You never really know what you’re going to get with electronic live shows as far as what there will be to actually watch. There are three major modes of performance that these musicians tend to ascribe to, and each of these different modes was certainly on display at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday night.
Brooklyn-based button mashers Beacon took the stage first, and though I wandered in midway through their set, it was evident that they already had the crowd moving. Though their stage setup consisted of little more than two guys with laptops, their button pushing displayed a vigor in line with the live presence of Baths. Lit by nothing more than the color damaged obscurities of the video behind them, their amped up stage presence and the vocals of one of their members were enough to get some heads nodding in the early part of the evening. It was their enthusiasm, and the brooding sound that places them somewhere between the Knife and The Weeknd that differentiated them from many of the laptop toting musicians that take the stage.
Listening to Daniel Lopatin’s Replica, released in 2011 under his Oneohtrix Point Never moniker, its evident that he’s not willing to compromise artistically. The blend of obscured vocal samples and ambient soundscapes can be jarring at times, but on the whole is an extremely rewarding listen. The same could certainly be said of OPN’s live set. Lopatin took the stage armed only with a laptop (and likely a midi controller, though I can’t entirely confirm that given my vantage point), clad as ever in his trusty Celtics hat, and then he just stood there for the entirety of his 45-minute set. It had all the potential to be one of the more boring live sets I’ve ever witnessed, but what Lopatin lacked in stage presence he made up for in his actual performance. Drawing heavily on the aforementioned Replica, the material took on an even more interesting sound in a live setting. Though he obfuscated some of the smoother moments of “Replica” and “Child Soldier” with some of the most jagged synth sounds I’ve ever heard, it still was quite the compelling set of music. Though it was just a man with a laptop standing in the middle of a dark stage, hearing –and feeling– those compositions through a proper sound system was moving in a way that many standard bands fail to be.
The third, and perhaps the most obviously interesting, way that electronic musicians choose to perform their material in a live setting is to take their material and flesh it out with a live band. Though Scott Hansen’s Tycho project might not seem the most obvious candidate for such a fleshing out, the addition of a live bassist and drummer made for a spectacle not predicted by last year’s Dive, as outstanding as that album was. On record, each song’s electronic percussion is enough to not distract from the waves of synths flowing around, and though that’s true live, the addition of an actual drum kit makes everything that much more insistent. Rory O’Connor, the live drummer, matched those electronic compositions beat for beat. It turned songs that on record were mere head nodders into bangers. Though we’re not talking like Skrillex-type drops here, when the live percussion kicked in on each track the front half of the crowd was definitely in dance mode, bouncing along as best as they could to the decidedly mellow Tycho tracks.
It takes a lot to even begin to approach the ineffable in a live music context, but Hansen’s project did nearly that. We were watching three incredible musicians at the top of their game not missing a single beat as incredibly beautiful visuals synced up perfectly behind them. It was quite unlike what you get the majority of the time, even in an electronic music. Though Tycho firmly fits a mold of the type of performance that they give, they do it better than just about anyone else in the game.