The role of a live musician in dance music has transformed dramatically in recent years from a simple sideman position to a fully fledged soloist. It’s become increasingly common for musicians to play alongside DJs and today they are required to be versatile with their skills.
Knowledge in terms of generating a mental aptitude for inclusivity, being able to demonstrate deft skill and expertise in their instrument of choice and most importantly have an abundance of orchestration and improvisation ideas.
This is so that they can create and explore convincingly deeper into the canon of dance music magic. Their mission – to unearth a sonic guilded fusion and influence the dynamic flow of a track or the DJ’s set. Consummate pros like George Sax and Dan Shout, both brilliant sax-players spring immediately to mind.
These two guys in my humble opinion have perfected the two vital skills required to improvise successfully within a house music set: listening and patience. “You listen so as to understand the dynamics of the sound relationships being explored by a DJ, and carefully choose a moment to make a contribution after having been subsumed by the experience” says George Sax. Now this is quite an elusive art form, not many seem to understand it.
If, for instance, the sound system isn’t properly dialed into the acoustics of the space, the DJ, regardless of his or her talent is going to sound like – well, for a lack of a better word… Crap.
The result is a lethargic dance floor, an angry performer and more reasons for the crowd to eye the door. But there are subtle factors that can keep an event from being relegated to just “another night out” to “epic” – it’s the contribution and value that these artists bring into the overall memory of a night. And when it’s not done right, that’s when you find it okay to stand in line for half an hour to relieve yourself in a flooded bathroom, only to return back to your friends to shout “bottoms up guys” one more time. Perhaps that’s why sponsors seem to prefer supporting haphazardly created commercial house events and club nights. Here is my theory; I think it’s because house crowds with an educated ear tend to spend less at the cash bar and more time on the dancefloor. Hence me saying “not many seem to respect it and understand it”.
That said, astute promoters and club managers (and if you are part of that rare breed, much respect to you) know this. That’s why they insist on a proper balance of DJ’s and musicians and also intelligently pairing them up.
It’s clearly doable actually and when you have eventually, as a promoter done it right, you’ll notice that the music becomes the focus. Not the headlining DJ and not even the venue. You’ll notice this by a heaving dancefloor, a continuous flow of sound – maintained until the lights are turned on at the end of the night. A good musician knows how to tap into this flow and manipulate the energy of a room through careful mastery and improvisational choices. Also at the same time allowing other performers to take the crowd on the sonic journey which has come to define the all-night house music party.
Written By : Nduduzo ‘Smalz’ Ngobese