I've been meaning to post this for some time. It's an interesting article that can be found here:
By Michael Chadwick
(Michael Chadwick pushes the buttons of today's best sequenced music acts to find out if depth can be derived from karaoke-style performances)
The traditional path to succeeding in the music business is to form a band, write some songs, and then perform them for audiences for an unspecified amount of time until you get "discovered." The live music experience is the cornerstone of the art. Albums were originally just promotional tools for the tour, until Sgt. Peppers changed all of that. Many bands have lived and died by their shows. The Grateful Dead couldn't give away records, but their concerts defined who they were as a band. On the other side, there have been more than a few bands that blew a showcase because their live show sucked ass. But what if those bands just played along to their own music?
There has been a rise in recent years of bands and artists using only pre-recorded music for their performances. This rise of "performance art" can be seen in acts such as Fischserspooner, Har Mar Superstar, The Gentle People, Baby Dayliner, and The Rainbow is The Show. In all of the above examples, the artists appear on the stage completely without a band, and then proceed to lip-sync or dance (or both) to music. In an industry that has co-opted rebellion, these bands are fighting against a standard that no one thought could be challenged. But prerecorded music raises many questions, the most important being is how genuine is this musical experience?
This movement, if it is to be called such, has so far only been spearheaded by a disparate group of indie scenesters completely independent of one another. Among the artists, there seems to be a certain level of irony involved in the whole performance process. Warren Fischer, the musical half of Fishcerpooner, doesn't actually do anything during a show, but he attends every performance. Har Mar Superstar knows that people are amused by a fat white guy pretending to be a black soul singer, and he plays it full tilt.
The rise of dance music culture and the idea of the DJ as the star have lead to this eventual conclusion. It is not a coincidence that all of the bands mentioned are of the electronic persuasion. The public may not be ready to see a band stand on stage playing prerecorded instruments just yet, but electronic music has a synthetic quality that allows it to be performed as such without discussion. Techno, Trip-hop, Acid, etc, is, in a completely dumbed down explanation, the layering and organization of keyboard and sampler sounds. Not everyone can play guitar like Tom Morello or Thurston Moore, but someone with the most basic piano knowledge could arrange and complete an array of songs all across the spectrum. It is the nature of the beast.
Hip-Hop acts (with notable exceptions being the Roots and occasionally, the Fugees) have almost exclusively performed with pre-recorded music. It is excused because of its historical significance to the culture, with the first rappers basically just being hype-men for the DJ's. Also, the sampling pastiche and musical cannibalism that makes up hip-hop production would make it difficult to perform live. It should be noted that Baby Dayliner's alias, Ethan Marunas, has also produced some tracks for the tres cool Definitive Jux collective.
So when one attends a show by any of the aforementioned acts, they will stand and listen to a master DAT of the CD they already own, and then watch the artist sing along, like it is celebrity karaoke. The freedom that comes from not actually having to perform the songs opens up some interesting possibilities, but so far Fischerspooner is the only band to explore those avenues. Casey Spooner doesn't even sing at a show, but takes part in highly choreographed dance numbers. Twenty plus dancers and constant costume changes, it's a complete spectacle that almost makes the music secondary to the show itself.
The aesthetic differences between real and taped music can create an entirely different live experience. One of the drawbacks to seeing a band use prerecorded music live is the loss of spontaneity. One could only imagine what a Sex Pistols show would be like if all of their instruments were piped in from a DAT. Their edge, the idea that anything can and will happen, would be completely lost. But considering Sid's bass playing, it probably would have helped the overall performance.
Many bands have been aided by electronic training wheels, but have never taken the full plunge into prerecorded music. Countless bands have been using click tracks for years to keep time, especially if the band employs a lot of keyboards and drum machines. I once saw Static-X on three consecutive dates while doing their rounds (
Missed notes, off time drumming, and feedback are all of the little things that add to a show, give it "character." Anyone who has gone to more than ten shows can tell you just as many memorable fuck-ups at a show (my most recent memory involves Julian Casablancas slowly turning in his disinterested cool air to get to the microphone just on time…. only to learn the stand fell over, at which point he hurriedly looked around for it) as they can great songs or awesome performances. That is not to say that it couldn't happen at a The Rainbow is the Show set. But if the DAT were to break or to constantly skip, it would be funny for about ten seconds until you realize the show has just ended.
There is also an authenticity issue with DAT rock bands. Critics knock acts like Britney Spears and N'Sync for, among other things, not actually writing their songs. Also, if you were to go see Britney Spears live, you would realize that her Mic is dead the entire concert, only turning it on for between song banter. Those same critics, however, will lavish praise on a Har Mar Superstar show. What I'm getting at is with these bands, you don't see them actually create any of the music, you don't see behind the curtain. Who's to say that Fishcerspooner actually made their music. Yeah, The Strokes may or may not have written their songs, but I did see them perform them, and that is good enough for me. There is a validity that can only come from seeing an artist actually perform the song live that prerecorded bands can't achieve.
Which brings us back to the original question, how genuine is the music? For the record let me state that I'm a big fan a few of these bands mentioned. I loved the Fischerspooner album, and I think that more people should check out Baby Dayliner. And, you know what, the next time they are in town, I am going to check them out.
At the root of any live performance, we the people buy a ticket to be entertained. If I can honestly say at the end of the night it was worth my ten bucks, than it would be hypocritical to complain.
And it's not like any of these bands are fronting about being anything more than what they are. What is more disingenuous, going to see Baby Dayliner sing his catchy songs to his simple production, or Kiss, "the greatest band in the world," playing what suspiciously sounds like a drum track to mask the fact that Peter Criss doesn't have it anymore?
Over the last forty years, the definition of what is music has been challenged from all facets (music as message, music as art, music as product). It should come as no surprise that it is being challenged at the one place where music is its most sacred, the live experience. I am sure, like every other revolution, their will be some positives and some negatives that will result in bands tackling performance as art, as product. But in the end, all we ever have to define music is how we define it to ourselves.