Words: Ethan Photos: Kevin
Let me begin by saying that, Glitch Mob is not my favorite electronica group. I listen to their LP, Drink The Sea, as well as their recently released EP, We Can Make The World Stop, fairly regularly: I dig their sound, but ultimately I think they need to expand their range a bit before they take the next step. However, any critiques of their studio work notwithstanding, after their show at the 930 Club on Wednesday, I can safely say that they are the best live electronica group I have ever seen.
Glitch Mob, in its current incarnation, is an L.A.-based group of three DJ/producers: Justin “Boreta” Boreta, Ed “ediT” Ma, and Josh “Ooah” Mayer. Their sound has been described variously as trip hop, breaks, electro, hip hop, dub step (which is laughable), intelligent dance music, and (somewhat circularly) glitch hop. Their production is uniformly driven by deep, distorted, at times nearly monotone basslines complemented by huge kick drums, filtered snares, and synth melodies and samples interspliced and cut up with a turntablist’s sensibility. Their live set moves fairly seamlessly from full-on body rocking slow breakbeats to slightly more uptempo, but no less heavy, straight beats.
Glitch Mob are three DJs, but there are no turntables in their live act. Just as their sound defies classification within the conventional categories of electronic dance music, the group itself seems dead set on not being seen as an electronica act. Call the music what you will, one thing is clear: Glitch Mob aim to be rock stars.
This rock star attitude was obvious throughout the Glitch Mob’s performance. Their set design consists of three stations, each framed by fairly ridiculous vertical light features, and a wall of 21 LED screens displaying lights, colors, and patterns throughout the set. The real star of the set up though is the JazzMutant Lemur multitouch touchscreen midi controller, which, tragically, was discontinued last year.
Mocking a popular critique of live electronica -- that the music is all pre-made and all the performer is doing is standing around tweaking levels -- the music at the Glitch Mob show started before a single artist even stepped on to the stage. The show opened with an ambient melody with the house lights still on and the stage empty except for the gear. Edit and Ooah walk on to the stage and briefly tap away rapidly at two of the Lemurs before walking off again. A moment later, a slow trip hop breakbeat drops. But the lights are still up. Has the show begun?
This sense of theatricality and of stage presence ran throughout the show. In an unorthodox move, Glitch Mob’s midi controllers are positioned tilted down, towards the audience, inviting the crowd to watch them work and removing the symbolic wall at the front of the mixing board that typically separates a DJ from his audience. Glitch Mob knows they are one of the most musical of any straight electronica group, and they flaunt it. They break it down for us midway through the set, giving the crowd a tutorial on how they do their thing. First Boreta starts tapping a drum solo out on the Lemur, he passes it off to ediT, who then tosses the beat over to Ooah. Next, Ooah keeps the drums going and Boreta, playing the Lemur like a piano, brings in the harmonies. Finally, ediT fills the sound with the full, distorted, or, as he described it later, “filthy fucking bass” that is their trademark. More than any other electronica show I’ve been to, this sequence demonstrated for the audience exactly what is going on up on stage. Glitch Mob has nothing to hide and they know it. Playing live like they do requires dexterity, rhythm, timing, and hours upon hours of practice.
Throughout the set they repeatedly appropriated many familiar tropes of arena rock and roll performances. Besides the mid-set solo performances of each band member and the ridiculous out of scale stage features, you had ediT, the apparent spokesperson for the band, repeatedly getting on the mic to praise the city of DC, the crowd, and the 930 Club sound system. Obligatory political statement (“President Obama, we don’t know if you are here tonight, but if you are, legalize marijuana!”): check. Half naked chick dancing twenty feet in the air suspended from the ceiling (seriously!): check. Playing a clearly contrived encore: check.
Beyond the lights, the dancers, the stage chat, and the showmanship, Glitch Mob’s musical performance also brought the goods. The live show is essentially a series of on-the-fly remixes. The songs are recognizable, but far from the same as their album versions. Tracks are deconstructed into their individual components with basslines, melodies, drums, samples, filters, and more, mapped on to the Glitch Mob’s midi controllers, and reformed into something clearly referential of the album cuts, yet distinct.
Glitch Mob clearly sees themselves on a bigger stage, literally and metaphorically. And while I don’t know if their studio work will win them the mainstream breakthrough success of major electronica groups like the Chemical Brothers, the Crystal Method, or, more recently, Justice, putting on the live show they do certainly can’t hurt.