|RA Poll: Top 5 live acts of 2007
Steve Mizek hands out the statues for live acts in 2007.
When it comes to performing live, electronic musicians have always been at the mercy of their tools. Whether it's the difficulty of replicating specific sounds on fussy analog gear or the physical burden of hauling cumbersome technology around, gear can mean the difference between show or no go.
Thankfully, the evolution of technology has given birth to much smaller and more powerful appliances, such as Ableton-equipped laptops operated via MIDI controllers, which allow studio producers to moonlight as touring musicians, carrying little more than a laptop bag from club to club. Many nominations for our live acts poll—Gaiser, Gui Boratto, The Field, Heartthrob, Alex Under, Bruno Pronsato and Alex Smoke—play out like this, arranging and de-constructing tunes with a few clicks and twists. The same is true for voter faves Henrik Schwarz and Lindstrom, who marry organic sounds with synthetic tendencies without having to bring a backing band on tour. Two of our winners—Daft Punk and their protégés Justice—simplify their hardware setups with Ableton leaving one hand free to manipulate the visual experience, even if that’s simply turning on and off a glowing cross.
But Ableton is not just a tool for solo artists; bands are also incorporating software into their live sets. This year Matthew Dear (already familiar with Ableton from his Audion and False live PA's) managed to front his own band with relative ease, cuing his synth grooves from a laptop without too much fuss. Cobblestone Jazz and Trentemoller likewise use a similar set up, marrying live instruments and drum machines to Ableton loops. Battles, the most surprising entry into our top five having little to do with electronic music on the surface, even found room in their rig for synthetic flourishes flowing from dual Apple Powerbooks. Expect to see more of this sort of crossover in the future.
And of course, there will always be traditionalists who want nothing to do with computer screens on stage. Synth-poppers Hot Chip impressed this year with a Kraftwerk-inspired, one-keyboard-per-member set up. Booka Shade got by with a sampler and live drums. Minilogue lugged around a Nord synth, drum machines and samplers. Simian Mobile Disco simply emptied their studios into a trailer and played it all.
Someday technology will bend to fit all of its users' needs. But for now, it's been an excellent year to catch electronic musicians in the flesh, whether they were behind a computer screen, microphone, or guitar.
Matthew Dear’s Big Hands
Smart Bar, Chicago, Oct 26
: “Maybe it's his rugged good looks, but in retrospect, Matthew Dear always seemed destined to front a band. In 2007, Dear recruited a bassist and drummer (his Big Hands) to take the avant pop of Asa Breed
live, and on a grand scale too: Dear & co spent their summer on a club date and festival world tour. They returned to the U.S. as road-tested veterans, able to play tracks straight through or pursue experimental detours without batting an eye. Although by his own admission Dear is not much of a singer, live he was most convincing when behind the mic, teasing nuances out Asa Breed
tracks in a low baritone comparable to Alan Vega or David Gahan. In fact, I caught Matthew Dear's Big Hands three times this year, even twice on the same night. Each time they were impressive—obviously there is much more going on here than good looks alone.” – Steve Mizek
Primavera Sound, Barcelona, June 2
: “John Stanier strikes the cymbal that towers six feet above his iconic yellow drum kit, and David Konopka puts out a hand to stop it, without looking up from the intricate guitar riff he continues to pick out. This moment encapsulates Battles live: precise, premeditated yet seemingly spontaneous, and all about the performance. On stage, the faceless, alien math-rock of their debut album for Warp, Mirrored
, is brought to life by virtuoso turns. Instruments are played, sampled and treated beyond recognition—not least Tyondai Braxton's otherworldly vocals—and all with a fierce kintetic energy that leaves audiences spellbound. Hypnotic, robotic, but with a pulsing, human heart, Battles are the best crossover act performing today. – James Glazebrook
Koko, London, Oct 25
: “Enter Justice. They may be the most successful export from Ed Banger, the Parisian home of maximal house, but the sheer balls-out rockiness of their breakthrough album †
owes more to heavy metal. They’ve so completely co-opted the genre’s imagery (gothic logo, black leather, hair) that, to the uninitiated, their live show looks like a satanic mass. As the thunderous double bass drums of ‘Genesis’ give way to feedback squalls, a falling curtain reveals two huge stacks of Marshall amps flanking the iconic glowing cross—as fans lucky enough to pick up identical neon talismans at the door raise them in the air. Over the next hour, Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay’s speaker-testing mash-up of their dirtiest, glitchiest and funkiest moments is met with pumped fists, devil’s horns and heads-down moshing. A new indie disco high is reached when the French duo loop the sirens of Klaxon’s ‘Atlantis to Interzone’ over their own anthem ‘We Are Your Friends’, and a sweaty oik slam dancing nearby screams: “JUSTICE ROCKS!” – James Glazebrook
Fabric, London, 20 October
: “2006 was their coming out party, but 2007 was the year Cobblestone Jazz firmly took center stage, as their headlining spot at Fabric’s Birthday Weekend confirmed. Armed with a Roland SH-101 synthesiser, a Rhodes Piano, a Roland SVC-350 Vocoder, samples and drum machines, Jonson, Tate and Dhula built up their groove slowly, finding extra space in familiar tracks from 23 Seconds
for keyboard solos, ambient interludes and percussive jamming. Like their name suggests, Cobblestone is improvised in the jazz sense, and much more live-sounding than you’d expect: Tate’s keys and vocodered vocals were fully live, while Jonson—taking his cues from his solo setup—concentrated on drum programming and mixing loops. There was also a sense that they were feeding off the energy of the crowd, and the enthusiasm of each other. This is music that creeps up on you, stirring the emotions. Layers are added, tempos shift, the driving bass lines kick in and before you know it you’re deep in hands in the air territory not knowing quite how you got there, but loving every minute of it. With a North American tour on the cards, plus a host of remixes in the works for 2008, world domination can’t be far off.” - Angus Dawson
Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne, Dec 13: ”Finally, a pyramid scheme that worked. The general consensus was that Daft Punk had dropped the ball on their third album, but then their gargantuan all-neon/all-dancing world tour helped recontextualise songs like ‘Television Rules The Nation’ and ‘Robot Rock’, while reinvigorating old gems like ‘Rollin' n Scratchin'’. When I was lucky enough to ask Thomas Bangalter about their Never Ever Land tour, I hit him with the $64,000 question: Doesn't it get sweaty in those helmets? "Well, we are human after all," he coolly replied, simultaneously name-checking their last album (snap) in a self-deprecating shrug-of-the-shoulders kinda way. Smooth, real smooth. Daft Punk's attention to detail was the real reason this world tour gazumped all others: the 15 tonnes (some say it is closer to 40 tonnes but in truth their egos aren't that big) of equipment the crew lugged around ensured the sound and the visuals caused a Revolution 909 at every funkin' show.” – Mikey Cahill
Voters: David Berkley, Philipp Cerfontaine, Paul Clement, Peter Chambers, Richard Chinn, Angus Dawson, Ronan Fitzgerald, Stephane Girard, James Glazebrook, Mohson Iqbal, Janet Leyton-Grant, Joshua Meggitt, Steve Mizek, Siana Petro, James Poletti, Carl Ritger, Bjorn Schaeffner, Lee Smith, Christopher Thomarios, Nik Torrens, Enrique Vanegas, Jacob Wright.