liverig

For many of us, there’s a special pleasure to seeing someone play live – and dancing to someone playing live.

And by “live,” I don’t mean “a bunch of your tracks cued up as scenes in Ableton Live or on an Elektron.” I mean genuinely improvised.

Electronic dance music naturally lends itself to on-the-spot creation. A rigid grid, easily-understood conventions around instrumentation and form, and the fact that styles like techno are built around machines all add up to natural experimentation.

Yet, oddly, it seems there’s a lot more discussion around DJ technique than there is around live technique, especially when it comes to playing with machines. And that’s not to say DJing can’t be performative, creative, and spontaneous. But there is some logic behind labeling certain sets “live” – and expecting that they won’t feature pre-recorded track materials in the same way.

With that in mind, I’m constantly on the hunt for good live acts. A lot of these are experienced in the dark, with no cameras in sight. Even audio recordings often suffer from glitches. (Batteries died. Levels were set wrong. Someone forgot to hit record.) And maybe that’s a good thing – electronic music and acoustic music alike benefit from some awareness that you had to be there.

But we do need some evidence that this is going on. And I think music made for dancefloors and clubs deserve that awareness as much as music made for concerts and experimental venues. (Indeed, whereas these once catered to very different audiences, now the interests go increasingly hand in hand.)

So, I hope this will also be a frequent feature on CDM (experimental-ish to dance-ish to whatever). Here are some recent finds – all of them people I’ve had the pleasure to see (and sometimes know) in person, too.

With shows like Boiler Room focusing more on DJs than live, it’s actually hard to find a whole lot of this stuff – harder than I thought. But that’s slowly changing, and I’m indebted here (and got on this kick) thanks to a great video series from RA at Dimensions this year. I could do without all the crowd shots, but that’s just me.

Who: Underground Resistance
Hails from: Detroit
When and where: Dimensions in Croatia, this year
Gear: Easier to list what isn’t there than what is. Synths, keys, machines… saxophone!
Takeaway: Don’t believe dance music has some of its roots in jazz? Just listen; it’s better than anything I could write. And wow, is it great. More like this, please. (My father played the sax, so I can say it’s part of why I got into music, listening to him play in the pep band in college basketball games. And it’s part of why I love loud, too.)

Who: Milena Kriegs
Hails from: Warszawa, PL
When and where: Two here, since they’re short – Nowa Jerozolima with BTS in 2013, Brancaleone in Rome earlier this year.
Gear: Laptop + controller here (APC40).
Takeaway: I love Milena’s dark, moody sound – it’s a creepy place that’s somehow pleasant to hang out. Hope we get some better video of her soon.

Who:Surgeon
Hails from: Birmingham, UK
When and where: Dimensions again
Gear: Laptop plus modular
Takeaway: Surgeon is just a master, as evidenced by his cool stage demeanor. His live sets take the shape of DJ sets, but there’s quite a lot going on apart from playing records, and he is pretty much a benchmark for how to use modulars live convincingly – not just as stage dressing, but as integral to the music.

Who: Legowelt
Hails from: Den Haag, NL
When and where: Dimensions one more time
Gear: Laptop, monome, Novation – and as always, signature ElecTribes.
Takeaway: I like this Legowelt set, but I even loved more his (and other) grimy KORG ElecTribe-powered acid sets at Studio80 at 2014’s ADE, among other locations. His dirty, very Dutch, no-holds-barred sound is fantastic, and I love the raunchy KORG sound in there.

Who: Dasha Rush
Hails from: Berlin (originally Russian)
When and where: Boiler Room Berlin, 2014.
Gear: Lots of controllers, laptop. Dasha’s an Ableton user but a lot of her live set focuses on a self-made Reaktor patch – hope to sit down with her soon and see how that works, as I haven’t been able to tell clearly from looking over her shoulder.
Takeaway: Dasha is amazing – she can do chin-scratching ambient all the way to four-on-the-floor club music. It’s been more of the latter lately on her tours, so it’s nice to go back to the cat mask-wearing ambient Dasha, even if (or maybe especially because) it’s unusual Boiler Room fare.

Who: Blush_Response
Hails from: Cuba, originally; now based in Berlin
When and where: Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, London, May 25
Gear: Modular. Lots of it. “DPO and shapeshifter for the main Oscs, cwejman MMF-1 and WMD Synchrodyne for filtering, Echophon and Erbe verb.” Plus Elektron: “Octatrack and RYTM”
Takeaway: Joey’s unforgiving, industrial-hypnotic approach is still danceable. I can’t wait to see him at the infamous Gegen in Berlin, on the anything-goes “drone floor.”

Who: Shawn Rudiman
Hails from: Pittsburgh, PA
When and where: Tresor Berlin, 2012 – though with Tresor, I don’t think the year actually matters. Like a wormhole, that place.
Gear: All hardware, 909 taking center stage, though I believe Shawn has a pretty regular rotation of stuff.
Takeaway: What I love about Shawn’s playing is how he never breaks the flow – but stays spontaneous. He’s a real musician, not just someone pressing play on some pre-sequenced stuff. Catch him, hipsters, at Bossa Nova Civic Club and get schooled.

Who: Karenn
Hails from: UK
When and where: Boiler Room London, 2014, and with the incomparable Neil Landstrumm for a bonus video at Boiler Room Scotland from the summer.
Gear: Hardware. Dave Smith Tempest looms large, and then a massive modular rig. Got to watch these guys play up close a few times, and it’s a pleasure – those machines seem alive.
Takeaway: Arthur Cayzer & Jamie Roberts, Blawan and Pariah, are great on their own and even more fun together. As it happens, they’ve also done a nice interview about their work.

Now, as far as saying it’s “impossible” to do what they do with a laptop – well, gentlemen, I think you’re absolutely 100% wrong there. There’s nothing stopping someone from cleverly recreating those things in software mapped to controllers, and some do just that. But I absolutely understand the hardware thing, too, and frankly, it doesn’t matter – if you play this well, play with whatever equipment you like.

2015 01 15 Prcdrl Live from studio r° on Vimeo.

Who: prcdrl, aka Stanislav Glazov
Hails from: Another Russian who’s now Berlin-based
When and where: studio rº, the “thinking man’s Boiler Room,” in January
Gear: Ableton, controllers (Novation!), some outboard gear (Alesis AirFX).
Takeaway: Stan’s grimy-dark music can go all sorts of different directions, from pounding techno to ambient reveries.

2015 01 20 Kyoka Live from studio r° on Vimeo.

Who: Kyoka
Hails from:Japanese, moved to Berlin
When and where: studio rº earlier this year, in Berlin.
Gear: Everything here centers, surprisingly, on a Roland Phrase Lab MC-09, which Kyoka has warped into her own, glitchy, quirky style.
Takeaway: Kyoka is actually one of my favorite artists to play, full stop. She’s a bit of an outlier on raster-noton, with an unpredictable edge to everything she does. She really doesn’t know what she’s going to do with a live set – and that’s refreshing.

Oh, yeah, I do this, too. Guess I’ll throw myself into the mix, just to put my money where my mouth is.

Who: NERKKIRN (me, with Benjamin Weiss)
Hails from: Kentucky and Germany, respectively, now here in Berlin
When and where: Gießen, Germany, in May
Gear: One laptop running Ableton, dual Maschine controllers, outboard gear (JoMoX drum machine, MeeBlip, etc.), iPad running ModStep
Takeaway: Benjamin is on the Maschine team and develops a nearly-ready-for-release step sequencer on the iPad, I make MeeBlip, both of us are interested in making tools for live performance because, well, they’re fun to play. And we’re not afraid to make mistakes; this is about fun, not perfection.

Now, if you’re looking at this list and saying, hey, how could you leave out [artist x] or or [this whole video series] … that’s the idea. As I said, I want this to be a regular series. So send us videos that inspire you. Record your own videos. Send us thoughts about how you play – or questions about what holds you back. And let’s do this more often. Live for live.

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  • raub roy

    YPY OF BIRDFRIEND recs, tokyo

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXmVSMPp1vc

    • raub roy

      LIVE

      • Psychic Kicks

        Nice one my man!

  • horaflora

    YPY OF BIRDFRIEND recs, tokyo

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXmVSMPp1vc

    • horaflora

      LIVE

      • Psychic Kicks

        Nice one my man!

  • Scott Carver

    Less exclusively techno but – you’re familiar with URSSS’s brilliant videos of live sets, yeah?
    http://www.ursss.com
    The recent Patricia set is a great one along similar lines.

    • Yeah, absolutely – that’s a great series; I’ve linked to it before but one of the best out there.

  • Scott Carver

    Less exclusively techno but – you’re familiar with URSSS’s brilliant videos of live sets, yeah?
    http://www.ursss.com
    The recent Patricia set is a great one along similar lines.

    • Yeah, absolutely – that’s a great series; I’ve linked to it before but one of the best out there.

  • Sin Sentido Comun

    Missing Minilogue on that lisy

  • Sin Sentido Comun

    Missing Minilogue on that lisy

  • Joe C

    Loving this post. Please, more live PA/techno. Let’s end the era of the DJ.

  • Joe C

    Loving this post. Please, more live PA/techno. Let’s end the era of the DJ.

  • Psychic Kicks

    This can really apply to all electronic music. There are many artists out there, who create really good tunes who do things like cue up an ipod and sing over it when playing live. I get that it’s sometimes hard to pull off a complex, studio created arrangement live, but I honestly believe people would appreciate an improvised, stripped down version of a piece of music that shows the virtuosity and energy of an artist rather than a press play sort of situation. Not that one should be overly concerned with the perceptions of the general public, but electronic music has that “press play” reputation and the more people get involved with bonding with their gear for a live performance, the more people will appreciate the talent that actually goes into making this music. Great Post!!

    • Absolutely – yeah, just started with this genre (and some music that goes to experimental offshoots), but certainly wouldn’t limit us to that.

    • steveoath

      This, exactly! Great post.

  • Psychic Kicks

    This can really apply to all electronic music. There are many artists out there, who create really good tunes who do things like cue up an ipod and sing over it when playing live. I get that it’s sometimes hard to pull off a complex, studio created arrangement live, but I honestly believe people would appreciate an improvised, stripped down version of a piece of music that shows the virtuosity and energy of an artist rather than a press play sort of situation. Not that one should be overly concerned with the perceptions of the general public, but electronic music has that “press play” reputation and the more people get involved with bonding with their gear for a live performance, the more people will appreciate the talent that actually goes into making this music. Great Post!!

    • Absolutely – yeah, just started with this genre (and some music that goes to experimental offshoots), but certainly wouldn’t limit us to that.

    • steveoath

      This, exactly! Great post.

  • Peter Mc Keown
    • Daniel Ross

      Yes, this one is essential 🙂

  • Peter Mc Keown
    • Daniel Ross

      Yes, this one is essential 🙂

  • shwanton

    http://isitlive.tumblr.com …I started this for electronic music performances that were hardware focused and laptop free.

    • raub roy

      sweet!

    • Ah, awesome! Thanks!

    • TJ

      I used to perform “all hardware” (samplers, MPCs, synths are computers too), and with the exception of playing a few notes on the keyboard, it was actually much less live than my laptop, dual midi controller setup today. I understand that a lot of people fake it, and hardware often just “looks cooler,” but if you really want to stretch the limits of what can be done live, I really think it shouldn’t matter what you’re using. And all hardware setups often have serious limitations on patches, sequences, and amount of controls at your fingertips. This is not to mention the fact that touring musicians that aren’t making the big bucks cannot often check their hardware from city to city. Clubs also usually do not provide the space for setups beyond a few controllers.

      • shwanton

        I think the limitations are actually what make it pretty interesting. I know it’s not convenient & ends up sounding pretty same-y lots of the time, but it’s great to watch performers trying to pull it off. At the end of the day, if people like what they are hearing it doesn’t really matter how it’s made… but it’s more interesting to watch someone interacting with hardware than triggering a laptop from a controller, for me at least.

        • TJ

          I like “hardware sets.” I’m mostly just pointing out that the distinction is not actually as easy to make as people think it is, and with all of the abilities to customize controller cc’s, jump to multiple pages of controls, trigger pads for melodic variation and loop manipulation, use midi clips and maxforlive patches, a laptop set with midi controllers can be infinitely more dynamic in terms of live improvisation than an “old school” hardware set, where you are often limited to the sequence parameters and patches in the boxes you have on stage.

          I agree its often more visually interesting for the crowd with hardware, because its a bit more obvious what’s going on, but I sometimes think that’s why people dismiss laptop/controller live sets as “not live.” Because its a bit of a mystery. Its apples and oranges rather than live vs. not live…

  • shwanton

    http://isitlive.tumblr.com …I started this for electronic music performances that were hardware focused and laptop free.

    • horaflora

      sweet!

    • Ah, awesome! Thanks!

    • TJ

      I used to perform “all hardware” (samplers, MPCs, synths are computers too), and with the exception of playing a few notes on the keyboard, it was actually much less live than my laptop, dual midi controller setup today. I understand that a lot of people fake it, and hardware often just “looks cooler,” but if you really want to stretch the limits of what can be done live, I really think it shouldn’t matter what you’re using. And all hardware setups often have serious limitations on patches, sequences, and amount of controls at your fingertips. This is not to mention the fact that touring musicians that aren’t making the big bucks cannot often check their hardware from city to city. Clubs also usually do not provide the space for setups beyond a few controllers.

      • shwanton

        I think the limitations are actually what make it pretty interesting. I know it’s not convenient & ends up sounding pretty same-y lots of the time, but it’s great to watch performers trying to pull it off. At the end of the day, if people like what they are hearing it doesn’t really matter how it’s made… but it’s more interesting to watch someone interacting with hardware than triggering a laptop from a controller, for me at least.

        • TJ

          I like “hardware sets.” I’m mostly just pointing out that the distinction is not actually as easy to make as people think it is, and with all of the abilities to customize controller cc’s, jump to multiple pages of controls, trigger pads for melodic variation and loop manipulation, use midi clips and maxforlive patches, a laptop set with midi controllers can be infinitely more dynamic in terms of live improvisation than an “old school” hardware set, where you are often limited to the sequence parameters and patches in the boxes you have on stage.

          I agree its often more visually interesting for the crowd with hardware, because its a bit more obvious what’s going on, but I sometimes think that’s why people dismiss laptop/controller live sets as “not live.” Because its a bit of a mystery. Its apples and oranges rather than live vs. not live…

  • Glen Wallis

    Great to see this article! I can’t get enough of the unknown and improvised directions this can go.

  • Great to see this article! I can’t get enough of the unknown and improvised directions this can go.

    https://youtu.be/-FpqbGoANTU

  • Meta Micro

    Thanks for writing this article Peter. It can be really difficult to take what you’re doing in your usually tiny studio setup and bring it to the stage – especially when you’re attempting to perform a set of multiple songs. It’s encouraging to get a glimpse of how other artists are tackling the challenge.

  • Meta Micro

    Thanks for writing this article Peter. It can be really difficult to take what you’re doing in your usually tiny studio setup and bring it to the stage – especially when you’re attempting to perform a set of multiple songs. It’s encouraging to get a glimpse of how other artists are tackling the challenge.

  • Drew Smith
  • Drew Smith
  • Drew Smith
  • Drew Smith
  • Psychic Kicks
  • Psychic Kicks
  • Daniel Ross
  • Daniel Ross
  • Fichone

    wonderful article, but I think we can add just one more live act… of an artist who is making a lot of fun while playing – KiNK:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tH-AEx5zOBY

  • Fichone

    wonderful article, but I think we can add just one more live act… of an artist who is making a lot of fun while playing – KiNK:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tH-AEx5zOBY

  • Nick Demopoulos

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_jRPuQz8UM

    Not really techno, but live electronic music

  • Nick Demopoulos

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_jRPuQz8UM

    Not really techno, but live electronic music

  • dreamlogicc
  • OneTwoTalkinbout
  • Martin Lemay

    Oh nice, thx for that article Peter. For you, all improvised, really trash at the end! Enjoy-it! http://youtu.be/pDkIdKS1wAc

  • Martin Lemay

    Oh nice, thx for that article Peter. For you, all improvised, really trash at the end! Enjoy-it! http://youtu.be/pDkIdKS1wAc

  • Bot

    This just popped up at the Looping Festival – http://bit.ly/1Gy3KRX

  • Bot

    This just popped up at the Looping Festival – http://bit.ly/1Gy3KRX

  • Tèst Fforet

    nah, not so much fun

    where is ceephax?

  • Tèst Fforet

    nah, not so much fun

    where is ceephax?

  • Tèst Fforet
  • Tèst Fforet
  • Here is a full live-set I did earlier this year. Hardware!!!

    https://youtu.be/oYUmaXluXZw

  • Here is a full live-set I did earlier this year. Hardware!!!

    https://youtu.be/oYUmaXluXZw

  • Freeks

    First Samuli Kemppi analog live:
    https://youtu.be/J4MpRKRH3nk

    New live with “updated” gear but not that good sound:
    https://youtu.be/Mo5WTKQEuC0

    Hat’s off to everybody not having Ableton on stage!

  • Freeks

    First Samuli Kemppi analog live:
    https://youtu.be/J4MpRKRH3nk

    New live with “updated” gear but not that good sound:
    https://youtu.be/Mo5WTKQEuC0

    Hat’s off to everybody not having Ableton on stage!

  • Kod
  • Kod
  • tom

    Neil Landstrumm is such a master, even with Karenn he manages to transport some of his trademark sounds and lines and it fits just perfect.

  • tom

    Neil Landstrumm is such a master, even with Karenn he manages to transport some of his trademark sounds and lines and it fits just perfect.

  • André et Michèle

    Wow, lots to peruse here!

    Since we’re sharing, here’s a live improv studio jam (still working on part two w/ annotations about the setup):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMZvF1euksc

  • André et Michèle

    Wow, lots to peruse here!

    Since we’re sharing, here’s a live improv studio jam (still working on part two w/ annotations about the setup):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMZvF1euksc

  • steveoath
  • steveoath

    https://vimeo.com/28421401

    Love this track. Does it count as live?

  • Jason

    While not strictly techno, this is a great live set by Simian Mobile Disco https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XV7c6gSqPkc

  • Jason

    While not strictly techno, this is a great live set by Simian Mobile Disco https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XV7c6gSqPkc

  • My buddies and me jamming out on some Roland gear and Ableton Push. We will be taking a similar rig out live in Atlanta next month.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RC0ll-JBwaw

    And here is one of my own jam sessions.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wvf6WyeyEMI

  • My buddies and me jamming out on some Roland gear and Ableton Push. We will be taking a similar rig out live in Atlanta next month.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RC0ll-JBwaw

    And here is one of my own jam sessions.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wvf6WyeyEMI

  • AWESOME POST. Can’t wait to check out all these videos.

    It’s so hard finding live sets to check out on the web, there is so much more DJ content up. I would love it if someone had the time and energy to curate a blog/playlist/something of this stuff.

    Good to see RA’s put on some kind of festival too 🙂

    Personally I’m as interested in people using laptops+controllers innovatively as I am interested in live keys/synthesis/modular etc. There really are no rules.

  • AWESOME POST. Can’t wait to check out all these videos.

    It’s so hard finding live sets to check out on the web, there is so much more DJ content up. I would love it if someone had the time and energy to curate a blog/playlist/something of this stuff.

    Good to see RA’s put on some kind of festival too 🙂

    Personally I’m as interested in people using laptops+controllers innovatively as I am interested in live keys/synthesis/modular etc. There really are no rules.

  • teeth

    Falling through walls – Adelaide, Australia – Electibe EMX and KP3; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqXeagh9b7M

  • teeth

    Falling through walls – Adelaide, Australia – Electibe EMX and KP3; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqXeagh9b7M

  • Mark Kunoff

    I take issue with the “elektron’ reference. 😉 😉 😉
    Certainly Ableton Live applies in that context, but the Elektron boxes are ideal for improvisation! This is a great article though, one of your best in a while. Honestly… why couldnt you have waited unitl the Holidays to post this? I wont have time to watch all of these! 😉

  • Mark Kunoff

    I take issue with the “elektron’ reference. 😉 😉 😉
    Certainly Ableton Live applies in that context, but the Elektron boxes are ideal for improvisation! This is a great article though, one of your best in a while. Honestly… why couldnt you have waited unitl the Holidays to post this? I wont have time to watch all of these! 😉

  • Sebastian Benz
  • Sebastian Benz
  • Paul

    Big fan of live, been trying to figure out how to transfer my own stuff from in the computer to performance to make it interesting. These videos help a lot. I’m a big fan of Mule Driver here in Tel Aviv, can’t find a good video of his desk but I know it’s all hardware when he plays live plus there are lot of associated acts on his site: http://los-jubilee.com/ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGYS4S4YM6I

  • Paul

    Big fan of live, been trying to figure out how to transfer my own stuff from in the computer to performance to make it interesting. These videos help a lot. I’m a big fan of Mule Driver here in Tel Aviv, can’t find a good video of his desk but I know it’s all hardware when he plays live plus there are lot of associated acts on his site: http://los-jubilee.com/ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGYS4S4YM6I

  • Rhythm Droid

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_e9ZmjHVZw 100% improvised hardware acid house

  • Rhythm Droid

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_e9ZmjHVZw 100% improvised hardware acid house

  • Joseluis Vanta

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rh1BdaQ0l5g

    HD Substance (Madrid) No laptop just Gear.
    Akai MPC2000 as a Sequencer and Sampler
    Novation Drumstation, Roland JV2080, Midi Timepiece, Roland SH101, TB303,
    Ucontrol UC16, Mixer Yamaha 01v…

    HD Substance Live Setup Explained (only Spanish)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqtlgZjJ0YM

    http://www.residentadvisor.net/dj/hdsubstance

  • Joseluis Vanta

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rh1BdaQ0l5g

    HD Substance (Madrid) No laptop just Gear.
    Akai MPC2000 as a Sequencer and Sampler
    Novation Drumstation, Roland JV2080, Midi Timepiece, Roland SH101, TB303,
    Ucontrol UC16, Mixer Yamaha 01v…

    HD Substance Live Setup Explained (only Spanish)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqtlgZjJ0YM

    http://www.residentadvisor.net/dj/hdsubstance

  • Max Van der Pols

    Anthony Rother, Aril Brikha, Vince Watson and Egbert come to mind. There’s a Dutch festival every January 1st called Loveland Live, that features live performances only. Based out of Singapore I was lucky enough to be in Amsterdam last year and it was amazing!

  • Max Van der Pols

    Anthony Rother, Aril Brikha, Vince Watson and Egbert come to mind. There’s a Dutch festival every January 1st called Loveland Live, that features live performances only. Based out of Singapore I was lucky enough to be in Amsterdam last year and it was amazing!