As the electronic music generation evolves and grows, the soul of the music isn't lost on EDM. Here are some of the electronic acts that are currently bridging the gap between the DJ and the classic band and paving the way for a new generation of musicians. Could this be the future of rock music? Time will tell. Here are the top 10 most influential electronic acts right now that play traditional instruments on stage:
The young English brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence are changing the stereotypes of live electronic shows with their hybrid band/DJ setup. Guy (22), played in bands and used to teach drums in a local shop in their hometown of Surrey. Howard (19), played bass guitar and enjoyed going to clubs. They started learning how to produce with the intention of writing pop songs produced in the style of dance music. By chance, their first release was an experimental track posted on MySpace and a small label quickly took hold of it and released it.
A mix of deep house, house, UK garage, and pop, their debut album “Settle” in 2013 sold nearly 50,000 copies in its first week. After buzz from their first tour in the US, Canada, and Europe, the album was nominated for Best Dance/Electronica Album at this years Grammy Awards. Their recent performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live was just a taste of their rising stardom. They are collaborating with Mary J. Blige on her forthcoming album, The London Sessions, for example.
Howard: “The live show is more similar to a band format. I play bass guitar and keyboard. Guy plays the drums, I'm singing. We try to re-create the songs live playing our instruments as opposed to just playing a press play DJ set… We write conventionally written songs, we just produce them like dance music. They're not written like dance music.”
Guy: “I feel like we write pop songs, produced in the style of house music. You can play Latch just on the piano and sing it acoustically. It's just a normal song, we just make it sound like a Disclosure record or something a bit different.”
2. Pretty Lights (Band)
Derek Vincent Smith started working on Pretty Lights in 2004 with Michael Menert in Boulder, Colorado. During his peak years rising to fame, he toured with drummer Corey Eberhard starting 2007. Eventually Eberhard was replaced with Adam Deitch of Break Science, but for a couple years after he performed alone and just DJ'd, improving his visuals and working on his label. Along with that, his album “Color Map of the Sun” inspired him to perform live in the future. Smith's production was already heavily based in samples and instrumental improv. The album was eventually nominated for best dance/electronica album at the Grammys.
“I didn't feel like I could go on tour after putting that record out the way that I've toured prior. I felt like I had to bring a band on tour. I met so many amazing musicians working with people on the record that I immediately knew who I wanted to work with.”
He eventually announced before his 2013 fall tour, “We will be fusing new, hot production with the live band's gritty old school hip-hop soul break styles in a way that production and a live band have never heard together before.” Smith's all-star band features Dietch, Break Science's keyboardist Borahm Lee, keyboardist Brian Coogan, Scott Flynn on trombone, and Eric Bloom on trumpet. Their live act has received plenty of acclaim and praise and Smith prides himself on helping push the envelope. His visuals and LED presentation alone are considered some of the best in live acts. The Pretty Lights Band will next perform at Hard Day of the Dead in Los Angeles.
3. Big Gigantic
From playing with an orchestra at Coachella to bringing their saxophone and drum prowess to Mad Decent Block Parties and beyond, Big Gigantic is showing kids new to EDM that playing instruments on stage is very cool and you don't have to be a button-pusher. With the duo of Dominic Lalli playing saxophone and Jeremy Salken playing drums, the two producers always keep things lively and entertaining. Lalli has a Masters degree in jazz from the Manhattan School of Music and after moving to Colorado, formed Big G with Salken in 2008 after they found each other in the local band scene in Boulder, Colorado.
“We wanted to bring different instruments together and we wanted to find a way to fuse electronic beats,” Salken said in an interview. “We wanted to be able to throw a party and keep everyone dancing but still get to play our instruments and improvise and build a drop.”
After learning to produce and make beats, they kept evolving one album at a time, eventually dropping “Nocturnal” in 2009 which led to sold out tour dates. Their latest album, “The Night is Young,” takes their dubstep sounds and hip hop elements to another level. Along with Gramatik and GRiZ, they have formed “Big Grizmatik” as another dream team side project.
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A year after moving to America from Slovenia and releasing his first album (mostly hip-hop beats), Denis Jasarevic (Gramatik) was the first artist signed to Smith's Pretty Lights label and never looked back. One of the pioneers of electro soul funk, he now has his own label, Lowtemp, whose motto is “putting the M back into EDM.” Usually in his live sets, Gramatik has his friend Ales playing guitar (his guitar stems are also used in Gramatik's production).
“He goes through my master channel, so if I keep repeating it's repeating him as well. I re-sample him and stuff like that. It's open to a lot of improvisation on his end. We just set up which songs he plays and where. I notice my fans all appreciate that because they love electronic music but they also really like to see live instrument elements.”
Gramatik's stable of artists on Lowtemp have similar live ability as well. His roster includes up and coming talents with plenty of experience like Exmag, ILLUMNTR, Gibbz, BRANX, and Russ Liquid (featured at #8 on this list). The hype continues to grow with plenty of associatedlive acts like his upcoming Halloween show with GRiZ called “Grizmatik,” featuring GRiZ on saxophone.
Grant Kwiecinski AKA GRiZ is the personable and explosive pride of electronic glitch funk out of Detroit (along with his friend Freddy Todd, respectively). His mean talent for saxophone and production style that warps dubstep and glitch hop together with soulful melodies puts him in a category of his own. Rooted in jazz, he learned to play saxophone in his early teens from a member of the Detroit Symphony. Before taking GRiZ as a full time career, he was teaching middle schoolers how to produce.
“The saxophone live adds that element of surprise, variation, things being unpredictable. I'm not trying to make my performance of saxophone sound too wild and out there. I have this solo on a record that you've heard before and then I have room for improvisation where I can take that 16-bar loop, double it, and have a little bit of fun with it. Then I can bring it back to that idea, back to the chorus. You kind of want things to keep rolling. It's fun, it's dance music.”
GRiZ has quickly become one of the most popular young performers in EDM because of his high energy sets and keen sense of timing. After his remix of Aerosmith's “Dream On” received huge blog support in 2011, he's produced an album every year since. His latest, Rebel Era, was promoted with a video for the single “Hard Times” which shows the crowd at his native Detroit Electronic Music Festival losing their minds to a live GRiZ performance.
6. Empire of the Sun
The Aussie duo of Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore Make Up Empire of the Sun and their new wave glam-pop style comes from seasoned roots in their own projects. Steele was the frontman of alternative rock band The Sleepy Jackson, where he played guitar and sang. Littlemore had an electronic project called Pnau. When the two decided to collaborate for a single on Pnau's self-titled album in 2007, the praise brought attention from Elton John, who encouraged the two starting their own project (which became Empire of the Sun). Empire of the Sun now has worldwide attention after three mega-hit singles including “Alive,” “Walking on a Dream,” and “We Are The People.” Littlemore is the main songwriter in the group and also sings on stage and plays keyboard while Steele sings and plays guitar. Their live act also includes Tony Mitolo on drums and Surahn Sidhu on guitar, backing vocals, and percussion.
Doug Appling is a very unique producer in the electronic scene. Hailing from Portland, Oregon, he's silently made a name for himself in the chill EDM world. Releasing his first album in 2006, he started to gain a worldwide following for his downtempo, ambient, trip-hop tunes. What's more appealing, he plays violin, piano, and guitar on stage. As a multi-dimensional act that plays electronic-based music over classical instruments, Emancipator is a special must-see act.
8. Russ Liquid
Often performing with the funkiest big hitters in the game, Russ Liquid has been making a name for himself as a saxophone and keyboard player for some time. Rolling Stone even messed up and put his picture on a feature about Gramatik at Lollapalooza for having on of the bestlive shows. Among his many associated acts, Russ has been known to play with Opiuo, Gramatik, GRiZ, and others. He is a great producer in his own right.
Modestep is a dubstep hybrid alternative rock band that started four years ago and is based in London. The group is made up of Tony Friend as the main DJ wearing a Mask on stage and his brother Josh sings and produces.
They consider themselves an “anthemic rock band” with “electronic influences.” The tracks they play live certainly sound like EDM, but with the addition of Kyle Deek as a guitarist and Pat Lundy on drums, they're an all-out group that gets a crowd going like Linkin Park.
The dubstep supergroup that makes up Destroid is hard to miss because of their outfits. The trio dresses up in all-black futuristic alien robot suits that have over 300 LED lights. The trio consists of KJ Sawka, producer and drummer for Pendulum before they split and turned into Knife Party, who plays drums. Canadians Jeff Abel AKA Excision and Sean Casavant AKA Downlink play triggered midi guitars below Sawka's elevated drum setup. Although their performances have been controversial, the live show is ballsy, unprecedented, and intense. It certainly takes Bass Music to a new extreme in EDM.
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Since we're talking about electronic music, there's plenty of guys out there who kill the keyboard/piano. Some of them kill it on stage, too. Here are a few to look out for live: Zedd, Deadmau5, Haywyre, Kill Paris, Virtual Riot.
Bands that use heavily electronic sound like The Prodigy and Pendulum (drum and bass) should be noted here for kicking things into high gear. The Prodigy was formed in the early 90's. Pendulum retired since members Gareth and Rob started Knife Party.