The struggle for the artist, of course, is to put enough chance for improvisation into the set to truly make it live, but not enough to potentially make things a complete disaster for the audience. Which is why few try. And even fewer succeed.
Our list for 2008's top live acts see a variety of ways of going about it—laptop, hardware, Rhodes piano, vocoder, live drumming—but they all have one thing in common: These artists perform on the edge of disaster and thrive on the chaos. Whether it be Cobblestone Jazz's frequent improvisations into the unknown, Hercules & Love Affair's live band or even Nôze vodka-soaked antics—which our blurb writer hated, but had to admit was loved by just as many—these are artists that take chances and are all the more powerful for it.
Next: Sat, 16 Aug 2014
Kehakuma + Elrow
School of Sound Recording, Manchester, November 7: "Shed's set focused largely on his Ostgut material, with the first half of his performance all about building suspense and tension, with basic elements deployed to maximum effect: taut beats sparred with pristine breakdowns, bass drum drops were teasingly withheld. In the last half-hour, though, the dancers were given their rightful prize, the beats rising until Shed's old school sound broke through with the Ostgut bomb "Warped Mind." Whilst parts of his set were received with heads nodding rather than limbs flailing, the applause as he finished showed that Shed's appearance in Manchester was very much appreciated." -- Michael Curtis
- 9.Andy Stott
Next: Wed, 13 Aug 2014
Shlohmo Millie & Andrea
The last time that I heard Andy Stott play live, he treated his audience to an army of unheard music alongside some familiar material, from a hard drive packed with hundreds of tracks. That said, it didn't sound much different from the simple and elegant work that he's made his name with, full of room-eating beats, bass like setting concrete and bright, intense melodies. The major difference is that live, things get even more serious. It's as though the monsters from his EPs have been given brass knuckles and poked in the eye before being set loose on those foolish enough to venture in their path. -- Colin Shields
Parc Jean-Drapeau, Montreal, June 1: "Nôze, however, was an even bigger disappointment than the rain. As you can hear on their RA podcast, it was a 'kitchen sink' performance that went from house to tango to klezmer with drunken shenanigans a-plenty. To my ears—and eyes—this kitsch was inappropriate and out of place amongst the smooth organic house sounds of Ernesto Ferreyra, Özer and Kaden. Though I am a big fan of Nicolas Sfintescu's label Circus Company, Nôze was ridiculous in the context of the party. Predictably, everyone I spoke to either loved it or hated it." -- Elly Rifkin
- 7.The Mole
Next: Sat, 09 Aug 2014
Love Fever with Prins Thomas, Point G Li..
The Mole is a vinyl junkie, and that love of the past is what makes his live sets so thrilling and so unique. Whether it be old R&B, '70s kitsch or obscure prog, The Mole live experience sidesteps the disco re-edit trend of lifting and looping entire bridges, and instead strips a nearly forgotten music history down to barely-there moments, which he then loops and layers ad infinitum until they get under your skin and literally force your feet to move. The Mole has a lock on pure dance floor magic of the timeless variety. He can strip an old song down to its warmth and then raise its temperature, without ever tipping his mix into recognition. -- Dimitri Nasrallah
- 6.Henrik Schwarz
Next: Sun, 17 Aug 2014
We Love... Disclosure presents Wildlife
If you stop for a moment to think about it, the Henrik Schwarz live experience is an amazing one. In one night, you can hear African, jazz, hip-hop and house music all in the span of an hour's time. What's more, it isn't forced: With the help of Schwarz's Ableton warp addiction, kalimbas, kick drums and Kraak & Smaak all merge together effortlessly into a soulful and deep journey that would sound about as cheesy as a balding German man trying to bring back nu-jazz if the results weren't so damn funky. That Schwarz seems to pull it off show after show—and in the studio too with 2007's Live—is a testament to his immense talent. -- Sam Louis
- 5.Booka Shade
Next: Sat, 23 Aug 2014
South West Four 2014: Day One
Being familiar with their music will only bring you so far in knowing what to expect from Booka Shade and their live show. Sure, it's punctuated by their moody, soulful riffs, but it's also techy, driving and, best of all, all played live on drum pads and synthesizers, making them one of the most engaging live acts around. Of course it doesn't hurt that complementing the measured, yet next-level thinking that's instilled in the music, there's a tasteful backdrop of evolving geometric projections and a razor-sharp lighting scheme either. 30 years from now, all rock bands will look like this. -- Daniel Petry
- 4.Cobblestone Jazz
It's no secret that the only thing "live" about many electronic performances is the name of the software being used. Not so for Cobblestone Jazz. Onstage, the Canadian trio does ample justice to its unusually dynamic recordings—hypnotic affairs marked by undulating arpeggios, restless filter sweeps and self-generating keyboard melodies—by recreating them from the ground up. Danuel Tate's keyboard riffing sets the bar for the group's real-time ideal, which Mathew Jonson and Tyger Dhula match on laptops and hardware. It never goes too loosey-gooesy: always deep in the groove, this is swing, not skronk. But revelatory moments come fast and thick in a Cobblestone Jazz set, where creation always wins out over re-creation. -- Philip Sherburne
- 3.Move D
Next: Wed, 30 Jul 2014
Much has been made of Move D's resurgence this year, and why shouldn't it be? Dude has been churning out the hits with a string of incredible releases for labels like Smallville, Workshop and Modern Love. Not one to slack off, his live performances have been on par with (if not superior to) his studio work, pulling from all corners of his diverse catalogue in order to create an experience that attacks the hips and head in equal measure. When he stopped through Philadelphia earlier this year, he played a live set that touched on house conventions but was delivered in his own inimitable style, leaving everyone—from long time fans to the uninitiated—with their jaws on the floor. -- Carl Ritger
- 2.Hercules & Love Affair
Next: Thu, 31 Jul 2014
Solar Weekend 2014 - Day 1
Following two inescapable singles and one perfectly formed album, Andy Butler grabbed 2008 by the proverbial balls with his neo-disco, house and pop amalgam while taking his Hercules & Love Affair bunch to where dance music so rarely dares to venture: the live stage. With the help of a bass player, a live drummer, a second keyboardist and an actual brass section, subtle acid-house cuts such as "Classique #2" and "I'm Telling You" became thunderous bouncing 'n' grooving monsters. The highlight, though, are the two gender-bending, ambiguous front singers: the quirky Kim Ann Foxman and the mesmerizing Nomi Ruiz, who makes the triumphant "Blind" totally his/her own. -- Stéphane Girard
The machines Daniel Bell surrounded himself with were already obsolete in the early '90s when he first created his trademark minimal techno tracks, but the sounds they made on a warm spring night earlier this year still sounded fresh. With the TR-909 front and center, his funky drum programming and razor sharp arrangements rocked the bowl at the main stage in Hart Plaza at Movement 08. Old school techno heads and young ravers alike jacked their bodies wildly to the relentlessly pounding kick drum and quirky synth lines of classics like "Baby Judy and "Phreek," but it was when the screams of "Can You Feel It?" echoed across the concrete that the crowd's ecstatic response affirmed that they did indeed feel it. DBX live proved that Bell remains techno's greatest reducer. -- Thomas D. Cox
Contributers: Bernardo Arrospide, David Berkley, Per Bojsen-Moller, Clovis Bouhier, Richard Brophy, Todd L. Burns, Richard Carnes, Philipp Cerfontaine, Peter Chambers, Richard Chinn, Paul Clement, Thomas Cox, Nate Deyoung, Stéphane Girard, Chris Hobson, Mohson Iqbal, Finn Johannsen, Tom Jones, Eike Kühl, Matt Langler, Will Lynch, Joshua Meggitt, Dimitri Nasrallah, Grego O'Halloran, Siana Petro, Daniel Petry, William Rauscher, Elly Rifkin, Carl Ritger, Piero Ruzzene, Greg Sawyer, Colin Shields, Björn Schaeffner, Philip Sherburne, Lee Smith, Dave Stenton, Samuel Strang, Mark Strauss, Christopher Thomarios, Nik Torrens, Derek Walmsley, Jacob Wright and Sean-Michael Yoder.