Preparing for a Show in Japan: Behind the Scenes
The ins and outs of preparing a live set for an event on the underground techno scene in Tokyo.
Between 2000 and 2011 I lived and worked in Tokyo, Japan. I performed regularly on the underground techno scene there playing from underground bars to the main floor at mega club Womb. This is article covers the process that I went through before each show and was first published in October 2011.
It all starts with a booking of course. I send an Artist Booking Agreement with a detailed graphic representation of my live set up so that the promoter/club has a clear idea of how much space I need, what power/audio access I need, how high I need the table/performance surface to be and that there should be no brown colored confectioneries backstage whatsoever.
Once the booking is confirmed I set about getting prepared for the show.
If I am familiar with the venue (meaning local clubs) I mentally project my music into the space and imagine what I would like to play there on the night and start thinking about any tracks I have made that would work well in there.
If I’m unfamiliar with the venue I ask to meet with the promoter and visit the club a week or two before the event to listen to the house sound system and get a feel for the venue. This is impossible with international gigs of course so I try to glean as much information about the architecture of the club and sound system beforehand from photos and feedback from the club itself (when possible) so that I can at least have a mental image of the space before I arrive to play.
Factors Contributing to Preparation.
After evaluating the performance environment I formulate a “skinny” outline of where I would like to start and end my live set based upon past live performance experiences, my current artistic workflow and, most simply, my scheduled time slot.
The time slot I am booked to play will heavily influence the mental map I project into the venue space because starting at 01:00 has me taking over a rather different set of energy dynamics on the dance floor than starting at 03:00 or later.
The reason for this, among other things, is the pharmacological effect of C(2)H(5)OH.
Unfortunately the modern club scene is predominantly fueled by this drug and after a certain time a significant proportion of people on the dance floor will most probably be having an overtly anesthetized experience. They become sluggish and that much more difficult to energise. My music is resolutely not designed for, nor does it pander to, this numbed mental state so for me there is this golden hour and a half where everyone is buzzing and energetic but not too inebriated or tired to get involved.
Anybody else, sober or otherwise enhanced, is in for a wild ride.
Although I have a few tracks that enjoy heavy rotation in my live sets I do always make sure that at least 25% of each new live set has some new material in it and, because I only play my own music productions, this means that I like to make a few new tracks for each live show.
Where a DJ goes record shopping week to week, I go into my own production backlog looking for tracks I have made or that I am currently working on that fit the mental map of what I want to play at the venue/event.
I have over 450 completely arranged songs which are in various degrees of completion and playability, and I shape and shift them as I see fit. What determines the elements I keep or change is my experience of playing a certain track in a previous live set. Sometimes a track simply doesn’t work on the dance floor. Its main bass line is not engaging enough or the mix doesn’t translate well to the club environment or the arrangement lacks impact and drive so I will never play the song live the same way again.
For a live show of an hour and a half I need to have or prepare at least fifteen 6 minute songs. The average length of my songs is around 7 and a half minutes and I usually end up working on several new songs – so I have a lot of work cut out for me.
I search for, choose or create new songs based on the following criteria:
– What I would like to hear on the dance floor if I was dancing myself?
– Which tracks do I want to showcase?
– What do I want to express?
– What is the audience expecting?
When I find tracks that match these criteria I then set about reworking them or, if I am not satisfied with what I have found, I produce new ones from scratch.
For example for one set I might be in the mood to play heavy bass lines contrasted by light melodies fro one space and for another set I might want to go deep, moody and percussive to suit the atmosphere of the club. My live set then becomes a kind of organic breeding ground where I can test new composites, see which sounds and elements work or don’t work on the dance floor. I can then edit the tracks at the studio after each show and improve on the strong elements of my music and weed out the weak for the next show.
So before I do a show I have to:
– Mentally project a full performance into the venue space.
– Make all the music I want to play – that is create it, mix it and turn it into playable audio files.
– Make sure all the levels and mixes are even across all the tracks and that there are no noise artifacts to spoil the mix.
– Load the files into the performance software I use and set them up for playback.
– Arrange the live set like a musical puzzle and aim to get all the tracks to fit together in an aesthetically pleasing and cogent manner.
– Rehearse: Practice different combinations of audio files, loops and sound elements. I build several potential routes through the songs for flexibility on the dance floor. One route might go down and deep, another one might go straight on and on and another up and away, This is because sometimes, depending on feedback from the dance floor, I have to skip tracks or entire sections in order to keep a certain energy going on the dance floor.
– Rehearse again: Timing real time effect processes – playing notes/chords, resampling, adding reverb and delay effects and additional timing actions like pushing buttons at key times, filter sweeps and other general tweaking madness.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
And you thought it was all glamour and glitz, beers and tits.