How you play live? Fans baffled as video of Derrick May playing live features Derrick May not playing any instruments

Derrick May fans have been left mystified by a video with their favourite techno musician – tantalisingly titled Derrick May: How I Play Live – appeared to show no footage of May doing any playing.

The video, which was originally uploaded in October 2019 by DJ Mag, has recently been the subject of renewed interest online, purports to show “the setup behind his orchestral show, how he turned techno into sheet music and why he needs this tour more than ever”.

Yet fans were left as none of those questions were actually answered in the documentary. For example, the vivid description notes that May will explain “the setup behind his orchestral show” – but all of that is, in reality, explained by Dzijan Emin.

And anyone expecting an in-depth explanation of May’s love of synths and how he comes up with his chord progressions was also left disappointed, as he appears to trip over his own words – even seemingly complaining that the keys to several of his songs have been changed for the orchestral versions.

He bizarrely explains that his job is “triggering different patches and editing the sound as the song goes on” – and in reference to the orchestra, says “they’re simply playing straight from the instrument… and they stay in key, I am finding a different key throughout the song”.

I approached a friend who knows considerably more about music theory than I do. Would it be possible for Derrick May to play his synthesiser in a different key to the rest of the orchestra, and for it to still sounds good?

“In a word, no. Whatever the key a song is in, that is the key that all the instruments must use. It’s that simple. It would be possible for May to use relative keys that work with the original key, but not a different key altogether. This would result in a dissonant sound that could be very hard to listen to.”

Tellingly, he had this to add at the end of his answer.

“There are only three possibilities here, and that’s being kind. One is that Derrick May does not know music theory or how to play. The second is that he does, but that he explains himself with a very poor choice of words in the video. And the third is that May has defied the whole world of music theory and come up with a system where instruments can play in different keys on the same song.”

He finishes off simply with…

“If Mr May really has accomplished the seemingly impossible, and found a way that musical theory – which is essentially mathematical – can now have two instruments playing in a different key on the same song without it sounding atonal or dissonant, he should make a video showcasing his method immediately, for the world to see!”

So what are you waiting for, Derrick? I’ll even sweeten the deal. If you upload a video in the next 10 days (I’m in a generous mood!) showing us this revolutionary new method you seem to have devised, I will withdraw all the allegations this blog has made against you and publish a big, hefty apology.

I’ll be waiting!