Press play? More like bang drums hit stuff finger warp touchpad go crazy.
The Glitch Mob are one of America’s leading festival electronic acts. (And members like EdiT have IDM, not just EDM, credits to their name – so they were “glitching” before it was cool, in other words.) But while that circuit is in a frenzy of one-upmanship when it comes to spectacle, there’s some real playing behind this act. And that distances them from artists that put on a big show visually but have shied away from anything risky in the set – like actually playing the parts, beyond basic scene triggering or knob twiddling.
With their latest rig, The Glitch Mob apparently want to do more than just look like an epic rock band. They want to play like one, too.
And that means that while of course some complicated show and performance elements are sequenced in advance, the trio are playing – a lot. As the sun rises over California this morning, they are unveiling a new show rig. The eye candy for crowds is certainly amped up. But dig deeper, and the artists have given themselves more to do, not less, with a massive load of computational and audio hardware to back them up.
EdiT gave CDM an advance look at the rig over the weekend. Here’s a quick run-down – but if there is something of interest you’d like to know, let us know and we can talk to the band.
As EdiT explains, “there’s nothing off the shelf that we can buy to play our music.” So this is an all-custom rig, centering on some serious collaboration, including custom programming and Max/MSP patching by Matt Davis (who calls it a “real instrument”), live show production by Martin Phillips of Bionic League, and Gregg Lacey of Vision Scenery.
We’re talking real heavy hitters. And for all the (justified) talk lately about Berlin, this is a great example of what makes LA special. It’s the one city that can attract festival dance music culture and cross-breed it with Hollywood production values. Lacey literally builds movie sets, making science fiction imagination more realizable. I mean, it’s tough to find people who can draw as well as these guys can sketch out the set ideas, let alone build them in production-ready settings.
But because those production values go into the live performance itself and not just how it looks, this is about more than the stage effect. As they say in the video, you should be able to hear that effort in the music.
In production, Ableton Push, Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol, Livid’s BASE, and NI’s Maschine all get a healthy workout.
Bits and pieces of their set are then loaded into Sampler instances in Ableton Live.
“Little Kim,” the performance rig by Matt and Ed includes:
2 Mac Pro audio computers, each running Ableton Live (one ‘A’, one ‘B’ – redundancy, kids)
2 Mac minis for control data from onstage
One huge Max/MSP rig (see pics), handling sync, control, and presentation
Multiple Universal Audio Apollo audio interfaces
Radial SW8 Switchers
MOTU MIDI routing
Then the stage setup:
Roland V-Drums (some built into giant taiko props)
Roland Octapad controllers (SPD-30)
Performance stations with iPads running Liine Lemur
Integrated grid controllers (either AKAI MPD or Livid BASE)
And now you know what playing Rock Band on Xbox looks like – if you’re playing with top Sith lords.
Analog and digital MIDI signals all get routed, split, consolidated, translated (via Max/MSP) and then processed for Ableton Live.
They keep referring to “she,” the performance beast; I half expect her to turn evil and try to kill them all, GladOS style.
Speaking of evil computers, it’s worth watching from around halfway through when they get into the behind-the-scenes story. If you’re wondering if something this complicated can cause some headaches, and if, like you, even celebrity electronic acts do sometimes have coffee-overdose moments of panics as things keep breaking, that’ll be an affirmative.
The result is a stage set that is fully functional rather than decorative. So, rather than flying down in a spaceship (not that there’s anything wrong with that), anything large onstage is part of the instrument. Giant drums are giant drums, and you can expect them to get hit.
It feels from looking at it a bit like the wild synth performance rigs you saw in movies in the 80s and 90s, only it actually works and you can buy tickets. Subtle, it ain’t, but technology is certainly catching up with science fiction.
It’s funny, but I think The Glitch Mob really here get at the heart of what a big-festival project is – and the rising popularity of so-called EDM not only in America but Europe and internationally, too. It’s, as they say in the opening, hitting stuff hard and sweating.
The crowd’s expectations so obviously come from the world of those bigger rock shows (and big-stage hip-hop shows after them). That’s why it’s odd to me that people return to forced comparisons with the underground club scene that has a different lineage. But in understand the spectrum of live computer performance, it’s essential that we recognize those differences. It’s obvious to me that the stage presence of someone playing a giant festival stage is different than someone playing a small room discotheque, yet discussions about what electronic performance is or should be often makes no distinction.
What’s encouraging here is that even with the demands of spectacle, it’s possible – indeed, preferable – to actually play something. And so there’s good reason for The Glitch Mob to be vocal about what they’re doing – because once someone is pushing the technology here, no one can reasonably make the excuse that technology is what’s holding them back from genuinely playing live.
You can catch The Glitch Mob in an AMA on Reddit May 20th at 11am Pacific time. Or see them in North America and Europe:
5/22 – Vancouver, B.C. at Vogue Theater
5/23 – Portland, OR at Roseland Theater
5/25 – Quincy, WA @ Sasquatch Festival
5/28 – Reno, NV at Knitting Factory
5/29 – Berkeley, CA at The Greek Theatre
5/30 – Santa Barbara, CA at Santa Barbara Bowl
5/31 – Las Vegas, NV at Brooklyn Bowl
6/1 – Salt Lake City, UT at The Complex
6/4-7 – Austin, TX @ X-Games
6/5 – Dallas, TX at South Side Ballroom
6/19-21 – Scheessel, DE @ Hurricane Festival
6/19-21 – Neuhausen Ob Eck, DE @ Southside Festival
6/20 – Wiesen, Austria @ Urban Art Forms
6/25-28 Cluj, Romania @ Electric Castle
6/25-28 – St. Gallen, Switzerland @ Open Air Festival
7/31 – Morrison, CO @ HARD Red Rocks
8/1 – Pomona, CA @ HARD Summer
8/30 – New Orleans, LA at Joy Theater
9/2 – Nashville, TN at Marathon Music Works
9/3 – St. Louis, MO at The Pageant
9/4-6 – New York, NY @ Electric Zoo Festival
9/4-6 – Chicago, IL @ North Coast Festival
Photos courtesy EdiT for CDM.