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.
1.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.