Drum Machines Do Have Souls

  • Robert DeLong
    Photo: Roger Kisby/Getty Images

Have drum machines eliminated the need for drummers? I could beat around the bush and hide my ultimate conclusion, but the answer really is no. As with most technologies, when put to creative use drum machines can be just as soulful as a real drummer and, in the right hands, can take on a musical life of their own.

In my quest to research the instruments that make up the dance/electronica sound, I quickly realized it's a genre that can include every instrument in the world. With such a broad array of styles within the genre, it's nearly impossible to create a truly complete guide to EDM instruments. But perhaps an actual artist is one of the best places to start in order to understand the inner workings of EDM technology, including drum machines. Based in Los Angeles, Robert DeLong is not only equipped with traditional guitar- and keyboard-playing chops, but also a rare toolbox of Nintendo Wii remotes, game pads, joysticks, and even a Sega Genesis controller to stage his live concerts.

While the melodies to DeLong's songs often begin on guitar or piano, he acknowledges that his breakout single "Global Concepts" was born and developed by a single drumbeat made on his computer. Onstage, DeLong fuses traditional live performance methods with technology and is accompanied by a full drum set, live looping and MIDI controllers, in addition to nontraditional instruments video game players might remember. 

"The Sega Genesis controller is programmed to adjust different parameters of my synthesizers," DeLong explains. "I can catch a live vocal with the Wii remote and shake it around to control the delay."

DeLong isn't just an artist who relies on technology, he creates most of his songs by picking up an actual guitar. Many EDM artists incorporate traditional instruments with technology, and by doing so break boundaries while creating innovative, soulful sounds. While some genres, such as country or rock, might be associated with specific instruments, the nature of EDM makes it a potential catalog for everything the music world has to offer. But never does such variation, including technology, sacrifice the EDM sound. Rather, drum machines, Wii remotes and Sega controllers all have souls because the artists who wield them use them as instruments to express their inner creativity.

With music, it is always the artist's soul on display. 

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