd and vibing it out accordingly.