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.
1.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.