When it comes to live performances, electronic dance music (EDM) has a handicap.
“A lot of guys, when you watch them perform, they look like they could be checking their email,” says Eliot Lipp.
Lipp would know. The Tacoma native is an EDM composer and producer. On Saturday, he’ll headline the annual Pride block party outside The Mix on St. Helens Avenue in Tacoma.
Lipp, a Stadium High School graduate, moved back to Tacoma in January after eight years living and making music in Brooklyn, New York. He returned home for family reasons and a change of scenery. But his touring schedule allows him to live anywhere.
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Though Lipp, 33, performed locally at The New Frontier Lounge and Jazzbones while living in New York, this will be his first local show since returning to Tacoma.
“I’ve been holding back because I want to make it something special,” he said. “Also, I like that it’s a community event and not just me and my buddies having a reunion at New Frontier.”
Lipp started making dance music in middle school in the early 1990s using analog gear. “Not to be cool but just because that’s all we had. We had a cheap drum machine, and a sampler and a keyboard, and I saved up and bought a cassette tape 4-track at Sluggo’s.”
Like hip hop, EDM samples heavily from pre-recorded tracks by other artists. But where hip hop artists insert their own vocals, EDM rarely uses any at all.
“What I’ve always loved about sampling is taking different styles and mixing them together. It’s a metaphor for the universal language of music – being able to take music from different parts of the world and different eras and mix it all together into something that sounds brand new,” Lipp said.
Though Lipp can pinpoint the year in which just about any EDM song was made, the timeless sound of the music has long appealed to him.
“I’ve always had a fascination with the futuristic vibe of dance music and techno and electronic music.”
Lipp left Tacoma at age 18 to attend art school in San Francisco. He got his big break when he sent a demo to producer Prefuse 73 (Scott Heren). Lipp’s first self-titled album came out on Heren’s Eastern Developments label in 2004.
“It was a lucky break. I didn’t expect it to happen,” Lipp said. The follow-up, “Tacoma Mockingbird,” was released in 2006. His latest album will come out sometime this fall on the Pretty Lights label.
Lipp’s approach to music is part intuition, part experience and part embracing new technology. It’s that last one that allows him to do things he never dreamed of in middle school.
“I can mess around with the (equalization) and the phasing of it or take out the vocals or drums. I can take a Kool & the Gang baseline and mix it with Chinese flute and then put James Brown drums over it and it’s a whole new song.”
But lately, Lipp has been composing more original tracks for his music. “I’m writing more and sampling less.”
Returning to Tacoma has allowed him to work with old friends who play instruments.
“If I have an idea for a guitar part, I can just call up a friend of mine and have him come over and record.” He’s also been collaborating with fellow artist Jasia 10, who he’s known since the seventh grade.
While Puget Sound isn’t a hotbed for EDM, the move has still been a good one for Lipp.
“It forces you to open up to a new scene and new sounds. I’m definitely finding that here in Tacoma. Being in the same scene (in New York) and bouncing the same ideas off of each other gets a bit incestuous.”
EDM is heading new directions, Lipp said. Repetition, once the core of dance music, is fading.
“Sonically, the music is a lot fuller and the changes happen faster and it’s less repetitious. Now it’s about tension and release, build-ups and drops.”
For his live shows, Lipp uses synthesizers, a laptop, keyboard and other gear to play his studio tracks and live remixes of them as well as composing on the spot.
“It makes the music different every night but it also adds a little more energy to the live performance element.”