How I Play: Mr Bill + KJ Sawka, The Future Of Live Controllerism?

It’s rare that a duo comes along in the dance music world and does something completely rebellious and unique – but after a recent Mr Bill and KJ Sawka interview we were inspired and excited. See how live drumming, Ableton manipulation, and finger drumming all are combined in their behind-the-booth video inside this article.

Without a doubt KJ Sawka and Mr. Bill are doing something really cool here – not only are they performing live, they’re focusing their entire set on recreating their own songs and remixing them together. It’s a collaborative process that seems unparalleled (although Keys N Krates live setup and performance style has some similarities) in the dance music community.

You might be wondering who these awesome dudes are – KJ Sawka actually is a part of two very different other live band projects, playing in both drum and bass’s Pendulum as well as bass music’s Destroid. Mr. Bill is a prominent Ableton educator as well as a producer in his own right.

Check out more of each of their music below:

Special thanks to both KJ and Mr Bill for allowing us to film with them, and to Oakland’s own Wormhole Presents for opening up their soundcheck and warehouse to us for this shoot. 

Controllerismdrummingfinger drummingHow I PlayKJ Sawkalive performanceMr Bill
Comments (24)
Add Comment
  • Inkredible Diz


  • killmedj


  • Dj Polymath

    I literally just watched KJ’s YT series on the Roland Octopad (which I bought after watching today to add to my live remix rig) I’m subscribed to KJ and Mr. Bill and all I can say is.. Damn, Incredible musicianship between those 2. Both are Ableton gurus so that helps a lot. I think there is more to this style of collaboration and performance than most think. It’s where most of us musician first Dj’s are headed. It makes a hell of a show.

  • Ztronical

    If you here Mr Bills tracks the style is very mixed up to say the least, a huge amount of talent and this guy can probably make 10 tracks that sound good in Ableton faster than most can make even 1.
    I still like Pendulum, and live drums from KJ are amazing mix for these 2 guys.
    I’m so bummed I missed them in Tacoma at Lucky event.

  • Juli Petric

    PLEASE! How I Play David August!!

  • Dubby Labby

    Future? Original? Wtf?

    Jojo Mayer and the nerve even bring their own sound technician which applies realtime fx (near to dubwise which is pretty old technique before Ableton live) to their sets

    Matanza Crew makes live remixing dance music with set even more interesting…

    And these are from two years ago but if you search (and better if you don’t limit yourself to “djing” or “controllerism” (sic)) you could find interesting sets with mixed techniques like live looping, live cinema, live sensors such Onyx Ashanti who has a Ted Talk about its setup from 2011!

    But I supose most of them don’t use midi fighters… :/


      i think most artist using live looping and stuff, because this web is Dj-technology-&-tools, so is kinda limiting to djing and controllerism and other related techniques (correct me if i’m wrong) 🙂

      • Dubby Labby

        I’m not sure if I understood you but… if you are saying “this is because this website is Dj-Technology-&-tools and limited to djing and controllerism and other related techniques” I’m agreed if it’s not meaning an excuse to write “Future” and “Original” instead of “Past” and “Unknow” by the autor.


    • Ztronical

      I think Mr.Bill and KJ Sawka made this type of live set more energetic and much simpler, which in turn could add to the adaptation by others, giving the term. Future. A bit of a push. Also KJ uses midi controller too. The Stems are also selectable and the drums as he said 50percent real and samples/effects.
      Actually quite original and unselfish of them to share how they did this.
      I had thought KJ just sat and bashed drums(which is not easy) but he actually is able to add a much more personal element with midi-fighter and Ableton as well.

      • Dubby Labby

        Nothing bad about their set and mood but again check the videos to see more or less (sometimes more from learn different approach, sometimes less to learn musicality) and you will notice there are midi controllers, ableton live, live playing+sequences and so on.
        My rant is more against this is no new, original or futuristic outside djtechtools.
        About free sharing I could point you some resources about lots of artist sharing their whole setup and even gear. Onyx Ashanti ie shares even their develops in open source and write books about the topic. A bit research in the link I brung point to its website and resources and of course the Tedtalk.

        PS: (2008)

    • Spacecamp

      Hey Dubby, totally agree that this style of set has been done by musicians before, but ultimately KJ and Bill are building from a platform that DJTT’s readers are intensely familiar with: finger drumming and Ableton Live.

      We’ve seen a movement towards incorporating more live performance aspects into controllerism sets with gear that traditionally was more focused on dance music production – and this is taking it to the Nth degree.

      That’s very different from live musicians and bands who start out playing live and build a set similar to this and start incorporating Ableton, controllers, etc. Similar results, different directions.

      • Dubby Labby

        Matanza Crew are remixers who make this same concept from years ago and that’s only an example. Maybe there were not midi fighters on their set but they aren’t “live musicians incorporating…” Or almost these are but in addition to djs (and remixers) so I still think the whole article is a bit ethnocentric and hyped sorry.

        Anyways and to finish the rant by my side let me say there is a world outside. Outside “dj”, “tech” and where the tools in their non-glorified position make merge communities and “family” grows. Write without these in mind make these communities feel articles like this as missinformation and contribution to the perpetuation of the dogma which separate us from being “humans using tools to perform” not djs, not controllerist, not tooltablist… Only one family under sky.


        • Spacecamp

          It’s absolutely not my intention to create content that comes off as ethnocentric, but at the end of the day, part of having individuals writing articles and shooting interviews means that we put our own lens and perspectives onto the the stories that we find and report on. Most individuals don’t know about every musical performer in the world – this isn’t an active, intentional occlusion, but rather one from my own lens.

          I really appreciate you posting these videos in the comments and sharing a different perspective – that’s exactly the type of community that you speak of, where we share ideas in a respectful and fun way.

          I totally get that you feel like perhaps the title and intro is a bit hyperbolic in claiming that these guys are the future of a particular style of performance, but in my mind, that’s what I felt when seeing them perform, shooting this interview, and watching the final edit. But don’t mistake my hyperbole (an common editorial practice) for “the perpetuation of dogma” : )

          • Dubby Labby

            All of us have a great responsability as “teachers”. Just notice I was talking with the writer at this moment so excuse me if I sounded harash. It wasn’t my intention to “punish” more than these hyperbolic words blowed out my mind…
            I will be very glad to share these and others because I learn sharing and that’s the reason to still visit djtt to learn and share grows.
            I remember Djtt posting some nice documentals in e past, why not rescue these and make a debate around them? I believe knowing the culture and the history of gear is a good path to find present and find new music and performers “hands on”. At last “everything is a remix” 😉

    • killmedj

      Jojo and Nerve are supa-freaks!
      There’s no comparison really.
      But KJ and Mr Bill still kick ass and I totally dig their approach!

      • Dubby Labby

        They are more similar in performing that meets the eye. Check the video and see rhe fx guy at control, the gear around the keys and drums and wonder 😉

        • killmedj

          Oh absolutely there are many parallels to draw.
          I’m really biased towards Nerve though. I play drums, and in the drumming world Jojo is a bit of God no disrespect to KJ. He rips!!
          But Jojo is something else!

          • Dubby Labby

            Hi killmedj,
            The same way I pointed it is not so “new” this time let me say your work is great and has nothing to envy Jojo’s. Jojo is a king in the drums but I was talking about setup and this and yours aren’t so different. Check also the Matanza Crew video and I hope you enjoy it and find some ideas 😉
            Thanks for share and chat!

          • killmedj

            Rad! Thanks man!
            All the best!

          • killmedj

            Hey man, I went looking for Mantanza Crew and couldn’t find it. Do have a direct link you could share with me?