By Lyly Villanueva
No matter what anyone says, there is nothing like walking into a deliciously hot and sweaty club and letting go of inhibitions. However, the club experience has really changed dramatically over the past 10 years. Most recently, cutting-edge equipment and musicians turned electronic producers have elevated the act of DJing into a performance. Gone are the days of walking into a club and ignoring the DJ. The DJ is now the center of attention, and some of them are really giving us a show. Producers like Caribou, Jon Hopkins, and Nosaj Thing are playing their music live in ways that defy traditional conceptions of a club and a DJ.
The insertion of live instruments and complex equipment into dance music has granted producers and DJs the ability to connect with the audience by showing the human side of electronic music. In my opinion, there is no producer out there right now that better embodies this transition than Jon Hopkins.
Jon Hopkins is a classically trained musician with four albums, a few movie scores, and endless collaborations under his belt. I had a chance to see him live over this past summer in Miami and was completely blown away. While I was dancing nonstop, I was physically unable to take my eyes off Hopkins. It wasn’t just about the music; it was also very much about him as a performer.
Using an Ableton Live setup with a Livid controller, three Korg Kaoss pads, and a mixer, Hopkins is able to deliver amazing live club sets that are high energy while still staying true to his style. The Kaoss pads allow Hopkins to turn physical movements into sounds and then manipulate those sounds simultaneously. Hopkins isn’t simply beat-matching and turning some knobs; he is actually assembling, playing, and mixing everything right there live. You can actually see him making the sounds you are hearing on the Kaoss pads, connecting the audience to the music in a whole new way. Needless to say, if Jon Hopkins plays a concert anywhere near you, do not miss it! It’s an experience you will not regret and will leave the show questioning everything you thought you knew about the DJ world.
Another producer who is changing the live set game is Dan Snaith, better known as Caribou. Snaith is also a classically trained musician who has forged a union between live instruments and electronic music. Caribou even takes it a step further, playing proper club sets with a full band. While Caribou produces and masters all of his albums alone in his home studio his live performances include 3 band mates who he insists are equal partners in the live performances. The songs have to be rethought for playing live and in reality, the studio tracks serve only as a blueprint for what the live show will be.
The four guys take every stage they play in all white and all huddle somewhat awkwardly in the middle of the space no matter what the size. I was also fortunate enough to catch a Caribou show earlier this year and can confidently say it was the most organic integration of synthetic and traditional noises and instruments I have ever witnessed live. A laptop running Ableton Live with a sound card with six outputs unites stereo tracks from the laptop and the stereo sends from the keyboards and routes them back to the sampler for effects and to add other noises. Additionally, the sound card also integrates the music coming from the guitar, two drum kits, and a drum machine. All in all, the Caribou live set up is like a complex web of sounds connected to one central brain.
The flexibility of integrating live instruments and sampled sounds allows Caribou to have much more control of the tension and release in their show and guarantees high energy. Their music is so different and at the same time so familiar that it works in a ton of different places from dive bars to festivals. Caribou will be touring North America extensively in 2015; do not miss the chance to see this amazing live show when it comes to a city near you.
Jason Chung—the real name of Nosaj Thing—is another quintessential example of the classically trained musician turned producer who is turning the game on its head. However, one thing that sets Nosaj Thing apart from the other two producers is the deep influence of hip-hop and R&B that’s palpable in his music. A masterful combination of electronic and hip-hop beats ensures crossover between two traditionally opposed genres.
Nosaj Thing uses a barrage of different equipment, synthesizers, and controllers in the studio, but he likes to keep his live show setup simple and easy to travel. Chung travels only with a Apogee Audio Card, an Akai MPD 32 MIDI Controller, and his laptop. Chung stems out every song in his live set and breaks them up into about 500-600 clips that he then samples, arranges, and mixes live using the MIDI controller and his computer.
Despite his simple live set up, Nosaj Thing still manages to give us not only an audio show but also a visual show. Part of a powerful trend that Chung believes in is that the visuals are just as important as the music he is playing, and he is very particular about the visuals that he incorporates in his live show. Chung himself strums the MIDI-controller in a fashion that calls for attention and makes the show a trifecta of sound, visuals, and him for a fully integrated performance. Nosaj Thing is also a prolific performer and is constantly playing concerts across North America. 2015 promises a long schedule of shows so check out his tour schedule and make a note to see him live if ever given the chance.
It’s become more and more clear that the fusion between live instruments and electronic music is the future of many genres, not only in the studio but on the stage as well. Don’t miss your chance to see some of the producers that are making the future a reality at this very moment in 2015.
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