In a charming set of schematic doodles, self-described hip-hop producer deejers has assembled an exquisitely-researched compendium of live laptop rigs from top music acts. In the lineup: Flying Lotus, Skrillex, Bassnectar, Pretty Lights, Daft Punk – a reasonable sampling of artists playing big shows live on the US circuit. And, oh, yes, deadmau5, who despite claiming that everyone just presses play, has put together a fairly impressive controller setup with monome, Maschine, Lemur, and Pioneer EFX-1000. (Just one of those four controllers could let you assemble a track from scratch, let alone all four.)

It’s really worth your time to read the whole article. And deejers has a great blog full of beginner-friendly advice on everything from what the heck MIDI is for to choosing the right studio monitors:
How the biggest electronic acts play their music live [buttons & knobs blog]

He’s done such a good job that I guess I should try to add something. I do notice some trends:
Apple MacBook Pro in every one of these sets.
Ableton Live, ditto. (Sometimes Traktor is added for DJ sets.)
Drum pads (and still a lot of them M-Audio Trigger Fingers)
Continuous fader control, possibly augmented by encoders, in each setup – sometimes also via touch controllers, but always with some physical faders.

I’m also surprised by the number of people using the monome.

The MacBook phenomenon could easily be a subject of another article, but I think Apple’s predictability – in OS setup, in components, and in repairs – is invaluable in a big gig.

And Ableton Live has achieved ubiquity in what most people consider live electronic sets of this kind. Where you may see more variation are in other contexts – think bands, or think smaller acts and individuals who roll their own solutions.

But given the earlier deadmau5 debate, it is interesting just how much control each of these artists has. Whether that’s there for show, whether it’s there to legitimately give them dynamic playing abilities, or just to break their own monotony, well, that you have to watch them live to judge. But the options are there, for the dead…mice (mi53?) of the world, and for you. You can press whatever you like.

Questions for our readers:

1. Seen any live rigs that particularly struck you? (Live shows, yes, but any live rigs that you found an interesting solution to playing?)

2. Any artists whose rigs (down to the individual Max or Pd patch) you’d like us to investigate?

Side note: what a pleasure to cover a new blog – I remember the old days when this happened more often. If you have one, keep sending them in. I’m terrible about responding to email, but some tips are greatly appreciated!

  • Jim Warrier

    Orbital’s live set up was fairly hands on when i caught a glimpse of it. Lots of lemurs and even a modular. They even appeared to have flip charts for each track. They were running round like crazy between songs.

    Still brining their 303’s out with them.

  • bassling

    Been enjoying looking at the gear on

    • Peter Kirn

      Ah, nice. And nice to contrast this with these electronic rigs. (Lots of hybrids in between, too – I hope it’s clear that not all CDM readers are, like, doing dance music.)

  • anon

    i’d love to hear more about ‘live coding’ deadmau5

    • bynar

      I’m getting geared up to do a live coding set using impromptu this summer. I’ve used max and ableton for live performances in the past and have been underwhelmed with the direction I went. So far working with an environment like impromptu has helped me become more excited about making music again. Give me a few months and I might be ‘live coding deadmau5’!

  • VideoClub

    Saw this group last week at “New Beats from the Middle East” night at a small bar in Tel Aviv and they had three macbooks and 4 korg nanokontrols between 3 guys. It was a great show, everyone was super into it.

  • Adam Blevins

    There is a group out of Nashville, TN called Real Time Hand Motion that uses a very interesting setup including a flight stick with throttle control, a couple of control surfaces, and an Alternate Mode TrapKat electronic drum set. They are definitely worth checking out!

  • Mike K Smith

    John Hopkins. Saw him play live last year, and he seems to be using Live for stems triggered from a Novation (?) keyboard controller, but it’s the 3 or 4 Kaoss Pads that he uses to great effect to warp, (re)sample, add FX to the channels that is fascinating to watch. It’s very much a live, on-the-fly performance. Example: (including a bit of an embarrassing meltdown at one point!)

  • doog

    i don’t think any of these guys still use monomes…

  • toetoe

    it is pretty irrelevant what brands an artist’s controllers are. it would be interesting in getting some insight in what they are actually doing on stage.

    • emmett farley

      That was my takeaway, too. Are they sending program change midi around? Chaining audio effects racks or using custom M4L patches? What kind of interfaces are they using on their Lemurs?

      MEANWHILE all the cool kids just dropped some tabs and are over there dancing….

  • toot!

    Squarepusher with a pc laptop running custom Reaktor patches and of course the bass guitar and midi pedals.

    Four tet runs Ableton and Audiomulch on 2 pc laptops and has a monome, dr. sample and pioneer dkm-600, does a lot of live resampling.

    Tim Exile has his custom Reaktor+controller craziness going on…very live but not always very musical.

    It’d be interesting to see more software aimed at live performance.
    I’ve just ended up buying Live after resisting for many years because it’s the easiest thing to perform with. Logic, Renoise and Reaktor were just too much of a ball ache for me to play live with (though possible with a lot of setup). Bitwig is essentially a clone.

    What other interfaces could be used to good effect? I think tablets will have bigger parts to play in all this when they get powerful enough.

  • pat

    People should not forget the setup from Meat Beat Manifesto on their 2005 tour… l.jpg

    • pat

      the setup

    • Graham Spice

      I setup the Ableton files for that MBM tour. It was quite an experience working with the original tracks! Jack really has a penchent for changing the meter and beat emphasis that made it quite tricky to get the scenes to work with follow actions and the like. Lots of fun – we even made a remix contest for Ableton for one of the tunes that you might have seen:

    • pat

      Their live setup was so sweet. Good memories indeed. And with Lynn Farmer laying down the “LIVE” beats, it was just awesome. Went to two shows in KC and Chicago.

      The visuals they had too were synced up and stuff, which made for a very fun tripped out experience!

  • Oscillate Music Group

    Great article. I’ve been using a DAW (Reaper in my case) to make music for years but only in the last couple of months have started to learn how to use it for live performances. I discovered the hard way that I needed more than just my cheapo M-Audio 88 keyboard that has virtually no buttons. Even to do a Keyboard MIDI Split was a pain to set up. LOL!

    This site has some great articles related to live performances but does anyone know of a website that’s dedicated to JUST sharing tips on playing electronic music live beyond DJ sets like DJ Tech Tools? I like that site but the focus is more on manipulating loops (and the usual DJ duties) instead of playing instruments with other musicians in a live, band dynamic.

    PS, I think the drawing for Aphex Twin’s set in this clip would have to include creepy furries and female body-builders (also creepy?)

    • audiohufter

      Try : ‘The primary mission of is to act as a central information and
      communication resource for live pa artists around the world’

  • Jesse

    A quote I recently heard from Trey Anastasio (lead guitarist of Phish) seems to say it well, “I have a theory, it’s not about how good your gear is, it’s about how well you know it.”

    • audiohufter

      that’s not a theory, that’s just common sense…

  • Travis

    About five years ago I saw breakcore artist Droon. Although half the pleasure of his act is theatrical, he did use a computer keyboard converted into a keytar style instrument to great effect. Images of it should be around, with mandatory aviation helmet included.

  • Per Boysen

    The freeware looper Mobius is a powerful basic tool, both for simply layering parts and for performing weird processing. This guy makes good use of Mobius for layering sound:

  • djruv
    • djruv

      Not so much what brands they’re using, but rather what artists are doing on stage and how they deal and overcome with the possibilities and problems electronics bring to the table is interesting.

  • Ozan √úlke

    I have a progressive/electro house band, “Neopol”. We are far away from being a big act but you could find our live approach interesting. We first begun with a more keyboard centered setup but changed it lastly to dj’ing with live vocals since it is a more elegant solution. We were never interested on improvising with the arrangements. Our goal is to get as near as possible to the studio recorded vocal sound without any pre recorded material. Any fx like vocoders (sometimes as back vocals), delays, stutters, loops, pitch shifters, sidechains etc. that you hear in these videos are either live manipulated or automated. Our new setup includes a Dell laptop, Motu Ultralite mk3 Hybrid soundcard, Sennheiser ew-300 for wireless in-ear monitoring, Novation Twtich for Traktor, Novation Zero SLMkII for Presonus Studio One and a Shure Beta58. I would love to add a Lemur someday. These are our first and last footages so far:

  • Sebastian Cavolina

    Have you heard of pinn panelle? go check them out. they are an EDM BAND. Yup, that’s right, they play live dubstep and stuff and drum and bass and have some songs. and well, i would like you to take a look at their equipment. their heavily tweaked guitars and bases, their triple keyboard rack and the drummer’s octapad sample organization