Modular synths are a mindfuck, both in their complex physical arrangement and the transportative sounds they produce. Watching an expert go HAM on a Eurorack can be an audio-visual treat - a flurry of hands and banging beats. Check 10 of our favourite sets available to watch on the internet below.
To the untrained eye, modular master Steevio’s Eurorack setup looks like that box full of redundant chargers, printer cables and old router lines that everyone seems to own shut away in a cupboard somewhere and never throws out. The haywire mess of wires thread messily above flashing lights and shiny knobs is a disorientating prospect before a sound is even made. But Steevio has the dexterity to control the chaos, and make it look easy. In the seven minute clip above, his hands flicker across the mighty setup, producing mind-altering sounds that are flecked with jazz and funk sensibility.
Modular Techno Alliance live in Chicago, 2017
Modular Techno Alliance are a US collective united by their modular synth skills. In November last year, members Construct and Komprezzor performed their Periapsis live set in Chicago, and the whole two hours was captured for your viewing pleasure. For the duration of the show, the pair maintain an intent focus, underpinning roof-raising melody surges with tightly-controlled percussion. At its peaks, the club lights strobe, head-spinning vocal samples swirl, strange mechanic noises fizz. Next-level stuff.
Surgeon & Lady Starlight live at Mysteryland, 2016
Our favourite moments from this set by modular royalty Surgeon & Lady Starlight occur at marks like 13:25 and 47:54, when the pair screw their faces up, widen their eyes and share looks that transmit a message along the lines of “fucking woi” at the sounds they’re making, before broad grins spread across their faces and they refocus to keep the beat rolling. Big mood. (Bonus clip: check them blowing the minds of an arena of Lady Gaga fans.)
Ansome - Analogue Session
Ansome only deals in the rawest and roughest of sounds,and this analogue session is a perfect primer to his sound. Scratchy, harsh noise floods of the edges of the sound spectrum, while the drum patterns rolling through the middle keep the session compellingly kinetic. Around halfway through, the camera cuts out and the visuals become a still of deranged black and white waves. Somehow, it seems fitting.
London Modular Alliance - Against The Clock
FACT’s Against The Clock series usually gives producers half an hour to produce a tune from scratch. Since modular performances often utilise off-the-cuff improvisation, two of London Modular Alliance’s members needed just a third of that time allowance to piece together a killer set. Recorded in their shop in Hackney Wick, the surfaces are covered in a wealth of equipment, and the pair make expert use of the setup. They also talk viewers through the process - banging and educational!
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith live in Paris. 2016
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith crafts stunningly rich soundscapes in her modular excursions. The music ripples with a warm, naturalistic and slightly magical feeling, conjuring images of sprites from Mother Nature’s brood dancing through forests and rivers at sunset - especially when she elegantly warps her vocals.
Suzanne Ciani NTS Live at Cafe OTO
London’s Cafe OTO is a hotbed for experimental live performances, backed by programming that focuses on the finest avant-garde artists who specialise in pushing boundaries. And Suzanne Ciani’s appearance at an NTS Live event in the spot in 2017 certainly fit that criteria. Backed by over 40 years of modular experience, few artists can hold a torch to Ciani’s impact and pedigree. This performance is a masterclass - words can barely describe the out of this world sounds she crafts, so just watch it alright!
Karenn Boiler Room London live set
Blawan and Pariah formed one of most popular live acts of this decade when they started the collaborative analogue project Karenn. Their style is bold and relentless, defined by palpitating rhythms, thumping beats and heavy distortion spikes. The music is dark, sometimes purposefully cold, but always exciting enough to get whistles of appreciation ringing out even when dancers are losing their minds in the aural vortex, as the Boiler Room session above attests.
Olan - modular techno live set #4
Olan’s profile is relatively small, if we’re gauging by social media numbers, his Facebook and YouTube subscribers combined barely break 1,000. But he’s uploaded some first-rate improvised modular sets online that highlight he’s worthy of wider recognition. An assured sense of progression evolves across the 42 minutes live jam above. Highly-strung percussive hisses lay the basis for compelling forays through both wonky and agitated outer textures. Take note.
Rex The Dog live in The Lab LDN
This one’s a real spectacle. Kompakt took over The Lab LDN as part of our Label of the Decade poll, and following an opening DJ set from Demian, Rex The Dog stepped up to deliver an infectious, bumping set. Opening on his dancefloor anthem ‘Sicko’, the limb-jerking rhythms roll throughout, coursing through soaring vocal samples from the likes of Moby. A row of four light stacks behind blazing with brilliant red patterns fuels a dazzling experience.
Patrick Hinton is Mixmag's Digital Staff Writer, follow him on Twitter