Doing it well? That's an entirely different story.
The crux of this statement can be explained simply by the words "Ableton" and "Live." Almost all of the acts you saw this year were probably utilizing the program in one way or another, but "how" and "for what" depends entirely on the artist in question. If you're feeling lazy, Live can be a little like playing a video game, except instead of Mario, you get to control your latest album. At its most dynamic, however, Live can act as a central hub for an entire band, while having enough functions to keep an octopus with a penchant for improvised techno happy. As we said, it all comes down to the user.
Unsurprisingly, the acts that fared best in our poll were those opening themselves up to the elements by taking risks and not relying too heavily on the computer—if at all. Laurent Garnier moved back into the live arena this year with the help of a six-piece band, while acts like Moderat and Fever Ray brought the mainstream success of their respective albums to the world's stages in much the same vein as an indie rock band.
The one thing that did unite all of the acts in the top ten, though, is sweat—physical or metaphorical. Because after all, if the artist you're dancing to is making it look easy, then it probably is.
- 10.Joris Voorn
Next: Sat, 20 Sep 2014
The 10th best DJ and the 10th best live act in the world in 2009? Now you're just spoiling Joris Voorn. That said, the Dutch DJ/producer had one of his biggest years yet, taking Ibiza by storm and unleashing one of the year's finest mix CDs with Balance 014. Music doesn't make the live set entirely, however. The key to Voorn's success is the way that he mixes in productions like "Sweep the Floor" and his remix of Robert Babicz's "Dark Flower," pushing things to the breaking point and then pushing them just a little bit further.
Next: Sat, 20 Sep 2014
Awakenings Eindhoven - Day 2
Last year, Colin Shields perhaps put it best when describing the appeal of Gaiser's live set, saying that the producer's take on the genre was the "'just enough and no more' rather than the minimal of 'less than is needed'." There's a reason that you can pinpoint Gaiser as among the best of the Minus stable: His live set is expertly composed, building up and tearing down at just the right moments, as responsive to the needs of a room as a well-managed DJ set. (Although having tracks like "Withdrawal" and "Wet Contents" to draw from surely doesn't hurt.)
- 8.Laurent Garnier
Next: Thu, 18 Sep 2014
Sunglasses AT Night
Laurent Garnier has performed live before, but 2009 was perhaps his biggest test yet, taking out a live band to perform the hugely varied batch of songs that found their way onto Tales of a Kleptomaniac. RA's Matt Anniss described the full-length as "dubstep-influenced hip-hop and politically-aware dance floor jazz workouts [mixed] with slick techno, raucous drum & bass and dubwise downtempo flavours." Yet Garnier somehow pulled it off, bringing together his merry band like a conductor and performing fire-breathing renditions of the new material, while hauling out old chestnuts and making them sound new.
Next: Thu, 16 Oct 2014
Modeselektor performed just as much as part of Moderat in 2009, but that just made the shows they did under their own name seem to count even more. Fans who found Moderat to be just a tad too self-serious for its own good, welcomed the return of the boys late in the year with open arms. Slightly more unhinged, slightly messier and slightly more vodka were the recipe, and Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary (and visual genius Pfadfinderei) followed it to perfection, reminding us all why we loved the original so much in the first place.
- 6.Mathew Jonson
Next: Fri, 19 Sep 2014
Upon You Meets Serialism
You couldn't go many places in the world this year as a techno traveler and not run into Mathew Jonson. Whether he was performing as himself, as part of Cobblestone Jazz, as part of The Modern Deep Left Quartet or even doing a one-off with Dandy Jack, he was nigh on inescapable. That's a good thing: Jonson's laudable approach to performing live is close to that of a DJ, separating out his sounds so that he can mix them into new forms, and hopefully creating something that resembles one of his signature tunes, but in a way that you've never heard it before.
- 5.Henrik Schwarz
Next: Fri, 19 Sep 2014
Suma Beach Weekend
Despite the fact that he was part of a new live conglomeration over the past 18 months—A Critical Mass—RA users couldn't get enough of Henrik Schwarz. And who can blame them? The man's jazz-infused deep house set has been honed for maximum enjoyment, a masterful example of how to build an hour to a boil. Schwarz's hasn't changed much in the past 12 months, but it's always new: His devotion to improvisation means that the elements may remain the same, but that the outcome is different each time—a little bit, in fact, like the jazz masters he admires so much.
- 4.Booka Shade
Next: Sat, 11 Oct 2014
Drop the Mustard presents: Booka Shade,..
Booka Shade didn't perform all that much on the live circuit this year, preferring to focus upon their new album. But the shows that they did play had an obvious impact. Maybe, as Arno Kammermeier put it in an interview with RA earlier this year, it was their big balls? More likely, though, it was the fact that the duo have succeeded in finding a way to perform songs that are largely constructed with synths in a way that is visually compelling and—for lack of a better work—rocks pretty hard. Then again, the balls did light up.
- 3.Fever Ray
Mysterious, mystical, thrilling. There was no shortage of adjectives used to describe Fever Ray's live show in 2009. Taking its cues from Karin Dreijer Andersson's other group, The Knife, Fever Ray performances were heavy on atmosphere, perfectly encapsulating the sense of dread and unease of the music that her band unleashed each night on stage. As Andersson put it, the show was like a moving exhibition of masks from Papua New Guinea or Africa. Whatever it was, it left us grasping for single words. Mysterious, mystical, thrilling and much, much more.
Next: Fri, 03 Oct 2014
Insane Closing Party
Frank Heinrich may have had a live set in 2008. But he certainly didn't have a live set like the one he had this year. Armed with a sure thing of a closer in "Caminando," as well as plenty of tracks that bridged stylistic boundaries, Heinrich's performances were a rejoinder to the idea that live sets needed to have a similar sound palette to succeed. While there was an obvious current of southern German bounce to the proceedings, Heinrich keeps things interesting by bringing in plenty of groove boxes and synths along in a nod to some of his heroes: Alter Ego and Der Dritte Raum.
Next: Wed, 01 Oct 2014
Looking not unlike Krafwerk, Moderat featured three producers standing upright in front of platforms that held their gear aloft for them to play. A minimum of fuss, a minimum of movement. Modeselektor + Apparat = Moderat. The key was in the visuals, once again provided by frequent collaborators Pfadfinderei, who translated the music of this trio effortlessly into images, both literal and figurative. And, of course, the music, which somehow sounded as if it was built expressly for the live arena, this bassline exposing its true power, that drum pattern revealing itself to be eminently danceable. It was a show in the truest sense of the word, a spectacle that you had to experience firsthand to understand the rave reviews that followed them everywhere. And it's also the reason that you, the RA readers, picked them as the top live act of 2009.