Recently there was a bit of a flap about French electronic duo Daft Punk bailing on a performance at Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report. There was much back and forth involving Colbert, MTV, Pitchfork and the group’s management – most of which seemed in good fun. I know I enjoyed Colbert’s montage of himself and various celebrities dancing in exotic settings to the song “Get Lucky”. But lost in the shuffle of the debate as to whether it was all a big publicity stunt – um, isn’t publicity the whole point of talk shows and the like? – There is a more pertinent question to ask.
I’m going to avoid the most obvious question which is: Why is a pedestrian knock-off of late 70s disco such a huge international hit? Instead, I’d like to discuss the broader topic of live performance as it pertains to electronic music. Daft Punk has cultivated an image of elusiveness and so the idea of seeing them perform live has cache, thus their aborted appearance seems a let down. But you need to ask yourself: What exactly is it that you are missing?
This question applies not just to Daft Punk but to the majority of modern popular music. We live in an era where most mainstream music is actually created by machines not people. If you’re a fan of techno, electronica, hip-hop or just about any other music you’d hear in a dance club then you spend your days listening to computers spit 1s and 0s at you. The “artists” you love are not musicians but computer programmers or software technicians. Once the collage of sound files has been compiled and stored on a hard drive their work is done. All that is left to do is for someone – literally anyone – to hit the “play” button. It doesn’t matter who hits it or where it happens, that collection of data will never change and will always sound exactly the same. This is the whole point of the digital era – perfect reproduction no matter what the circumstances.
Would you pay money for the pleasure of watching an IT professional back up somebody’s hard drive? Would drive an hour and pay 20 bucks to park your car in order to see re-runs of your favorite TV show? Would you scalp tickets for a front row seat to see a robot drill holes in sheet metal?
Which brings us back to the question: what are you missing by not seeing Daft Punk – or any other similar group – perform “live”? The answer is simple: Nothing, you are not missing a thing. If you have that song stored on a device at home then you have the totality of its experience. There will not be any nuance added during the concert. The energy level of the performer will not affect the sentiment or create a new emotional appeal; because, again, the music is not being generated by the performer but by a computer program that is specifically designed not to stray from protocol. You can press play just as easily as the audio technician at your local Clear-Channel-owned concert venue and the song will sound exactly the same.
I won’t take up space here telling you not to listen to electronic music, if it makes you happy I suppose it has some value. (However, if I see you in person I will absolutely tell you to knock that shit off because it’s diminishing your soul little by little.) I will tell you not to waste your hard earned money going to see these acts in public. If you tell me it’s all about the “group experience” or the “atmosphere”, then I will tell you to just go find a dance club or house party. You’ll hear the same exact songs only you won’t be paying a fat wad of cash just to have some guy with a writing credit in the same building as you.