|RA Poll: Top 5 live acts of 2006
Live acts. When the computers perform the music, what exactly is an artist supposed to do?
One option is to go the Kraftwerk route, zonking even the arm-folders at the back with videos, robots and lasers. The most talked about spectacle of the year came from Swedish electro-pop duo The Knife, who hired a visual director to create a stage show that would match the duo’s dark and brooding music. Daft Punk’s shows were also visually impressive, playing in LED robot helmets under a three-tonne, twenty-foot-high pyramid-cum-space-ship. Underworld, DJ Shadow, Coldcut, Madonna, Royksopp and Massive Attack all also put on big visual spectacles this year, and all received votes in our poll.
Ideally, electronic musicians should be able to play their instruments live – and that’s much easier when there is more than one of you. Many of our votes were for duos or bands – maybe four or more hands gives you that crucial interplay and human interaction? There were votes for improvisation (Cobblestone Jazz), acoustic piano vs. electronics (Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto), DJs vs. laptops (The Orb, drum n’ bass vs. live drumming (London Elektricity), machines and vocals (Ellen Allien & Apparat), dual machinists (Digitalism, Hardfloor, Modeselektor, Scratch Perverts, Alter Ego), double DJs (A.Skillz & Diplo), trios (Motor) and crisps packets, vegetables and god knows what else from Mathew Herbert.
Then came the votes for the solo performers. Live laptoppers range from producers who simply mix together completed tracks in Ableton to improvisers whose notes and beats are different at every performance. It might be hard from the dancefloor to tell which is which, but when the tunes are good, does it really matter? In 2006, our voters don’t seem to think so. Votes rolled in for Vitalic, Luomo, Lindstrom, Mathew Jonson, Alex Smoke, Alex Under, Pier Bucci, Rob Acid, Isolee, Audion, Reinhart Voigt, Heartthrob, Patrick Chardronnet, Exercise One, Lawrence, Gabriel Ananda, Joris Voorn, Matias Aguayo, Tomas Andersson, Alexander Robotnick and Kate Wax. Perhaps people were voting for the music rather than any ‘performance’ as such with some of these choices, but we’ll leave you to decide who is really checking his email out in the clubs.
Finally, given that the template for live electronics has yet to be set in stone, it’s probably right that many people voted for more traditional bands and performers: Jape, Fatboy Slim and his band, Soulwax, The Bays, TV on the Radio, Amp Fiddler, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Black Strobe, Nightmares on Wax, Chic, Scissor Sisters, The Presets, Bugz in the Attic, My Disco, Primal Scream, Chicks on Speed, Cut Copy and Hot Chip all registered as favourites. Our number five winner is probably the most fitting band of them all, having inspired and helped along so many of today’s young electronic musicians.
That’s a lot of very different kinds of acts. Probably the only thing that unites most of them is that they play late at night in clubs. From plugging in the cables to writing the music itself, each act has had to figure out their own a unique solution to the challenge of performing, and not just overseeing, live electronic music. In the end, it's the artists that make space for spontaneity in their acts who really excite us.
@ Wireless Festival, London, June 25th: It’s almost inconceivable that a band that has been going strong for three decades can still have the same passion on stage at the back end of their career as they did when they started out as eager little eighties boys. The Wireless Festival in sunny London proved it: Depeche definitely ‘still have it’, delivering a ninety-minute performance that covered their finest moments, from older hits (‘Stripped’) to fan favourites (‘Never Let Me Down’) to highlights from ‘Playing the Angel’ such as ‘John The Revelator’ and ‘Suffer Well’. The band took the energy level by the scruff of its neck, shook it around a bit, kicked it around in the dirt, and left it, and us adoring fans, beaten into a pulp." – Robbie Younan
@ Metropolis, Ohio, April 21st:
“You never know how the night will progress with them as there is never a set list. All of the changes are made on the fly with a note being played, a sudden movement, or a quick word. As some of the more recognizable tunes ("Do To You" & "Girls Can Be Cruel") got a work out, people were bouncing like loons. It was really good to see such joy and excitement on people's faces. The energy between those looking down from the stage and those looking up at it was a great thing to be a part of. The best thing about the trio? They play hard every night, no matter how good, or bad, the situation." - Christopher Thomarios
@ Labyrinth, Japan, September 16th:
“Donnacha Costello took the party through the sunrise of Monday morning. Starting with a number of tracks from his Colour Series, Costello carried the crowd along on a series of old school jacking Chicago beats before surging into his recent digitally produced material. Visibly excited, Costello jumped up and down behind his machines, smiling, pumping his fist. Perhaps the most exciting and vibrant set of the festival." – Cameron Eeles
@ The Scala, London, April 10th:
“The pair emerge on stage as two dark silhouettes. clad head to toe in overalls and balaclavas with only their eyes, ears and mouths uncovered. For most of the night Olof stood stock still, alternating between keyboards and striking a drum machine with sticks. Karin danced stuntedly, sometimes confronting the mic, at other points trembling behind it, before fading back into the darkness. The two shared the stage with mechanical scarecrows and projections of faces, and later skulls onto oversized heads providing backing vocals. It was a captivating show. And at fifty minutes, it was also too short." – Richard Chinn
@ 10 Days Off, Belgium, July 20th: “The Booka Shade live experience posits them as the true heirs of Depeche Mode’s take on electronic pop music: a band as much at ease with digital studio trickeries as it is in front of a large stadium audience (no wonder DM wanted them to be their opening act last summer) or a sweaty underground club. When you think about it, Walter Merziger and Arno Kammermeier are the sole contemporary dance producers who are really feeling alive when playing live; more power to them for doing it without a main frontman or a female vocalist: the accent is all on the transcendent and federative power of the music itself, as their live version of ‘Body Language’ proves. In 2006, Booka Shade brilliantly demonstrated that they indeed are the masters of that proverbial art of body language: they only band around that can make you move while moving you." – Stéphane Girard
Contributors: Jeremy Armitage, Peter Chambers, Richard Chinn, Paul Clement, Cameron Eeles, Stéphane Girard, Chris Hobson, Ben Hogwood, Nico Ilickovic, Mohson Iqbal, Matt Langler, Alex Macpherson, Joshua Meggitt, Dave Noonan, Barry O'Donoghue, Siana Petro, Dave Rinehart, Nick Sabine, Kiran Sande, Christopher Thomarios, Robbie Younan.