One thing that Los Angeles-based electronic trio The Glitch Mob can do that an analog band can't do is switch parts mid-song. "We can change instruments throughout the set," says Justin Boreta. "Everything is very flexible. Say, in this song I'm going to play a synthesizer and then a keyboard and then the bass line and then some drums. We never have to move anywhere else, it all just happens on the controller. It allows for a lot of creativity."
He adds, "What we are specifically doing, no one else is doing, and that's exciting.”
What the Glitch Mob (who formed in 2006) does exactly is a little tricky to explain in layman’s terms. There's a short video on emusician.com (filmed at Moog Music during one of the band's previous Asheville visits) that gives a tour of the Glitch Mob's set up: Two MacBook Pros, Lemurs (multitouch modular controllers) and drum pads count among the band's equipment.
The Glitch Mob programs the audio of their live set (about 10.5 gigabytes) into the MacBooks and then the musicians perform from three setups by using a combination of MIDI controllers, Lemurs, Trigger Fingers and synthesizers. Band co-founder Ed Ma explains, on the video, that all the controllers are redundant, so the same drum sounds or chords can be accessed from the Lemur or the keyboard, for example.
But the live show isn't just about watching three guys reproduce their album (2010's Drink the Sea) on laptops. There's some serious showmanship involved. "Because we can pick any part of the song that we want to perform, we think about it as far as performance goes, what's going to look cool," says Boreta. In one song, where Boreta and co-founder Josh Mayer are on either side of the stage, they both opt to play drums for the visual impact. "There are also certain things that we want to keep in the backing track because it wouldn't be interesting to watch someone play it," says Boreta.
Sea is The Glitch Mob's debut full-length, but they've put out a number of mix tapes and remixes (including remixes of Sea). Before they were touring behind the record, their shows relied heavily on improvisation. Now, they have parts in their sets where they cut loose. Says Boreta, because the show runs off of the computer, improv is planned. Forget the off-the-cuff 10-minute jam of the live band setup.
"What we're playing is literally the same exact thing as we made in the studio," says Boreta. "That's a cool thing, that we can reproduce the songs live." But there are downsides to being an electronic band: There's no way a live band can just crash, Boreta points out.
In fact, in the analog versus electronic argument, Boreta has a lot to say. "Among festival goers and people who love live music it's become more of an acceptable thing to see someone up there with a computer." He says that bands like Radiohead and Muse are adding computers to their shows for the creative potential. "People are putting aside the judgment about what the person up there is actually doing."
Although Boreta says no one in the band is a virtuoso, for the Glitch Mob's members, musicianship came before technology. Boreta says all three guys come from households that had music playing all the time. "We all grew up in dingy punk and hardcore clubs, backpack hip-hop shows, mosh pits," he recently told Apes On Tape. To Xpress: "It all started from a love of playing music. Technology was a way of creating music and it made sense in that time and place for us." He says that if the Glitch Mob hadn't started crafting music on computers, they probably would have formed a traditional band.
In making Sea, the Glitch Mob created sounds from its own music. Between the three performers, "we have such a deep catalog," Boreta says. "We prefer to sample our own stuff as opposed to other people's music." They'll have a new three-song EP, We Can Make The World Stop, available at their Orange Peel show, and a next record is in the works.
The band is looking forward to showing off new songs, as well as a new live show they've put together for the tour along with a set designed by Martin Phillips (who's also created stages for Nine Inch Nails and Daft Punk). It just so happens that the Glitch Mob has been talking up Asheville in other interviews. "There are these places where the elements line up and the cosmos align to make really good music towns, and Asheville is one of those places," says Boreta. "The energy of the people and the amount of people who come out to the show and how they enjoy the music all lines up for who we are and what we do."
Plus, the way to a band’s heart is through its stomach: Another reason the Glitch Mob loves Asheville. "We're total organic food hippies," Boreta says.
— Alli Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
who: The Glitch Mob (with Phantogram and Com Truise)
where: The Orange Peel
when: Sunday, July 17 (9 p.m., $15 advance/$17 doors. theorangepeel.net)