How to Perform Electronic Music Live: Ideas and Inspiration

Performing electronic music live is something I have always been interested in, but in the past I always felt the means were too rigid. Maybe I was looking at it the wrong way… But I always felt there was too much pre-planning involved and not enough flexibility, which made it pretty hard for spontaneous creation to happen in a live situation. That’s why in the past I’ve always preferred DJ’ing myself.

Well, all that has changed in the recent years for good. Technology right now is so powerful that it really is possible to achieve a spontaneous creative flow in a live situation (while creating something that actually sounds good too). We have all kinds of live acts going on, many DJ’s are pushing the boundaries by blending in different kinds of live elements and there’s also a very healthy controllerism movement which keeps fueling the fire.

Let’s take a look at some different ways of performing electronic music live (in the form of some very inspiring videos) and pull out a few key lessons from them.

I’ve learned so much just by watching these videos – hopefully this post will give you a few cool ideas and inspire you to try something out yourself.

Minilogue: As Human As Possible

These progressive house/techno guys from Sweden are amazing. Ableton has recently released two videos featuring them. The first one is about picking Minilogue’s brain about performing, collaboration and how to get into the flow. The second one goes into great detail about their setup.

Lessons learned:

  • Work your way into here and now. Whatever it means for you, create the right circumstances for the flow to happen.
  • When you’re playing, try to not let too many things happen, but really be there with what is happening.
  • The tools you are using is never the answer – it’s what you do with them. Don’t think about if you have the right drum machine or software to do something. Just set up a foundation with what you have and start playing.


Minilogue: Setup

This one gave me so many workflow ideas. Minilogue’s setup is an intriguing combination of analogue equipment and digital technology.

My main takeaways here:

  • It’s easier to get into the flow when you’re not looking at the screen. Try to create your setup accordingly.
  • The flexibility in these guys setup is incredible. At the same time they have clearly put a lot of effort on making it as easy to use as possible. You don’t want to have to think too much when playing.


Beardyman: The Polyphonic Me

What’s possible when you combine mastery of human voice with state of the art electronic music technology and a brilliant mind? This man is a legend and his presentation at the TED conference won’t leave you cold.

Key point:

  • Explore and experiment with what you love to do. Let yourself be inspired by others, but be confident about creating your own path.


Chris Liebing: How I Play interview

The techno producer Chris Liebing has an interesting setup incorporating 4 Traktor decks as well as Ableton Live and Maschine.

The most important takeaways for me here:

  • Go easy on the effects. It’s easy to get carried away and quite often that just ends up sounds confusing for the crowd.
  • Know your equipment and practice. Start with a simple setup and learn it inside out before you add new elements to it. Otherwise you risk losing the overview and flow during your set.


Dubfire: Dubspot DJ booth video interview

Interestingly, Dubfire’s setup seems a lot similar to the one Chris Liebing is using. This video really focuses more on the mental side of performing which is why I liked it.

#1 lesson for me in this video? Find a balance between things. Go see other shows and also shows with other kinds of music (not just electronic). It’s also great for inspiration.


Richie Hawtin @ Dubspot – Ambivalent performance

Richie Hawtin explains his hybrid DJ/live setup. Technically his setup is quite similar to what Chris Liebing and Dubfire are showing in the previous two videos. But I wanted to include this video as well, as I really like the way Hawtin explains his thought process behind his workflow.

Key lessons learned:

  • Put in the time. There is no other way.
  • Create something unique. We all have something special inside of us, we just have to find out how to get that out through the technology.


Richie Hawtin Masterclass Pt1

Contrasting the previous video where Richie Hawtin explains his hybrid DJ setup, here he goes into great detail here about the Plastikman live show (which is quite different to his his DJ setup). This first part is an overview of the whole thing.

Main takeaway:

  • Ableton Live is pretty sick software for live situations.


Richie Hawtin Masterclass Pt2

More insights about how the Plastikman live show comes together.


Janne Storm – Live Looping

This guy from Finland is a perfect example of what happens when you take what you have and just let creativity flow. He combines all kinds of instruments and objects to create sounds and molds it all into this mesmerizing dubstyle perfomance. Beautiful.

Key points to take away:

  • Use what you have (I know I said it before – it’s important).
  • Get creative and think what you can do that others are not doing.


Bass Kleph Shares His Tricks

Austrialian tech house producer, live remixer and finger drummer Bass Kleph shares some of his tips and tricks he uses when building a performance on his Maschine.

Main takeaways:

  • Practice, practice, practice!
  • Don’t make things too technical. Have fun, interact with the crowd and give them something visual.


The Techno Street Drummer

This one is just brilliant.

Lesson learned: Think outside the box.


Your favorite videos?

I’ve probably missed  a lot of cool stuff, so please let us know about your favorite electronic live acts. Post links videos in the comments (they will be viewable on the page).

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