In spite of all the optimism oozing from our social media feeds whenever a new lineup is announced, the world continues to navigate life with great caution. With more than 125 million cases and over 2.7 million deaths, the novel coronavirus has been circling its way around the globe for more than a year now and despite the global vaccine jab count now passing the 500 million mark, the pandemic is still surging in places like Europe and Latin America.
With a sense of uncertainty still looming around what summer will actually look like in 2021, these are still some of the most unprecedented times in living memory. But uncertainty is something we find palatable in dance music, and in the face of the many obstacles our industry has faced amidst this pandemic, we stand undeterred. Whilst those days dancefloor sovereignty may seem distant, that spirit of gratitude for the good times has been a constant throughout.
Gratitude isn’t just for the good times, and the unparalleled nature of the past 12 months or so has been when we need it most. A thankful mindset can be the keys to the kingdom of possibility, transforming even the most challenging of experiences into character-building resilience – a trait live performers know all too well.
Unpredictable by nature, defining live performance in electronic music can be a problematic process to pinpoint at times – but that’s where the true beauty lies. A real-time exploration of an artist’s thoughts and emotions characterised by curiosity and vulnerability, the variability of a live set is seemingly limitless. As the pandemic rages on, that sense of thankfulness can help nurture such capriciousness.
Delving deeper into this perspective, we spoke with two live performers – SAYTEK and Nadia Struiwigh – to shine a spotlight on how they have evolved their live setups since the pandemic began.
Intrigued by shimmering acid synth lines, elated at the familiar crash of an undulating 909 cymbal, 60 seconds into reviewing Joseph Keevill’s video submissions for this piece and I found myself reminiscing… musing about times of old in Ibiza.
A master of musical technology with a unique energy, SAYTEK has gathered some serious momentum through the lockdown months accumulating releases on the legendary likes of Trax Records and R&S Records. Described by Carl Cox as “absolute genius when it comes to live”, he also has a second full-length live jam album forthcoming on Awesome Soundwave, Coxy and Christopher Coe’s imprint specifically tailored for live acts, later this year.
Requital to those who have invested their time and energy in his music during the lockdowns, gratitude is a practice SAYTEK has often embraced over the years. “I’ve been absolutely blown away by online reactions. The comments have really brought a smile to my face.” He adds: “Some people reached out and said: “You’ve really helped me get through lockdown.” As artists, this is what we do. We help people celebrate life, overcome their problems and release their stress… and to know I’ve been able to do this during 2020, it helps give me validation for doing what I am doing.”
Here is one of SAYTEK’s more recent live jams streaming from home during the last lockdown.
Maturing his live improvisations every day and, pivoting where necessary to stay connected with his fanbase, the Cubism chief invested much of his time into livestreaming last year. “I’ve been streaming like a mad man; this has enabled me to bring them back behind the curtain and show everyone exactly what I am capable of as a live artist” he says. Illustrating his authenticity and versatility, the UK artist amassed more than 1 million views across his socials in the process.
For live performers, the crowd’s reaction contributes tremendously to the evolution of one’s sound. Joseph was one of the few fortunate enough to play some socially-distanced gigs following the first lockdown. Having performed in both the UK and Germany, he acknowledges the necessity of crowd reaction. “As a live act, I rely on that feedback from a live crowd. This music is designed to be performed in front of a crowd of people dancing together, and that human emotion is so important to an artist. Without that aspect, I don’t think it would have done my mental health any good at all.”
With dancefloors still vacant in the UK for another few months, we welcomed SAYTEK to participate in our How I Play (at home) series, which you can watch below as he illustrates how he has been maximising his live setup during the lockdown period.
Boasting a myriad of hardware gems including his Roland MC-707, Novation Peak and Novation Impulse 25 among others, Joseph’s unique blend of deep and hypnotic techno, acid and house is, without question, the ever-evolving result of his foundational grounded perspective through the pandemic, and life in general.
Over in Sydney, the austere manner of restrictions has meant opportunities to perform to a live crowd are few and far between for Dutch producer, Nadia Struiwigh. In the process, she admits that no live audience interaction has been a huge pause for reflection for her.
Instead, she’s spent this time experimenting with different platforms and techniques to keep her audience engaged. Back in January, she started her own Twitch channel. Here, she has been able to regularly connect with her fans every day from her studio, sharing live sets, gear reviews and more.
Here is a recent gear review from Nadia’s Twitch stream regarding the Doepfer Dark Energy, her very first synthesizer.
“Jamming! I miss it! I miss the interaction with other people, creating sounds together and getting inspired. It’s such a good way to explore new ways. This is one of the reasons why I started Twitch… the connection with other people.”
Telling personal stories through an emotionally-charged narrative of experimental, melodic and techno, the self-professed hardware nerd loves the thrill of live performance. She enjoys enabling herself, and others, go inward with her music, to access what it is they are truly feeling. “For me, crying is the most refreshing emotion for me to access because it can root from almost anything… happiness, sadness, surprise, excitement, there are so many, even on the dance floor in the audience, and not having those emotions as a reflection of my sound from other people stunted my spark at times.”
Access to gratitude is often magnified by activating the five senses. Intuitively optimising the sounds around her, this is a value Nadia has been exercising using field recordings. “Music is everywhere around us… something we often forget because of the rush of everyday life, but if you stand and listen attentively with your own two ears, there are so many sounds you can use to create different effects – these are always the most powerful resources we have as a producer. I really like to combine sounds we hear in real life, with electronic, old-school spacey vibes.”
Having just released a beat-driven three-tracker, ‘Oooso’, on Nous’kaler Audio, she acknowledges her relocation down under during the pandemic has been reflected in her sound. “Because of the pandemic, I now start with the kick and the bass. They say it is a more grounded sound, it’s lower and more connected to the earth, quite spiritual almost” she explains. “My compositions are different, but I feel my sound is more complete right now. This year, I have been able to be more present with my sound and observe what it is missing and what I can learn to evolve it more.”
Driven by the atmosphere around her, Nadia always transforms her feelings into comprehensible communication. “Music isn’t just what we hear – there is so much more behind it” she adds. This is evidently illustrated within her highly anticipated forthcoming nine-track album, Pax Aurora, also on Nous’klaer Audio, which explores a wealth of ambient and experimental soundscapes using field recordings.
With her new album set to be released next month, we extended the invitation to Nadia, like we did with SAYTEK, to join our How I Play (at home) series. Discussing her live set-up, she shares how she uses each piece of gear in alignment with Ableton.
Flirting with the endless possibilities of her hardware collection, she dives deep into the rich polyphony variability provided by such prized possessions as her Modal Electronics SKULPT Synthesiser and Korg Volca FM amongst others.
Just like the depth articulated in polyphony musical textures, Nadia’s creativity expands far deeper than what the naked eye can see with values of trust, adventure and inner-harmony shine through in every detail of her sound.
Galvanised by connection and grace, Nadia’s first performance back in December, an intimate 25-person live ambient experimental sitting show, allowed the Dutch artist to share her story of 2020 with the crowd… a whirlwind of suppressed euphoria and greyscale sci-fi illustrating mixed cascading emotions she experienced during a year without gigs.
At a time where progress is moving sporadically – part of the world remains in lockdown, while part begins to enjoy some kind of normalcy – flickers of hope shine through the darkness in the form of the music industry’s communal strength and innovation. Life as we knew it may be on pause for the moment – but just like the charm of live performance, gratitude has the power to remind us of the bigger picture: a post-pandemic future of music and connection.